Some characters in “South Riding” are spunky – feisty – taking on the task of never repeating the mistakes that led their nation into war. Others are victims -- physically, mentally, and emotionally. None have hope; none act like a power greater than themselves can save them. Even the clergyman, a powerful defender of Christian charity, is hopeless, a captive of his passions, and sinks into depressing debaucheries.
These fictional characters, and the uncertainty of their times are not so different from folks we meet today – or the times in which we live. As critical as I might be about England’s churches to “maintain moral authority,” how is the American church doing? How’s my local church doing, maintaining moral authority? And how am I doing? Are we as ineffective to influence our times as the English church appeared to be in 1934? Am I?
Serendipitously on Sunday last, the pastor described a dimension of the Holy’s Spirit’s power and authority and purpose from Acts, and offered a checklist by which I might gauge my the pressure in my spiritual tires. Just how far do I get on the power Christ offers me? By Christ’s last words, He expects that we will go far:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
And then the pastor cited four marks of an effective witness by which we may test for leaks in our own witness: contrition, certainty, confrontation, and compassion.
* Contrition – How sorry am I for my sins? My answer: Like the wretched fictional clergyman in the BBC production, I am often sorry and ashamed. But then I deceive myself that what I want to do really doesn’t seem too bad.
• Certainty -- Christ said it – that settles it! My reaction, however, can wobble: Yes, but . . . too often wafts through my mind unsettling what is supposed to be settled. (Mark 9:24)
• Confrontation – By definition, confrontation is creating an intentional conflict. It means not only telling you, I think you are wrong, and why; it means walking with you – clearing the path, helping each other out. (Proverbs 24:11-12; Hebrews 12:13.) But I am too often more worried about your opinion of me than your welfare.
• Compassion – This is God’s defining attribute, and it means passing on to others the loving-kindness that drew me away from my self-centered and gave me a hope and a future. (John 4)
So, a drama series and a sermon providentially showed me how impotent and unproductive I can be when I turn down or misuse the Holy Spirit’s power. The Great War, the Roaring Twenties, and the great Depression swept through the church, and many in it were overcome by grief and sin. Times are not getting easier – and I can feel myself weakening. The first decade of this century has swept through the church, carrying as much terror, disgrace, death and destruction. But the Christ’s church, me included, has a choice and a chance:
. . . I have to write insisting — begging! — that you fight with everything you have in you for this faith entrusted to us as a gift to guard and cherish . . .
Go easy on those who hesitate in the faith. Go after those who take the wrong way. Be tender with sinners, but not soft on sin. . . . (Selected verses from Jude -- THE MESSAGE)