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February 16, Archdeacon Richard: God for All

Tricia Rogers, our first Mission Community Leader, in her recent interview for the post, made the interesting point that we need to think a lot about “God for All” because it is ‘new’. Growing Disciples may not be on everyone’s lips, and is probably incomprehensible outside church, but inside church we hear about disciples almost every Sunday - from Jesus’ first call of Simon and Andrew, James and John, to their incomprehension and desertion, and then their restoration after the Resurrection.

God for All, on the other hand, is not something Jesus says yet it is at the heart of his ministry and its conflicts. When he turns the traders out of the Temple (a critical point in the story of his Passion) he is doing so in part because they are blocking access to God: women and the poor cannot get it in because of them. When Jesus gets angry with the Scribes and Pharisees it is because their insistence on the minute details of the law makes it impossible for ordinary people to feel that they can keep the Commandments. The Scribes and Pharisees, and other groups of Jesus’ day, if pressed, might suggest that God is not for All but only for the pure.

At the beginning of the story of Jesus, the visits of the Shepherds and Magi demonstrate that God is for All – for the roughest people in first century Palestine, and for foreigners. At the end of Jesus’ life, the tearing of the Temple curtain demonstrates a breaking down of the barriers erected by human beings. In the middle, during his ministry, Jesus offers healing to outcasts, the friend of a Roman centurion, a foreign woman, those seen as sinners. He may not say, “God is for All”, but he lives it. Indeed Jesus not only lives God for All – he is God for All. In his presence we are in the presence of God, and as Jesus makes himself present for all, he makes God present for All.

After his Resurrection, his followers begin to get the message. The biggest argument of the early Church is whether non-Jews can become followers of Jesus – or whether they have to become Jews first. The traditionalists insist on conversion to Judaism – a hurdle, a barrier. It is the radical thinkers who, trying to make a reality of God for All, open the church to non-Jews and set Christianity off on its own road. Peter sees the light: “who was I, that I could hinder God?” (Acts ch 11 v 17)

Tricia made a second point. Growing Disciples is obviously active – we are growing in our own following of Jesus, and we are growing new disciples as well. God for All, on the other hand, is at first sight more passive: there God is, and he is there for everyone; we don’t need to do anything about it – it’s all up to God; at most, we need to learn Peter’s lesson, and not get in the way. Not so! If we are going to make sure that everyone in Cumbria hears something about God then we ourselves are going to have do something about it. We are going to need to change – to look much harder for those beyond the Church, and especially for those for whom we are the obstacle. And as we make sure that everyone in Cumbria hears something about God we will be changed by the doing.

To put it another way, God for All means amongst other things, God for me/us: this is inward mission. How should I/we be, if God is really for me/us? I/we need to be more completely aligned with God and his purposes and his love, justice, and peace. A good task for Lent.

Richard Pratt
Archdeacon of West Cumberland

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