Magazines 2023 Nov - Dec A third-day third-way people

A third-day third-way people

24 November 2023 By Phil Wagler

The nations are crying out for a solution to a cascade of calamities. Dare we say this is a good news moment? Indeed it is, because of the Resurrection and the third way of the Kingdom of God.

We who were formally no people at all, and who knew of no peace are now called to be…a church…of peace. True Christians do not know vengeance. They are children of peace. Their hearts overflow with peace. Their mouths speak peace, and they walk in the way of peace. –Menno Simons, 16th century

The current torrent of human sorrow being inflicted in real time on real people in real places and shared as instant information for global consumption is beyond overwhelming. Israel, Gaza, Artsakh, Manipur, Yemen, Ukraine, Russia, Myanmar. The list has become so long we even forget what was on the list just a few months ago.

And, we haven’t even mentioned the endless unnamed conflicts and tensions that don’t make headlines in countries, cities, small towns, neighborhoods and households – perhaps even yours and mine.

The whole cosmos scrolls searching for good news.

The first century was chaotic and conflicted. Imperial Rome was colonizing its version of pax (Latin “peace”). Bethlehem’s babies and toddlers were perishing. Zealots and Roman collaborators clashed. So-called messiahs were rising and falling. Tax collectors hid curiously in trees. Tumbling towers randomly crushed innocents raising existential questions. A Canaanite woman begged a Jewish man for help looking even for crumbs of hope.

All these events referenced in the Gospel accounts are only what we know in that small plot called Judea and Samaria. What was happening on British Isles, Scandinavia, on the Central Asian steppes, Southeast Asia or among the First Peoples of the Americas or Oceania?

We don’t really know from Scripture. It’s only as we read on in Acts that we see the events begin to reveal the wider script to the ends of the earth where histories were unfolding at the same pace as in the land of the Bible.

It's rather stunning, is it not, that into all that trouble in one small corner of a great big world, one man had the courage, chutzpah and moral clarity to say, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

Oh, and he also said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set a liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).

And then, in a political posture that irritated his Jewish hometown, he pointed to a Sidonian widow and Syrian military general as historical examples of those who identified the movement of God when they saw it. This good news Kingdom he came revealing could not be contained or controlled by human borders.

This good news Kingdom he came revealing could not be contained or controlled by human borders.

Jesus came inviting people – beginning in Jerusalem, Judea, Galilee and Samaria – to see, step into and embody a different reality. In Christ God was forming a new humanity reflective of the human mosaic who were fellow citizens in the household of God as the Apostle Paul described it – himself a Jew writing to new Christians in a Gentile city (Ephesians 2:11-22).

There is a kingdom of the Jews. There are kingdoms of the Gentiles. And, according to Jesus, there is the kingdom of God.

Jesus confronted his first-century hearers with the invitation to acknowledge that the kingdom of Jews and the realms of the Gentiles were not the kingdom of God, but that in him God’s kingdom had indeed arrived – a third way of liberty and the Lord’s favour – and all peoples should open their eyes, humble their hearts, change their minds, do an about-face, and believe the King of Kings had arrived who would speak peace to the nations (Zechariah 9:9-11).

So, here we are, you and I and us together. The world is polarized, and wars abound. And, sadly, the Church that is the Body of Christ and God’s missionary and community of hope is polarized and even warring with itself.

Meanwhile we live in a transformational moment. The nations are crying out for a solution to a cascading calamity. Dare we say this is a good news moment? This is precisely a time when Christians, citizens of the Kingdom of God, should check their politics and passports, and return to the simplicity of the message that a marginalized, colonized, powerless first-century church declared: “That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Christians are third-day third-way people.

Christians are people of the resurrection. Though we live in this moment of despair and confusion we, sinners though we be, have been raised to new life in Christ and declared saints – this is the message we proclaim, not our politics. We proclaim the Prince of Peace has arrived, it is finished, and the third day changed everything.

We proclaim the Prince of Peace has arrived, it is finished, and the third day changed everything.

But this also means we are third-way people. We don’t just proclaim, we demonstrate the ethics, practices and peace of the Kingdom of God. We are committed to learning his third way and living this way. This requires ongoing repentance, consecration, fellowship, prayer and courageous joyful obedience to Jesus as Lord in the face of the darkness that is descending on our generation.

The world is groping in the dark for a way out. It always has been. The gateway into God’s Kingdom is narrow and few find it. But those who enter by God’s grace, Christ’s cross and the Spirit’s resurrecting power, discover an expansive new and living hope and are given shoes of the gospel of peace in order to wage a battle that is not against flesh and blood.

The Church of Jesus wherever it finds itself is to love God and neighbour and teach our people to instinctively, generously and impartially do to those considered the least what we would do to Jesus himself. The Church is to embody the hope of reconciliation in its life together and embrace the ministry of reconciliation into our cities and communities that an overflow of the experience of the peace of our risen King among all people everywhere might be known and witnessed to.

In a world warring and taking sides there must be a third way. Citizens of the Kingdom of God whether enslaved or free, male or female, Russian, Ukrainian, American, Palestinian, Israeli, Mohawk, Iranian, Azerbaijani, Armenian, Colombian, Angolan or Korean are all one in Christ – and Christ our King is all, and in all of us.

This world enslaves all to fear, traumatic histories and seems to delightfully shatter innocence and manipulate without discrimination. This world woos all to succumb to the insatiable addictions of xenophobia, sexual experimentation, material gain and warped fear-based spiritualities. The world is under a shroud of darkness, and this is not fake news – it is true, and it is bad news.

But third-way people are not those who lose heart, for we have heard the clarion call to good news! We have repented and believe the Kingdom of God has come, and we are unworthy and yet beloved and honorary citizens of it. We are ambassadors of a third way, and this is good news requiring proclaiming and demonstrating within this moment we have been given.

As these days unfold before us and we who call ourselves Christians consider our responses, activate our public engagement and discern what the Spirit requires of us, the words of Lesslie Newbigin in The Gospel in a Pluralist Society sound like a loud prophetic trumpet call:

How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel, is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live it.

So, where now are these congregations, these outposts of the Kingdom of God, these patches of God-light, who are still as the nations rage and know and live this way? Where are these good news communities? If this is not our good news moment then, pray tell, what do we think that moment will ever look like?

The world is crying out for good news and Christians have been called to it, entrusted with it and are it. We are third-day third-way people. We are to walk out the way of peace. This is our good news moment. Let us not scroll past it.

The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel (Mark 1:15).

Peace and Reconciliation Network logoPhil Wagler of Kelowna, B.C., is global director of the WEA Peace & Reconciliation Network. Photo of candles by awesomecontent on Freepik.

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