Back in the dark days of December I planned for us to follow Easter with a brief 4 weeks series on Jonah. This week as I've been preparing it I've been confronted, comforted and challenged in ways that I hadn't quite expected.
Our area is changing. There are over 300 (3, 4 and 5 bedroom) homes currently being built that significantly alter the socio-economic make up of the area. At the same time there are plans, potentially, for another 700 homes of a similar type. Not only will the area have doubled in size in 15 years but there will be a significant shift in the type of families living here. And as that has begun to happen I have noticed a couple of trends which are already in danger of being firmly entrenched. The main one is division between the haves and the have nots. Our playground community has always been relative division free, anyone would and could talk to anyone, but that is changing and changing quickly not for the better.
The divisions we see in the media between middle and working class are increasingly being seen played out in the community. Which estate you live on seems to matter more and more in terms of who you build relationships with and who you talk to in the playground. That presents all sorts of challenges for the community and for the church.
Into that evolving situation Jonah comes with its call to take God's compassion and grace to all, not to hoard it and restrict it to those like us or who we thought we would be taking that message to. Here's my confession, my burden has been for the deprived in our community, to reach those who, by and large, our middle class British evangelical churches have not reached and are not planting to reach. But what do I do with the growing middle class community in our area - at times I find myself thinking there are enough churches who reach them let them do it. But God has sent them into our area, to the mission field I believe he has called me to, the place where he has planted Grace Church.
Just like Jonah I am tempted to have my prejudices, his is that his message and calling is to Israel mine has become that I am called to take the gospel to some estates and not others. But Jonah confronts me with that prejudice and calls me to be a compassionate preacher more like my compassionate Saviour and Father than the compassionless prophet Jonah had become. The gospel, my calling, the churches mission is to ensure that all hear the gospel and have the opportunity to turn to Christ. But first the gospel it has to do it's work in our hearts so that we are remade into the image of the Saviour who calls us to go to make disciples of all ethnicity's, nations, tongues, and classes without prejudice.