It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way–in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only. Thus, wrote nineteenth century English novelist and social critic, Charles Dickens, in his ‘historical’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities.
Deja vu? Or was Mr Dickens writing about 1775 in 1859 for a 21st century audience of 2017? No, of course not, he wasn’t! Neither was he looking into a crystal ball of the future, nor did he claim prophetic gifting. But the opening lines of this classic novel so capture the mood of every aspect of our life in 2017 that it’s impossible to dismiss it. The dilemma of good and bad, light and darkness is such a prevalent and dominant force in human experience. Perhaps Charles Dickens was just (re)penning an all-time universal for human edification. Thus, we see the writer of Deuteronomy familiarly declare: ‘See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity’. Indeed, as was in 19th century England, we have today wealth and health on the one hand and poverty and inequality on the other. In 1775, life in both England and France straddles this paradoxical threshold of best and worst. Apparently, then as now, those who had, could enjoy life in its abundance and those who hadn’t, well, they lived in abject misery.
Is it true that life could be lived so differently merely through the choices we make? On the one hand disaster, on the other paradise?! Some Deuteronomic wisdom:
16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. (Deut 30:16-18)
Well, I never! But it’s true, the choices we make do make a difference … the options we go for as individuals, as churches, as communities and as nations. Principled or unprincipled? Truth or fake news? Love or hatred? As we move into Lent and Easter let’s take time to think carefully about those choices, at both the structural level and the personal levels. The ‘tale of two cities’ is a very real and modern phenomenon and we have the capacity to make it either of the two or at least that everyone is afforded the opportunity and support to live in the city of light.
Perhaps the global world is too grand a project for most of us but we can make a start or a continuation with our own wonderful church. Are there any aspects of SOMC that could be a tale of two cities? Does our church attract and support brokenness and vulnerability? Or is it a sanctuary only for strength and power? Is SOMC a place where all hands are on the mill or is the drudgery of church work borne by a few hands? Is our church a place where we celebrate our gifting or is it a station for moaning what we don’t have? My sense of SOMC is that it is of the best times, the age of wisdom, the epoch of belief, season of life, the spring of hope … all this and more. Yet the capacity to be all this lies in you … and you alone will make the difference. So, go on, do it!