Brian McLaren, in his book, The Secret Message of Jesus asks how the Kingdom of God (or what I prefer to call the Community of divine love) might come into the world, and how we participate in this process. The Kingdom, he suggests, cannot come by force, using bigger weapons, or better political organisation, for then it is no different from any other powerful empire of this world and not a community of peace. Rather it can only come in acceptance, vulnerability, sacrifice and love.
To illustrate how we participate in the coming of the kingdom, McLaren he tells a story about a taxi driver called Carter, whom he knew. On one occasion, Carter drove a person from Malawi. McLaren writes ‘Because Carter wasn’t “just a taxi driver” but instead was “a taxi driver in the kingdom of God,” he treated his guest with special respect as only a taxi driver in the kingdom of God can. The guest introduced Carter to some other Malawian friends, and soon Carter the taxi driver was invited to visit Malawi. … There, Carter saw poverty he had never before imagined. … Carter realized that there was no road in the village — just a narrow path, rutted and muddy. … With a proper road, people could get around better, and elderly and sick people could be transported to the hospital. He had brought some money, so he offered to pay for gas and oil and drivers if the people of the village would do the work. Soon Carter’s generous spirit — the spirit of the kingdom of God — became contagious, and someone provided a grader and then more and more people volunteered to help. Three days later, they had built a proper road a mile and a quarter long.’
McLaren goes on to tell how Carter brought other benefits to the village over time – volunteers to take people to the city hospital, improved farming efficiency, sport, a school, medical aid for ringworm. In each case, Carter offered the relatively meagre resources he had as a taxi driver to encourage others also to contribute.
McLaren calls Carter a “secret agent for the Kingdom” and encourages his readers to also become secret agents. At first, that expression made me uncomfortable. Secret agents, in my mind, are people associated with espionage and violence – James Bond, 007, has a “license to kill.” Then it dawned on me that this is a comparison that McLaren intends. A secret agent for God’s Kingdom, the Community of divine love, does not have a “license to kill,” but a “license to care.” And this caring is carried out not through the most high-tech weapons that Q can invent, but through the ordinary things available to the person. In the case of Carter, this was what he could save of his small income as a taxi driver, and a lot of enthusiasm.
As I read about Carter, other people came to my mind. There was Margaret Flower, a strong member of Scots, who along with Jean Thomson brought so much good to villages in Africa and Asia, using inheritance money above and beyond what she needed for a comfortable western retirement. Many of those who read this message will remember Margaret and Jean with love. And you will be able to add other names to this list – people who without fuss, flim-flam or fanfare, added good to the lives of others, using whatever gifts they had or circumstances they were in, people who strove to live the community of divine love in our midst. We are agents of God’s community of love when we choose to live according to fairness, integrity, generosity, respect and acceptance in our dealings with others.
Recently I have been reading again some of the images St Paul uses for the Christian community. He talks of the community as a garden and of us as gardeners (and God as the chief gardener), or of the community as a building and us as builders. These images of relationships are very different from others that we see so often: such as the Christian life as a battle with evil and temptation, or the only escape from an inevitable lapse into sin which can only be reversed by God, or a crusade to save souls for Jesus. Gardening and building are constructive and caring images, with people who work in quiet, unostentatious ways, much like secret agents.
Secret Agent, Gardener or Builder, which would you like to be? (Rev Dr Peter Trudinger)
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