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25 August 2017

Why we must be a light in the darkness

Why we must be a light in the darkness

I had visited Latymer Community Church in West London many times in the past, but this was unlike anything I had previously experienced. Here we were, just four days after the fire, standing looking up at the charred remains of Grenfell Tower.

The image took my breath away. How on earth had this happened? This is 21st century United Kingdom, with all its sophistication, its building regulations and health and safety precautions. Yet here we were, still not sure how many have died.

As I stood there with members of the Church across North Kensington and local residents, many of whom had been directly affected by the fire, I began to reflect on all that had taken place over the last few months and what an extraordinary time we are living in.

Their very names speak for themselves - Manchester Arena, Westminster, London Bridge, Finsbury Park Mosque. These attacks, terrible as they are, are part of a wider picture. At the time of writing, 24 people under the age of 25 have been fatally stabbed in London alone this year (10 of them teenagers).

In the political arena, both internationally and across the UK, uncertainty seems to be the order of the day. We have now triggered Article 50, and so the process of negotiating our exit from the EU has begun. An election which was supposed to result in a stronger, more stable government has, against most predictions, delivered a minority government with an uncertain future.

In the midst of the election, the Christian leader of one of the UKs major political parties (Tim Farron) was subject to the most disgraceful and sustained attack by members of the British press, challenging him regarding his beliefs, resulting in his post-election resignation.

So, what’s going on? What’s God doing? And what’s our response?

It’s at times like this I’m often asked, “Shouldn’t we call the Church to pray?” My response is, “We need to pray! Let’s pray! Let’s pray more!” But also, let’s take note – I don’t know a church that isn’t praying. There’s lots of prayer going on - so many prayer networks encouraging and supporting prayer, nights of prayer, weeks of prayer, seasons of prayer, 24/7 prayer, great prayer events, small group prayer and of course the recent, ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ prayer. I’m sure there are still battles to be won in prayer – so we mustn’t stop praying.

But perhaps, as we pray we might begin to recognise the answers to our prayer might be unexpected. Perhaps as darkness intensifies and insecurities and fears increase, the children of light will shine more brightly and darkness will be seen for what it is. Jesus instructed his followers that they were, “To be the light of the world” (Matthew 5). Eugene Peterson in his Message translation put it like this:

“You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light- bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16).

At times like this, the temptation for us as a Christian community is two extremes.

We could either retreat into our safe and secure Christian communities, pull up the drawbridge and look to keep the world at a distance. Or we go with the social, political and cultural flow, we don’t rock the boat, we don’t speak out, we don’t challenge those in power or indeed live another way. As light bearers, neither of the options will do.

We’re called to be in the world, yet not of the world, loving the world as God loves the world, loving people and responding to their deepest needs, yet at the same time facing as Jesus faced, the hatred and at times rejection of the world.

This was the experience of the early Church. It’s the experience of the Church is so many parts of the world, often in places where the Church is seeing spectacular growth. Could this be the experience of the Church in the UK in the coming years?

Perhaps, at this time of extraordinary uncertainty, fresh opportunities will arise to make Jesus known through both our words and our actions. That’s certainly been true of the churches in North Kensington. They’ve stood out as lights shining bright at a dark time in a dark place. Let’s ask God that wherever He has placed us, that in the mission field He’s given us, we might shine bright. 

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