In his second report from the National Pastors Convention, David Swanson describes how two Anglican bishops helped him recognize Christ's presence among all the convention glitz and kitsch.
May I confess something? I've experienced a bit of cynicism at this conference over the past few days. Everywhere I look, I see another Christian item for sale. I'm writing this post in front of a TV showing the latest installment of a hip teaching series. Off to my left is a display for the new Narnia movie, and to my right is a recruiting station for Army chaplains.
My cynicism is probably not helpful. But I have nevertheless found myself wondering, "Where is Jesus in all this stuff?" One answer to that question has come in the form of addresses from two Anglican bishops.
The main session on Tuesday evening featured Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana. "Bishop John" became took leadership of a diocese in northwest Rwanda in the aftermath of the genocide. A Rwandan refugee who spent most of his life in Uganda, Bishop John was "accepted by Jesus" when he was 21. His journey as a leader in the Anglican Church began shortly thereafter.
Bishop John spoke to us of our calling into God's glory and excellence from 2 Peter 1. I would imagine that most of us in the grand ballroom that evening have had very different experiences in our ministries. Surely few, if any, of us have preached to a congregation filled with those who have known both sides of genocide.
In his sermon, Bishop John repeatedly assured us that he does not follow a distant Jesus, a Jesus who is trapped in history. Rather, he pursues the Jesus who is present now: "I now preach to those who have lost their families and to those who are guilty of killing the families of others. And Jesus is there!"
I couldn't help but wonder if those of us whose lives and ministries have been easier, in so many ways, could say the same thing with the same conviction. Certainly Jesus is present in our lives and churches, as He is for Bishop John. But do we experience that presence with the same clear-eyed conviction as our brother from Rwanda?
This morning I attended the early bible study with N. T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, England. Bishop Wright is widely known for his historical Biblical scholarship, including the "new perspective" on Paul. This morning he led the two hundred or so of us in the room through the book of Acts. Like Bishop John, Bishop Wright continually pointed us to Jesus. Encouraging us to come to Acts with first-century eyes and 21st-century questions, he showed how the story in Acts is all about the risen Jesus establishing the Kingdom of God through the power of the Holy Spirit.
While Bishop John has experienced first hand the collision of the Kingdom of God with our world, Bishop Wright claims that the Western church is moving into a "strange and dangerous world" where we, too, will experience this collision. And while Bishop John has answered the costly call of discipleship to our Lord Jesus, Bishop Wright asked us this morning, "When was the last time someone accused you of proclaiming another president, namely Jesus?"
Jesus is undoubtedly very present at this conference, despite the marketing overload and my own cynicism. But I'm grateful to the English and African bishops for reminding me of this. And I'm grateful that the conference organizers invited these men to address us American church leaders who probably cannot be reminded enough of both the glory and the cost of proclaiming the risen Jesus.
- David Swanson