Approaching 2021 with Love in our Hearts
Mission Director Stephen Baxter reflects on the year ahead
Winners and Losers …
… Or Something More Profound?
As we are approaching 2021, the 24-hour daily news cycle reminds us we live in unsettling, even dangerous, times. But perhaps we can come with some love in our hearts?
By Mission Director Stephen Baxter
Although somewhat removed in Tasmania, technology connects us to the rest of the world. Recent events in the USA, the increasing bully-like antics of China, and a small virus that continues to bring the world to a standstill, are reminders of the unique moment we are living in.
The relative peace experienced in much of the Western World over the past 50 years or so makes it all feel somewhat “unprecedented”. Recent McCrindle research1 reveals only 10% of those over 75 feel any long-term negative effects on their mental health due of Covid-19.
Yet, among those aged between 18-40, more than half feel the affect has been harmful. McCrindle suggests those over 75 have lived through similar times, like WWII, and have a resilience not known in younger generations.
No wonder the younger ones are struggling more than the older generations.
Stories make sense of the world
Global interconnectedness, which many hoped would usher in a world of increasing peace and harmony, has delivered something like the opposite. The world is full of anxiety and fear, and social media has intensified the rage and polarisation. Now, as we begin 2021, we want to be hopeful, yet it looks like this year will contain as much disruption as 2020, and perhaps more!
In times such as these there are always different stories competing for the hearts and imaginations of humanity, endeavouring to make sense of our lives.
One such story, fuelled by fear and inadequacy, is a tale of “winners and losers”.
Driven by a sense of scarcity, life is a competition and many take sides. The world is divided into oppressors and the oppressed, aggressors and victims. When one believes the path to peace, security and happiness comes by “winning”, violence is an inevitable outcome.
Jesus’ radical contrasts
Sadly, the church is not exempt from the temptation. We too can retreat into an “us and them” mentality built on assumptions of scarcity, competition, and opposition.
Jesus told a different story. He did not view the world through the lens of scarcity, as we can do when approaching 2021, but of abundance. Instead of winning, he talked about serving, stewardship, generosity and sharing where everyone is a winner–for there is enough for all. God, he taught, is a good God full of grace and provision who causes the rain to fall, and the sun to shine, upon all people, both good and evil.
Jesus did not divide the world into winners and losers. His vision for humanity was based on acceptance, grace, and forgiveness. He called every person to love their neighbour as themselves, and even to love their enemies! Life is not a competition fuelled by scarcity, but cooperative empowered by abundance.
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute youMatthew 5:44 (NIV)
The result over the ensuing centuries was a slow, gentle revolution. As people believed in Jesus and lived by his teachings, the poor were healed and empowered, and society became more like the one Jesus envisaged. Life was not a competition, and people no longer lived as victims. As co-heirs with Christ, and willing agents in the spread of the Gospel, the world changed for the better.
Love in our hearts and grace on our lips
Society was transformed not through their compliant submission to those who “lorded it over them”, nor through violent revolution and revenge, but by their nonviolent resistance to scarcity, and “winning” through a life of service and self-giving, that transformed the world.
Let’s be Jesus’ agents. This is what our troubled and unsettled world of 2021 needs. Jesus still calls us to be agents of transformation and positive change in the world. His metaphors of salt, light, and yeast help us appreciate who we are called to be. We are those who do not believe life is a competition. We are those who do not withdraw from the world but are active agents within it.
As well, we are not activists, but respectful, welcoming, loving, patient neighbours to everyone, including our enemies and call them to come believe in and follow Jesus. We don’t set out to win but to bless. We set out with love in our hearts, and grace on our lips.
As we are approaching 2021, may the Spirit empower us all to be witnesses for Jesus in Tasmania.
Mission Director, Tasmanian Baptists
1 Australia in the wake of COVID-19 – McCrindle, accessed January 26, 2021