The Olympics have been exciting in more ways than one. The games have been compelling and the successes exhilarating. More than that, the nation has been absorbed and people have come together in a shared experience of sporting achievement.
It feels like we are united around a common cause.
Christians want this to happen about something more permanent and fundamental than sporting achievement but that looks unlikely. Wherever I look I find evidence of resentment towards Christians wanting to impose their beliefs and values on those who don’t share them. Abortion, assisted dying, same-sex marriages are bones of contention. Christians oppose them but others resent any attempts to shape the law and public policy on the basis of our values.
There are three possible responses: to go with the flow, to hide in a religious ghetto or to become a change agent and live with the unpopularity that may follow. Jesus’ teaching about his disciples being salt and light clearly identifies the third option as the right one, the other two change nothing. He was using images familiar to his audience. Salt rubbed into meat or fish delayed its decay, the light pushed back the darkness. So Christians are to resist corruption, add flavour to society, clean up its self-inflicted wounds and encourage healthy growth. That is a political as well as a mission agenda. Britain needs it but apparently doesn’t want it. What can ordinary, powerless Christians do?
Gee Walker was such a Christian. Her son Anthony was stabbed to death by two racist youngsters. She hit the headlines when she forgave them. Jesus forgave his killers, how could she do less? Gordon Wilson’s daughter was killed by an IRA bomb. He too forgave them and committed his life to peace-making in Northern Ireland. Gordon and Gee were not socially or politically powerful but they were salt and light.
Salt that stays in the salt cellar changes nothing. If we want to make a difference we have to be involved. What that means will differ from person to person and relate to where God has placed us but for some it will mean joining a party, a trade union or similar body, and to participate to make a difference.
Jesus’ teaching says that to make a difference we have to be different. St Paul makes the same point in Romans 12, “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” To be different we have to stay in a close relationship with Jesus, as his parable of the vine makes clear. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” This makes prayer central to all we are and do.
Forgive me if this reads like a sermon but Britain needs agents for change and those already at work urgently need reinforcements to build on post-Olympic unity and optimism.