So the Sting song goes and I have been thinking a lot recently about the relationship between love and freedom. What amazes Bridget Jones is that Mr Darcy could love her just as she is and for every one of us we have a basic need to be loved and affirmed for the person we really are right now with all our faults and failures, disappointments and pain. But, it is impossible to love without freedom. No human being can be coerced into loving another. This is why God gives us free will. Even the creator of the universe cannot make the beings He has created love Him. Our Western society is obsessed with freedom and it is an individual’s right to live exactly as they choose. As demonstrations in the Middle East highlight this is not an automatic right. However, freedom on its own can be a damaging thing. It can leave us with no regard for the consequences of our actions on others and no fixed points to cling to, nothing to rely upon when relationships or institutions inevitably let us down. It can feel like endlessly falling while desperately reaching out for someone or something to stop us. This is why freedom should be exercised within certain parameters that respect our own health and well-being as well as that of others. While the world is fixated with freedom, it appears the church is preoccupied with safety. Leaders seek to protect the flock from the temptations of our contemporary culture. I would rather see Christians equipped to selectively engage with the world to reveal God’s redemptive power in creative and relevant ways. I came across a quote in a magazine this week that said, “True freedom should not be defined in negative terms – a freedom from interference. True freedom has to be about freedom for something – to become who we were made to be.” (Andy Hickford in April’s Christianity p.45) If we knew the reality of God’s healing through His unconditional love and acceptance and the church could free us to be who we are called to be, what a potent force for transformation we would each become.
I was lying in bed last night fretting when I should have been sleeping and I had a wonderful thought. I imagined myself creeping out of the house, under the cover of darkness one Saturday night and throwing hand grenades at all the church buildings I could find. I then wondered what all the Christians would do when they turned up for a church service on Sunday morning and discovered a pile of rubble where the church had been. What would they do? How would they think about doing church differently if they suddenly didn’t have the security of a building to retreat to? While I very much enjoyed this thought I also felt vaguely naughty for doing so, but then I remembered that Jesus got killed for saying much the same thing. He said He would destroy the temple in Jerusalem and raise it again in three days. On my pioneer ministry training course http://pioneer.cms-uk.org we have just finished a module about the big story of the bible and it really gave me new insights into the radical nature of Jesus’ teaching and ministry. For the people of Israel, God’s elect, the temple symbolised God’s presence with them and His blessing and protection in the midst of their struggles for nationhood and identity. Talking of its destruction evoked cultural memories of exile and alienation, the punishment they endured because of their inability to live in response to God’s love and goodness as revealed to them in Him delivering them from slavery. However, Jesus is referring here not to the temple itself but to God’s presence as incarnate or embodied in His very personhood. He was foretelling that it would be torn down in His death and rebuilt in His resurrection three days later. In fantasising about the ultimate in church deconstruction, I suppose I am wondering have we made the mistake of the Pharisees? Have we focused on the material reminder of God’s goodness rather than seeking to be a flesh and blood manifestation of His love and transforming power in our world? This morning I got in the car and looked down to find a water pistol in the shape of a hand grenade. What is God saying?