7: Pray and love #Lent2021

Jesus says, “If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that. In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.” (Matthew 5:46-48, MSG)

It felt a bit strange finishing my PhD and becoming a New Testament scholar at the age of 50. I am a ‘young scholar’ in terms of my research experience. Yet I am about 10 to 20 years older than many (though not all) of my peers. I have done many different things in my life. As a child, I was a factory worker in Asia. After university, I worked as an IT professional in Australia for several years. At the age of 30, I started my first theological degree. Within a couple of years I became a pastor in a big church, and was ordained three years later. After that, I went back to IT for a few years while completing my MPhil. Then I worked in the aid and development sector for almost seven years. Soon after that I completed my doctoral thesis. I have been an adjunct lecturer at several theological colleges since 2001, and my first academic book was published in 2015.

I have worked in cramped conditions in a small factory in Asia, and I have enjoyed the comfort of the spacious offices of huge corporations in Australia. I understand the challenge of complex organisational structures in the corporate world, as well as the issues that small churches face. I have experienced the benefits of middle-class income. And I know how it feels to live on a low income, both in Asia and in Australia. While my passion for the Scripture means that I find great pleasure in studying the Biblical texts in depth, my diverse life experience has constantly forced me to ask how Bible-loving Christians can follow Jesus in the world today. Or, to put differently, what happens after exegesis? …

I think prayer and our sincere desire to love our neighbours are the keys. I have come to realise that God can open the way if we earnestly seek Him. Some years ago God provided our family with a small office-cleaning job every fortnight to supplement our income. This has turned out to be a good time of reflection for me in the midst of academic teaching and research. I am an introvert, and the very thought of getting to know new people freaks me out. But God led me to a church where I can associate with many socio-economically disadvantaged people, as well as Christians from many cultures, not least some inspiring Indigenous Australians. Their lives have profoundly enriched my understanding of God. At the same time, God has given me friends who are relatively well-to-do. As I listen to their stories, I learn that life is not a bed of roses, despite their financial stability. Yet they persevere to follow Jesus. God has also given me theological students from different ethnic backgrounds, including many refugees. They have taught me a lot about faith and faithfulness.

I can testify that the Scripture is more real than ever as I open my life to my diverse circle of friends, for what I see in them is also what I find in the Bible. In a real sense, God speaks through the Scripture in the real world. I think everyone can experience this. Ω

Reflect: What have you learned about God, and faith, by loving radically different people? If you don’t know any such people, pray about it. Ask God to lead you into a surprising conversation with a person whose background, identity and life experience are very different from your own.

What is this? Lent is the 40 days, excluding Sundays, before Easter. Traditionally it is a time of intense reflection and pilgrimage. To help you on this journey, Sanctuary has put together 40 stories from people both within and beyond the congregation, with associated questions for reflection and prayer. A reading will be uploaded every day of Lent.

Siu Fung Wu is a lecturer at Whitley College, the Baptist Theological College of Victoria, and the author of Suffering in Romans (2015). This piece was excerpted from ‘What happens after exegesis? Reading the Bible in the real world,’ found at http://www.ethos.org.au/online-resources/Engage-Mail/what-happens-after-exegesis. #Lent2021. Real People, Real Stories: 40 Readings for Lent, Sanctuary, 2021. Image credit: Rachel Coyne on Unsplash.

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