Our world is a profoundly different place from what we imagined it would be 12 short months ago. In the midst of this context of change, Jonathan Edmeades reflects on what he hopes will be ongoing constants in our movement.
2020 brought diverse challenges and opportunities for our ways of being together, both as local faith communities and as a wider movement. Zoom has entered our consciousness, international travel has been decimated and our freedom of movement has become a point of conscious gratitude.
Change has often seemed to be afoot in frighteningly obvious ways. Like many organisations, groups and individuals, this has left us pondering what the future should now look like. Just where will this question of our future as a collective of faith communities lead us?
Hopefully, to the same place that we have always returned to as Baptists: to the gathered and prayerful consideration of God’s Word, as illuminated by the Spirit through the living Word, Jesus Christ. Believing that in this process of prayerful and humble discernment, he will speak to us. Deliberately stopping to consider how he would have us shape our life together in the midst of the changing and challenged world in which we seek to testify to his sovereignty and goodness.
What follows is a set of reflections drawn from conversations amongst my own faith community, as we have gathered to reflect on Scripture amidst the reality of our world these last few months.
It is my hope that as we farewell this magazine, our continued engagement with one another around the Word in ways that stimulate our minds for participation in God’s mission would continue in new and profound ways. I pray that these would simply be reminders and prompts to imagine what might define our future life as a body of local faith communities.
Our love for Jesus
My hope is that, above all else, our Baptist whānau would be known for their love of Jesus.
Carefully crafted out of shards of tūhua and left-over test pots of paint, three small canvas artworks took pride of place on our kitchen wall through my growing up years. Created by my mother, they read “Love God”, “Love Others” and “Seek the Truth”.
These three short phrases were often repeated. They were pointed to in moments of small and big life decisions as a reminder of the essence of our calling as followers of Jesus, calling us to a more radical form of obedience to those two commandments that Jesus named most important.
The first canvas reminds us that the primary calling of our lives is to worship and love Jesus wholeheartedly, allowing our love for him to shape our vision of the world around us in a way that overflows in radical care and compassion for each and every person created by him in his image.
What would it look like for our union of faith communities to be known primarily for being obsessed with faithfully worshipping Jesus? What would it look like for us to completely renounce the idolatrous priorities associated with the economic systems and individualistic treasures of our world, in favour of a passionate commitment to knowing and loving our creator?
Our love for others
My second hope is that our Baptist whānau would be known for our sacrificial love for our neighbours.
The second of Mum’s canvas installations was a prompt to consider not only the way in which our love for Jesus should cause us to treat one another, but also to think about who our neighbour might be. A reminder of Jesus’ response to the teacher of the law when he asked that same question in Luke 10:29. A reminder of the call to not walk by on the other side, but rather to pay deliberate attention to those we come across in the gutter, is the enduring challenge of this command to love our neighbour. Acknowledging that all people have need of him, the challenge to step outside our comfortable spaces and be present with those who are not our preference is one we will forever be wrestling with.
Many amongst our Baptist whānau shine a light in this regard, often without accolade or attention. But what should we be asking ourselves as we turn and look toward the future? How will we stop and turn our attention again to those on the fringes of our physical, mental and spiritual streets, choosing to walk towards them? How will we sacrifice our time, our money, the steady rhythms and behaviours of our Sunday services, in order to welcome those whom Jesus calls us to love? Will we take up that cost of their care and lodging, just as the Samaritan chose to?
Our trust in Jesus
My third hope for our Baptist whānau is that we would completely trust Jesus.
As we find Jesus leading us into new spaces of costly love for himself and, consequently, for our neighbours, then we will face new challenges. The temptation of relying upon our own wisdom and understanding when the Spirit is calling us to places of radical and apparently illogical ways of loving others—at least according to the priorities of the world—will be recurring.
My hope is that our posture would continue to grow towards that of the Roman Centurion who comes to Jesus in Matthew 8 to seek healing for his servant. What would it look like if our faith communities were marked by the same trust in Jesus’ word, backed by a complete faith in his power to bring healing to the world around us through ways that are not our own? What would it look like if we were prepared to discern and obediently follow the Spirit, even when it calls us to actions the world would call insane?
A commitment to acting courageously
My fourth hope is that our growing trust in Jesus’ sovereignty would result in us increasingly entering places of prophetic leadership and faithfulness as a Baptist whānau.
The story of the returned remnant of Israel in Ezra 9-10 challenges my imagination. What does it mean to recognise and confront the ways in which we as the people of God need to address aspects of our individual and collective lives that do not honour him? The sending away of vulnerable wives and children in order to honour the commandments God had given Israel seems difficult to comprehend, but the pain of such a decision for their community is not.
Where in our lives as a Baptist movement do we need to be more willing to confront the sin of the past and the present, that we might bear more faithful witness to Jesus? What might it look like for us as faith communities to investigate the history of the whenua we steward and consider what repentance and restitution might look like in the midst of histories of unjust land alienation from Māori?
What might it look like to repent of the ways in which we have sometimes ostracised those who have differing theological convictions from ourselves? What would it look like to confess the ways in which we have become complicit in upholding systems of consumerism and economic injustice that oppress the poor and remove the safety and security of those not able to purchase property?
The opportunities abound for prophetic leadership to be exercised through such acts of costly repentance, not for our own glory, but that we might bear more faithful witness to Jesus here in Aotearoa.
We do not know the future, but we know the one who does. May we choose to wholeheartedly seek Jesus, following him faithfully and courageously into the hills and the valleys of our life together, knowing that it is his work to make ‘all things new’ that we are privileged to participate in alongside him.
Contributor: Jonathan Edmeades
Jonathan is growing in loving Jesus and loves the privilege that it is to participate in the unfolding of his mission in the world. A third-year pastoral leadership student at Carey, Jonathan has been sent by Titirangi Baptist and is now placed at Māngere Baptist Church.