How we get there is as important as that we get there
How you get there is as important as that you get there. This is a fundamental principle, above all which we see in the ministry of Jesus. Right at the very outset, tested in the wilderness, he rejected the temptation to take the easy path to fulfil his calling. This principle applies right across the board, both for the individual and for nations. If you choose violence, for example, then you can expect to be beaten up. So even as he is being arrested, Jesus urges Peter: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) Which leads us straight to Brexit. The real danger here is that the prime minister may achieve his immediate goal of leaving the EU on 31 October but at a long term cost, the result of riding rough-shod over everything and everyone that would stand in his way. Today’s Times leader writer censures some of our parliamentarians: “But nothing can excuse the shameful scenes that unfolded as basic standards of parliamentary behaviour, which require that everyone is treated with courtesy and respect, were abandoned, giving way to insults and abuse.” The danger is the damage caused to the national fabric, to how we engage in political debate, to make our society even more individualistic that we already are. Why participate when you will be subjected to abuse, even to the threat of violence? Hence the joint statement of Anglican bishops published this morning. “In the last few days, the use of language, both in debates and outside parliament, has been unacceptable.” So they urge: “We should speak to others with respect. And we should also listen. We should do this especially with the poor, with the marginalised, and with those whose voices are often not heard in our national conversation. We should not denigrate, patronise or ignore the honest views of fellow citizens, but seek to respect their opinions, their participation in society, and their votes.” The means never does not justify the end’ there are always consequences. Moreover, as novelist Nick Harkaway observes “The end doesn't justify anything, because all we ever live with is the means.” One of the most formative events in scripture is how God rescues his people from slavery in Egypt and leads them into their promised land. As many of the Hebrews prophets were later to teach, this is the template to how God works. His first problem was getting his people out of Egypt. I guess there were more than a few options for God but the one he chose was to work through a key player, through Moses. Moses naturally disagreed. His response finds an echo in all our hearts: “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:13) But that’s how God chooses to work – through us, because of and not despite of our weaknesses. Our frailty is never a problem for God: our disobedience is. But how is such obedience exercised? Simply, through faith, through deciding to place our trust in God’s promises. So reluctantly Moses obeys to stand before Pharaoh and demand the release of his people. After ten visits, Pharaoh reluctantly accedes. But this is only the first step of faith. A whole set of impossible situations follow - trapped at the Red Sea, in the wilderness with no water and then with no food, powerful peoples already in the land promised to you. And each step of the way, the people of God faltered. They invariably moaned. Each time, usually last minute, God provided for them and each time they forgot how God kept his promise. But God persisted. His people were in the slow learners group, literally. It took them 40 hard years to travel less than 400 miles – that’s less than 0.001 miles per hour, but God persisted. Yes, they got there, eventually – but how they got there is what mattered, by trusting in God’s faithfulness. The journey to the promised land was simply the means, even the possession of the land was a means to an end. God’s end was clear – for his people to trust through thick and thin. Tragically, inevitably the people of Israel failed: we would have fared no better. Only Jesus was able, even as the nails were being hammered into his wrists, to show such trust in God. That’s why his resurrection is so important: it vindicates his trust. And God continues to look for a people who will trust him. That’s why he is continually putting us in situations, both as individuals and as churches, in which we are called to take a step of faith. I recall one situation in my own ministry when a wealthy church member offered to completely fund a building project on condition that we followed his plans. It wasn’t just that the building wasn’t the right one for our ministry; more to the point, it would require no step of faith. Instead we had no alternative but to trust in God’s provision for the right building. And he delivered; we finished up with a building fit for purpose. As ever, how we got there was just as important as that we got there. A lesson for Brexit.