The American Presbyterian writer Timothy Keller has recently published a book on Mark’s gospel, entitled King’s Cross. It is a vividly written and often very moving presentation of the great themes of the gospel (and incidentally offers a forceful defence of substitutionary language for the atonement that might give second thoughts to some who find this difficult); but perhaps its simplest and most dominant insight is that Christianity is not advice but news. The world has changed; humanity is not what it was. We are still working out, often in floundering and stumbling ways, what this means, but the one thing to beware of is reducing the news to exhortation, sound moral or even spiritual teaching, alone. We must always be beginning again with the news that God has shown himself to be a God who does not abandon ”“ even when all the evidence has pointed to his absence, he recovers himself and us in the great act of vindication, homecoming and transfiguration that is the resurrection; a moment so alarmingly beyond all expectation that Mark can only present it with the silence, the fear and trembling, of his famous ending at 16.8. And I suppose that what I am pleading for in our discussion today is a revitalised sense of the news we have, the event we celebrate as having changed everything.
When you discuss all this, perhaps the question to ask is first, ”˜What does it mean to each of us that God does not abandon us?’ How have we learned this? And what are the habits we have developed to keep this sense alive in us? Arising from this, with Congo in our minds, can we then go on to ask, ”˜Where do we see the Church we know locally acting in this way, acting as the sign and presence of the God who does not abandon?’ This may help us focus on the issue I hinted at earlier, the question of what would not happen if the Church were not here.
The main point is really to make the connection between growth and service.