God is a verb
Fr Stephen Bevans is world renowned for his work in contextual theology for the 21st century. Insights had an opportunity to speak to Stephen during Synod about his ideas and views on mission as the subject of his plenary presentation at Synod meeting 2016.
What unfolded is a journey in which Stephen starts by explaining that mission is working with God for the completion of creation and that God’s mission begins at the first nanosecond of creation: “The Spirit is God’s presence, gently but firmly, it is not shaping but coaxing and persuading the universe. God is always a God of freedom so the Spirit is coaxing the universe into birth as the gases form as the stars form as life begins on earth.”
“The Spirit is particularly present in Israel expressed as wind and fire so we see images of water coming out of the temple, the wind blowing over the dry plains and the spirit anointing the prophets for prophecy in Isiah 61. The Spirit of the Lord is upon thee.”
Stephen refers to Luke’s gospel where it is clear the mantel is being passed to Jesus. The community realises that the same spirit that was present is passed onto them and so that is the beginning of the Church he says.
As to where Stephen sees the Spirit of Jesus within the context of a congregation he believes that it is felt sometimes when we get together and when we meet, even when we argue the Holy Spirit is there. “If we can be open we can touch the Spirit,” he says.
“The Spirit is there. Some of the areas where we feel uncomfortable is where we feel the Spirit for example where people are leaving the church or discussions on issues of sexuality. The Spirit is at least leading us to discuss this to reflect on this to come to a come to a deeper understanding of it.”
To quote a friend says Stephen, “God is always the God of the gathering. Wherever people are there the Spirit is and if we respect one another and if we are honest with one and open to another it is amazing to see the ways in which the Spirit is moving us.”
“The Spirit in the beginning with Jesus is now with us. It is moving us like it moved Jesus to do the same things – to tell people good news. We have to work at that which is part of contextual theology.”
How do we talk about the good news today, how do we talk about the Spirit? Stephen suggests, “We need to work with one another to be open. Unfortunately we don’t see the expression of Jesus. One of the greatest challenges is how do we talk about the gospel to convince us that it is worth sharing?”
‘We have to put our heads together much more, theology is important and we need to theologise together and we need to reflect together. The big issues of the world are where we need to take a stand and to really show the world how life giving it is to be a Christian.”
“The problem with Churches is that we don’t look redeemed, says Stephen. A lot of mission today is witnessing, showing people that if you believe you are really going to be a rich, vital human being. Jesus says that, I came to give them life that they may have it more abundantly.”
A vision for mission today
In his plenary presentation Fr Stephen Bevans talks about mission that it is God’s mission that calls forth the Church. God’s mission is wider than the Church’s mission. God is primary we are secondary. He talks in terms of thinking about God as a verb and Church as a verb.
Towards the end of the presentation, Fr Stephen Bevans challenges members to perhaps reflect even further. “He doesn’t see us as God’s workers but as partnership because it is God’s nature to be partners. God treats us as equals, in God’s work life giving, healing and redemption. That is the point of Trinitarian theology. That God dances, God has become one of us in this incarnation, God shows us what God is really like, God is like Jesus, if you want to know who God is look to the cross, look to Jesus healing the blind. God is always by grace. God Goes out and gathers in. That is who God is. Not wanting to sound blasphemous he says somehow or another God needs us in order to get the work done.”
“Even when the Spirit works outside the Church she needs people’s cooperation. God does not force his mystery upon us (Oman). But when God calls, God calls us to be partner real sharers in the divine mission. Our task is to have the openness, humility, and availability of Mary…what I think that means: ‘hail full of Grace’. Like Mary we are called as Church to cooperate fully in God’s work. This is the amazing Grace of mission participating in the work of the Trinity. It is partnering with the missionary God!”
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