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Watching a street preacher in Norwich

November 22, 2014

On Friday I was in Norwich and I watched a street preacher speaking to a small group of supporters while everyone else gave them a wide berth. I stopped, leaned against a wall and listened. I heard lots about Jesus being my saviour. I heard that I, along with those scurrying by, could be saved if they accepted Jesus, then they could be sure of going to heaven. He was also clear that if I didn’t accept this I would sadly go to hell.

He was speaking and people were ignoring him. Even those with him looked bored. I even saw one women realise that she looked bored and force a smile on her face. She tried but it wasn’t very convincing. I admired the man for speaking out, but not for much more. He was speaking to himself and perhaps to his followers but there was nothing to engage those who were scurrying on. He said a lot about ‘sin’ – but no one knew what he meant. He spoke a lot about his concerns and absolutely nothing about the concerns of the people he was trying to reach. He had done his duty and proclaimed the Gospel, but no one heard the Good News. 

I left Norwich sad but thoughtful. Is the Good News boring? How can I invite people into the Kingdom of God? How can I explain the Kingdom in ways that people will understand? As I pondered these questions I read Matthew 25; in particular I read the story of the sheep and the goats and their judgement. Then I read it again and I realised that the story of the sheep and the goats is told to those who are not Jesus’ followers. This is not so much about being a Christian than it is about the values in God’s kingdom.

I read Matthew 25 and found that the Kingdom of God calls for people, all people, to be good and generous and caring – whether or not they know Jesus. The values of this kingdom are about feeding the hungry, and caring for those in need, especially the strangers who are not like me. There is a lot of complicated theology here but in among it all this passage says that Jesus is ruling now. His rule is not yet fully seen and felt but he is already ruling as King of this world and all its people. Jesus also makes it clear that he is so much a part of me and all his people that whatever anyone does to me, or any one of his people, is done to Jesus personally.

As I read I also noticed that this passage is also about justice. Justice where those who help in any way those who work for God will not be forgotten. Equally,justice where those who are indifferent to the suffering of God’s workers will not be overlooked either. This must speak more to my persecuted brothers and sisters than it does to me. I am not so likely to call out for justice for the one who beats me up or takes away my job, simply because I’m a Christian. If I had seen friends and family die for their faith I would call out to Christ the King for justice. I would also call out for justice for those who had sheltered or cared for me at real personal risk to themselves.

Pondering this I came to the conclusion that this passage from Matthew 25 is largely about the justice of God. Now that is a message for all people. People want real justice they just don’t tend to trust those who claim to offer it. Politicians are seen as corrupt and self-serving. Judges seem out of touch and too many laws don’t seem to chime with a common sense of justice. Sadly, religious people like me aren’t always seen as people to trust with justice either. We certainly don’t have the greatest track record fighting for justice for the abused child.

However the fact remains that people want justice. The papers and the news are full of calls for justice – people clearly want justice even if this so often sinks into the mire of vengeance – so perhaps that man in Norwich would have been more successful if he had addressed peoples real concerns about justice – immigration, low wages for many – huge wages for others, jobs, hope for children, justice in the home. Just about everyone that I have met cares about justice and hates injustice. This passage says that Christ the King cares too. People want to know that those who care are rewarded and those that hurt others get their just reward too.

I said earlier that I left Norwich sad but thoughtful. I was pondering how to invite people into the Kingdom of God in ways that they could hear – ways to explain the Kingdom that people will understand. What a place to start – What better place to start to talk about Jesus than to talk about his justice – that is one place that I can offer Good News for the concerns that people actually have. I know that there is so much more to God, there is so much more to the Good News, but perhaps that can come later…

– once the conversation has started…

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