So Sunday saw the finale of series 6 of Line of Duty, the BBC drama about an anti-corruption police unit (AC-12). If you haven't been watching Line of Duty or have watched the latest series then you can read on. If you still plan to watch the final instalment of series 6, you may want to stop here (although it's not a huge spoiler!)
As it came to an end and ran a 'what happened after this' sequence, a line flashed up on the screen saying that 'AC-12's power to curb wrongdoing in public office had never been weaker.' Changes have taken place. Things aren't like what they used to be in anti-corruption. They cannot do the things they used to do in order to catch 'bent coppers' (a phrase often used in the series). As I've thought about it, I wonder if that is how some of us can think about the church in this post-Covid nation. There have been significant changes. We've not been able to do the things that we used to be able to do. We haven't been able to physically meet, our usual programmes have been interrupted. We have never been weaker. As we emerge out of lockdown, is this a fair assessment?
Certainly, there have been many things that I have dearly missed (including the ones above), however I wonder if deciding that the church in this nation has never been weaker, is to misunderstand the Church and our mission.
There have been times in history that the Church has been able to meet however it likes, held a powerful position in our society and yet has been weak. It has been weak because it has not understood what makes it strong (or rather, who makes it strong). There have also been times in history when the church has been seen as weak in our society, yet it has displayed power. The same could be said for nations too. Where the Church looks strong in some nations, it may actually be weak and where it looks weak, it may actually be strong.
God's view of weakness and power is not usually the same as ours. Perhaps too, we assume our strength from the wrong things. It reminds me of Jesus' words in Revelation to the churches in Laodicea and Smyrna. To the church in Laodicea he says,
'You say, "I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing." But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.' (Revelation 3: 17)
To the church in Smyrna he says,
'I know your afflictions and your poverty – yet you are rich!' (Revelation 2: 9a)
Despite everything going well for them, the church in Laodicea had put its trust in that and not God. Yet the church in Smyrna had put their trust in God, despite how things were going for them. Jesus sees things differently to us!
I'm certainly not comparing what we've been through over the last year, with the extreme suffering and persecution of a first-century church like the one in Smyrna. However, I do think we need to be reminded of where the Church's strength comes from. As we begin a new sermon series on Ephesians, we'll be looking at the power of God. Paul refers explicitly to the power of God 4 times in Ephesians. It's the greek word, dunamis, where we get our word, dynamite from. It's also the same word he uses when he says in Romans 1:16, ' I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes...'
As a church we're not to be anxious and feel weak because of the limitations of the last year. Rather we're to trust and believe that our strength comes from the unchanging Gospel; The joy-news of Jesus! In the Gospel when we see Jesus at his seemingly weakest moment, on the cross, that's when God is powerfully at work, defeating his enemies and rescuing us! As he rises from death, he proclaims victory and his mission to put all things right continues!
In his book 'Take Heart: Christian Courage in the age of unbelief', US church leader Matt Chandler tells of a time when Dr Martin Luther-King and those in the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s were facing significant opposition. Hostility, violence and even killings. It was at this time of seeming weakness that Dr King wrote:
'It seemed as though I heard an inner voice saying, 'Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever. Almost at once my fears began to pass from me. The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me inner calm'.
A few nights later when they were out of town, their family home was bombed. King then wrote:
'Strangely enough, I accepted the word of the bombing calmly...My experience with God had given me new strength and trust...I know that God is able to give us the interior resources to face the storms of life'.
Chandler writes that the same God who gave Dr King 'new strength and trust' gives us strength and trust today.
As this latest series of Line of Duty came to an end, we were left wondering what would happen next. Would the team of three get back together? Would institutional corruption just continue? Would AC-12 remain weakened? Friends, we're not left wondering in the same way. Jesus is powerfully at work in our day and as his body, we the Church (both Jubilee and others in Teesside) have the amazing privilege of being involved in all he is doing here and in the nations. He fills us with His Spirit so that we can walk in His power and know the same 'strength and trust' that Martin Luther-King knew. It's not going to be the same as it used to be, but let's be very excited for the coming days!
When Mary went to the tomb early on that first Sunday after Jesus' crucifixion, she would not have expected what was to come. Jesus' 'story' and mission however is bigger and greater than ours.
As we come out of our Covid restrictions and look into the next season for us as Jubilee, I wanted to take this time to share some news with you regarding our next steps as a church.
This month, we're privileged to have Michael Akotia write a blog for us. Michael along with his wife Mabel and three children (John, Keziah and Grace) are dear friends to us. Michael leads City of Grace Church in Ho, Ghana and serves on the Christ Central Churches International Team.