How you get there is just as important
Hola! As it happens I am writing this blog from outside the European Union. Just like the land of my forebears (i.e. the IOM) and the Channel Islands, Tenerife - for some quirk of history - is not a member of the EU. That used to be worth knowing as you walked through the duty free area at Manchester airport. When PM David Cameron was lining up his referendum on staying in the EU, I remember the German weekly periodical Der Spiegel (in the English edition, I hasten to add) reassuring its readers that they could rely on the good sense of the British electorate to make the right decision. Whatever, as a consequence of that referendum we now find ourselves about to enter the brave new world outside the European Union. Myself I voted to Remain but today I've moved to more of a Leave position - for the simple reason that there is more to life than economics. Either way I can see that there is no Christian position as such. For me the main reason for leaving is what is now called the Democratic Deficit. I think it is fair to say that from the very outset, from the Treaty of Paris in 1951 setting up the embryonic Common Market, the European project was conceived and driven by bureaucrats, notably the 'father of Europe' Jean Monnet. For the record, M Monnet was never elected to any public office anywhere: he was a 'pragmatic internationalist', a fixer operating behind the scenes. "The countries of Europe are too small" he once argued "to guarantee their peoples the necessary prosperity and social development. The European states must constitute themselves into a federation." To be fair the establishment of the European Coal and Steel Community in 1951 was entirely necessary and may have been at the time beyond the scope of the bruised and disorientated electorates. But right at the very outset democratic accountability was not part of the DNA of the European project with the consequence today that the European Commission is the main player. You may remember, for example, how they sent the Irish electorate back to the polls until they made the correct decision. As I have argued before, how you get there is as important, sometimes even more important, than that you get there. Or to quote my evangelist friend Peter Partington in a very different context, how you become a Christian very much determines how you grow as a Christian. I had only been a vicar for a couple of months when we took a coach full of church members and their friends to the Billy Graham rally at Anfield (the only way I would enter that particular stadium). When it came to Graham's call to come forward to make a commitment to Christ, I could see the young man near me hesitate. A big decision and he wasn't sure. Time was running out and so Diane, our then organist, offered to go forward with him - and they did. And that was the kind of Christian that young man became, at every step needing someone to encourage him to make the right decision. Sad to say, he didn't last very long as a disciple. This was a formative experience for me. So I have always encouraged the decision to follow Christ to be taken, literally sometimes, in the cold light of morning. I recall Harold, an older man and a widower, taking our Saints Alive course at Rochdale. It came to week 6, I think, when the participants were encouraged to make a commitment as a disciple of Jesus. Harold went home, where he lived by himself, to think about it. The next morning he had his breakfast with his regular cup of tea. He decided to surrender all - and so he simply walked into the hall, opened his front door and said "Come in, Lord Jesus." Harold proved to be a solid disciple. So we are to eschew all short cuts, all quick fixes in ministry. Jesus right at the very outset of his ministry while being tested in the wilderness, rejected the easy path of the crowd-pleasing spectacular, renounced the need to be popular and refused the temptation of self-interest. When it comes to ministry, foundation is everything. Of course, this will mean misunderstanding, even apparent failure. Jesus feeds the 5000, a crowd-pleaser if ever there was one and then, in John 6, he walks on water, the ultimate spectacular. He tells the people "I am the bread of life, he who comes to me with not hunger, he who believes in me will never thirst." (John 6:35). At that point, John tells us, the Jewish leaders start to grumble. But not only his opponents. Many of Jesus' disciples start to feel uneasy at his direct teaching - it would seem that he is assuming the authority of God himself. "Therefore, many of his disciples, when they heard this said: 'This is a difficult statement, who can listen to it?'" (John 6:60) Jesus does not back down even though he could see he was now risking losing many followers: "It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life." (v63). "As a result of this many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore." (v66) At this point it seemed that even his twelve would leave him. "You do not want to go away also, do you?" he asked them. In other words, Jesus knew the importance of laying a sure foundation for his ministry even if it did cost him support. Morever, he taught and demonstrated his way of doing things was very different, often totally opposite, to the way this world operates. His biggest problem was the self-promotion of the disciples, each valuing their status. Jesus responded, often using the low status of a child as a visual aid. “Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It's not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant!" (Luke 22:25, Message translation) Very simply Jesus wants us to start as we are to continue, to embed the values of the Kingdom of God in all that we do, right at the outset. That may mean going back and starting afresh. Whatever, the essential is that we do it his way.