This is a sermon for the twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost. The Scripture it references is Micah 3:5-12.
When I was accepted as a candidate for ordination, the diocese supplied me – amongst other reams of paperwork – with a document headed “Indicators of Readiness for Ordained Ministry.” It ran to eight pages of dot points, including such gems as “I understand how people outside the church think,” and “I know how to send and receive emails.” I’m not sure I found it entirely useful. But there was one dot point in particular which I’ve often found myself reflecting on.
It said, “I have learned something of my own reactions to living in the gap between vision and reality.”
This is such an important aspect of our experience as Christians, and yet we seldom talk about it. We live in the gap between vision and reality. And that’s often not a very comfortable place to live, at all.
I mean, on the one hand, there’s the vision. The ideal; the ideal for our society, of justice and peace and reconciliation. The ideal for our church, of holy worship and loving service. The ideal for our families, of safety and faithfulness and joy.
And then, on the other hand, there’s the gritty side of reality. Of a society plagued by injustice and a propensity to hatred of the other. Of a church which is corrupt and a theatre for the egos of the powerful. Of families in which abuse and selfishness and despair are all too common.
Not every family, of course. Not every moment in church, or every government decision, either. But more than enough to make us painfully conscious of the gap between the vision, and the reality.
And the question then becomes, what is our reaction to living in that gap?
We can look at the Scriptures as offering us some models. People who have gone before us, who have caught the vision that God offered them, but have been painfully conscious of their own lived reality, have reacted by producing documents which attempted to address that gap, and which the Church has come to recognise as Scripture.
And in particular, this morning, our reading from Micah speaks powerfully into that gap. Micah lived in a time when his nation’s rulers were weak – politically and personally – and his society was corrupt and oppressive. The gap between vision and reality was stark. And Micah described it:
5 Thus says the Lord concerning the prophets
who lead my people astray,
who cry ‘Peace’
when they have something to eat,
but declare war against those
who put nothing into their mouths…
and so on.
If we take Micah, then, as an example we can follow, here’s what I take from this passage:
- Living in the gap between vision and reality doesn’t mean passively accepting that gap. It means pointing it out; constantly proclaiming the vision back into the reality, and stretching reality towards the vision.
- Living in the gap between vision and reality means choosing leaders who recognise that gap and are committed to narrowing it; and holding them accountable to their responsibilities.
- Living in the gap between vision and reality means paying attention to the experience of the most vulnerable and the most powerless, and making any injustice towards them a priority for change.
- Living in the gap between vision and reality means taking up the roles of prophet and teacher, defining the work that needs to be done, and equipping our community to do that work.
A Church that isn’t filled with the Spirit of God, that isn’t bold enough to talk about justice and sin, that is unwilling to walk and weep with those who are broken, that loves its own power and status more than it loves the God it professes to worship; that’s a church that’s denying the gap, and in the end, denying the vision altogether.
Many people have told me, since I’ve been here, that this parish is a social justice focussed church. But it’s startling to me, then, that as a church, we don’t do much about social justice. I mean, individual people here do significant work, but we don’t take up the challenge or get involved together. It’s almost as if, somehow, we’ve forgotten how.
We need to rediscover how. We need to look around and ask ourselves what issues of justice are urgent and compelling around us. We need to work out how we can be effectively involved in those issues; how we can bring our own vision of God’s justice back to shape our reality.
And we need to do it, not just because it’s who we are as a people gripped by a vision of God’s reign, but because if we want people to be attracted to us – if we want people to want to be part of our community – we need to give them a reason. There is a whole generation of people coming into their prime now who don’t particularly care about institutions, but do care about making a difference; and who might well put up with the baggage of institutional church, if we give them a significant enough opportunity to be part of a community that makes a difference. But why would they want to be here, if they see us as part of the problem, instead of part of the solution?
We do live in the gap between vision and reality. What we need to do is get beyond just reacting to that, and start responding to it. We know that, in the end, our efforts won’t fail. We know that the story of humanity ends with evil judged and humanity restored. What we have is an opportunity to bring that just a little bit closer to our lived experience today.
Micah’s voice cries out over the centuries, recalling his vision of justice and peace and prosperity, and calling us to participate in it. So how shall we respond?