On my way to preach on Sunday evening, a half remembered quote from Pope Francis sprung to mind. When I got to church, I tracked down the quote from Evangelii gaudium and incorporated it into my sermon, and the whole message ended up being very different to what I had been planning to preach (this, by the way, is rather nerve-wracking when preaching in a foreign language!).

In his exhortation, the Pope reminds the church of the joy of proclaiming the gospel. The part that particularly sprung to my mind comes from the last paragraph of Chapter 1:

Let us go forth, then, let us go forth to offer everyone the life of Jesus Christ. Here I repeat for the entire Church what I have often said to the priests and laity of Buenos Aires: I prefer a Church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.

I do not want a Church concerned with being at the centre and which then ends by being caught up in a web of obsessions and procedures. If something should rightly disturb us and trouble our consciences, it is the fact that so many of our brothers and sisters are living without the strength, light and consolation born of friendship with Jesus Christ, without a community of faith to support them, without meaning and a goal in life.

More than by fear of going astray, my hope is that we will be moved by the fear of remaining shut up within structures which give us a false sense of security, within rules which make us harsh judges, within habits which make us feel safe, while at our door people are starving and Jesus does not tire of saying to us: “Give them something to eat” (Mk 6:37).1Evangelii gaudium, 1.48. Read online

I found the Pope’s vision for the church captivating and challenging. There is a lot for me as a Baptist to affirm here – and yet there is also the question: does this reflect the reality of our personal and corporate lives together?

My sermon was about fasting and giving up our power. Drawing again on Philippians 2, I pointed out that in Jesus we have a demonstration of what reality looks like, and encouragement that the same mind that should be in each of us. And indeed this reality is our reality: we enter in this new reality by the power of the Spirit.

I had a wonderfully detailed series of applications about what that might look like in various situations. In the end, I stayed on the one level, our identity as a church. And my point was simple: an encounter with Jesus is something so completely precious, so reality-changingly beautiful, that it breaks our hearts.

In Jesus, we see the God who is for human beings completely and without reservation. We see God’s ‘yes’ to humanity, despite humanity’s frailty and disobedience. And when we encounter this Jesus, as individuals and as a church, we cannot help but be drawn to the kinds of places Jesus was drawn to, and to learn to live and love as Him.

May this encounter with Jesus in the gospel shape our lives and our imaginations of what church is more and more. May we be known as a people who are addicted to grace, who try and embody God’s ‘yes’ to human beings in the middle of a society which so quickly dehumanises and demonises.

May God keep us from the security of our own internal structures and debates, of church politics and becoming ‘harsh judges’, and instead keep us captivated by his gospel. And may we long to see God’s Kingdom coming in our churches, as we get remade by the power of the gospel.

Sunday wasn’t the sermon I planned to preach. But maybe, despite all the homiletical inadequacy, there was a vision to live and die for: a church bruised and broken, because it is made up of people who have seen the risen Lord.

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Evangelii gaudium, 1.48. Read online