A portion of 2 Corinthians 8 set for services this morning, and I’m uncomfortable with what almost looks like Paul's manipulation across the wider section of this letter.
He isn’t sure those to whom he is writing are really on top of the project in hand. And his emissary has reported back that they aren’t that chuffed with his leadership, so getting them back on track will be tricky. So he claims to admit that his last tough missive might have been ill judged, albeit somehow necessary.
He also lards in things like ‘I am not telling you what to do – but you’ll know to do the right thing’, ‘I’ve told people round here that you are on top of things – it would be so embarrassing if this turns out to be wrong’, ‘I’m not putting pressure on you to be more generous than you want to be – just remember that you owe everything to the generosity of Christ’.
My discomfort, to be clear, is that I recognise myself and the wider church of which I am part in this. The echo of unintentionally hectoring clergy armed with calls to sacrificial discipleship sound around me and sound like me.
‘Here is scripture, let us see how it applies to our life.’ A good call, requiring careful discernment. ‘Here is a challenge in our life, let us see what insights scripture might have to be bring.’ An equally good call, one requiring even more diligent discernment. But ‘I’m sure I know the answer, and this bit of scripture backs it up and explains why you should agree with me’, not so much so.
So I was reflecting with people this morning about how I might preach stewardship as a call to overflowing generosity to family, neighbours and those in need (and, yes, the church), not as something motivated by the need to balance the books of our institutions. The national misuse of the ‘first to the Lord’ text (from just a few verses earlier than those set for today) still at the front of my mind all these years later.
Or safeguarding as seeking to shape places where people will flourish (including, yes, rigorous attention to necessary awareness and procedures), not as something motivated by the need to match diocesan criteria. The three-yearly renewal of my safeguarding training over the last few weeks was saying as much.
And, the rub for me this week as our Parochial Church Councils are able to meet for the first time in ages and we have to begin to tackle our sharply reduced post-pandemic viability, how can we see what God wants ahead of us, not how can we see that God wants us to adopt the schemes I think are the necessary next steps.
The pictures come from exhibitions in windows in central Bradford during Refugee Week.