Sitting in the same room this week for four consecutive days of meetings my attention kept being drawn to the emergency exits, and the world outside beyond the glass. The green signs intruded into my imagination as though they were begging a question. A person running, an arrow giving direction and a door through which to escape to safety – what sort of prophetic message might this be? Aside from the obvious personal connotation of wanting to be back home, in my faith perception the image became rooted in the lectionary reading from Isaiah set for this Sunday, the second after Epiphany: For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch. (Isaiah 62:1) A quick perusal of other translations gives added force to what is intended by the two key decisions at the heart of this text: I will not keep still, I can't keep my mouth shut, I can't hold my tongue, I cannot remain silent, I will not hold my peace, I will speak up for your good, I will not remain quiet….
If the emergency exit signs are meant to incite action in a context of threat and apparent danger to those inside, getting them outside and into comparative safety, so the reworked theological one incites God’s insiders to get off their butts, leave the comparative safety of church life, and with a real sense of urgency to get out into the suffering and hurt of the world. Once there they will not keep silent about injustice or rest whilst people’s lives are needy, broken and falling apart. Seen like this the challenge of the Christian faith is starkly and wonderfully simple. We are called to be where Jesus already is, being present with longing, compassion and loving intent in the hidden hurting places all around us.
As the alarms of decline and despondency sound throughout the life of the institutional churches in contemporary Britain, staying put and sitting still as we are is a spectacularly stupid option. Those with an eye and ear to the signs of the times and the promptings of the Spirit have long since rushed through the emergency exit of mission and discipleship and emerged at the heart of their communities in new and relevant ways. Once there, such pioneers do not keep silent nor do they rest. And there is still time for the rest of us to follow and rediscover what the Kingdom of God looks like in practice.
Having recovered our identity outside, we will truly be faith ‘insiders’ again.__________________________________________________________________________
And please note that I am not suggesting that we never rest, become still, reflective, silent or attentive to what others say; it is really vital that we seek an appropriate and healthy balance in our spirituality for our own sakes as well as for those around us