Occasionally, on a Monday evening, I run down a stretch of Canning Highway. Those few hundred metres take me past the Christadelphian Hall in Victoria Park. Each time I run by, I hold my breath for their weekly non-contextual message to the masses. Sometimes it borders on apostasy, sometimes it’s weird and whacky, and sometimes, despite a shred of context, tinged with truth.
As I run on, a bunch of thoughts often come to mind.
What purpose do they have? With their outrageous and controversial edge, why? Just why?
I fantasise about returning stealth-like, Luther-style, and pinning a bunch of Post-it notes on the pole supporting the illuminated sign. Notes with Bible verses that challenge their confident proclamations.
I consider the serendipitous conversations I would have if I ran by in the very moment someone was up a ladder posting the weekly message.
And then there’s the thought that accompanies the occasional message that rings with gospel truth (yes, they sometimes appear). The thought is often “how have you managed to communicate such a glorious truth in a way that makes me feel that you’re a bit angry about it (and me) and that I should duck lest the next one collects me full in the face”.
More than any of those thoughts is a sillier one: I hope no one notices. I hope that of the 47,690 drivers and their passengers who pass that sign each day, none of them looks up and reads that sign and, in doing so, is pushed further away from a God that seems so angry that he wants to burn the whole place down.
I hope no one notices.
I hope no one notices the JW.ORG sign that I just ran by and asks them about Jesus.
I hope no one notices that the old bloke who shoved a pie in the face of the Qantas CEO also declares himself a follower of a loving Father who calls us to love not fear and to be fueled by joy, not anger.
I hope no one notices some funny guy in a cream suit and matching shoes twirling his suit jacket as people fall down all over the shop.
I hope no one notices our propensity to argue the splitting of doctrinal hairs as if sport.
I hope no one notices the hypocrisy in my life. The confidence with which I speak and sing of the goodness of God at some times during the week juxtaposed against the tentativeness with which I’m prone to share the good news of His Son.
But they do. For a while. And then they don’t really care anymore. For what is good about a weird, confusing, angry, vitriolic and half-hearted God, right?
As I continue after Canning Highway, there’s another house I pass. It’s large and spectacular – striking in design and seemingly able to accommodate a fleet of six vehicles and a helicopter on the roof. What’s difficult to miss as you pass by this lavish residence is the double life size statue of Jesus that sits between the two-metre perimeter wall and the front door.
It’s an irresistible picture. The one who declares himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, humbling himself by becoming obedient to the point of death on a cross sits safely ensconced within the confines of the upper-class palace.
Not for the first time, I find myself hoping that no one notices. Not that they would ignore Jesus, but the strange context in which he’s been planted.
Though Jesus was rich, yet for your sake, He became poor so that by His poverty you would be rich. Not wealth that’s spent on illuminated signs, lemon meringue pies, giant statues, or squandered altogether, but a wealth discovered by those blessed by their poverty of spirit. What’s that blessing? An encounter with their Creator and a revelation of the gospel of His Son, Jesus. And an eye-opening encounter with the values of God’s Kingdom where grace, mercy and love rule.
The consistency of our love and the boldness of our declarations of the good news of Jesus and this Kingdom become increasingly irresistible. Magnetic. They bring us face to face with our own frailty, but it’s in exchange for freedom, joy, grace and love. The call of the One who says ‘drink from the living water that will satisfy you so that you’ll never thirst again’.
That’s worth noticing.