You probably won’t be surprised to hear that News International isn’t exactly my favourite organisation and that I’m not a big fan Rupert Murdoch either. Those of us who have an interest in the press will have no doubt that newspapers often use dubious tactics to get their stories, but as the Leveson inquiry has progressed following the phone hacking scandal, the stench of illegal practices and underhand practices that has emerged from the News of the World’s headquarters has at times been truly repulsive. When Rupert Murdoch killed it off, I have to admit that I was delighted.
When the inevitable announcement came that the hole left by the News of the World would be filled by the Sun on Sunday, it was no surprise at all. However, I was surprised to hear though that the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu would be writing a weekly column. I remember at the time reading plenty of comments on Twitter criticising him for his decision. How could he bring himself to associate with a paper born out of the ashes of the News of the World scandal?
The Sun on Sunday does indeed follow the News of the World’s traditional format of filling its pages full of sex scandals, gossip and celebrity non-stories, none of which is going to make the world a better place. But this weekend’s edition as you can see, featured God in a big way. Fabrice Muamba, the Bolton footballer who literally has come back from the dead talks along with his family about their sincere belief that God saved his life and that prayer works. Here are some extracts:
Fabrice’s father, Marcel: “I was obviously very concerned that Fabrice would not make it but our faith is very strong and I really believed God would answer my prayer to save him. inside the van I remember calmly turning to the Bolton Chairman Phil Gartside and saying, ‘Fabrice will be fine’. He probably thought I was crazy. But somehow I just knew Fabrice would be safe in God’s hands…”
“Then I said to God, ‘You are the one who resurrected Lazarus from the dead. Now in this moment glorify yourself. At this stage many people believed even if he survived he would end up brain damaged and could never be his old self. But I was calm because I had put my trust in God. And God did not let me down.”
Fabrice Muamba: “I am walking proof of the power of prayer. For 78 minutes I was dead and even if I lived I was expected to have suffered brain damage. But I’m very much alive… Someone up there is watching over me. On the morning of the game I prayed with my father and asked God to protect me – and he didn’t let me down.”
Further on in the paper in his column, John Sentamu picks up on the theme of God’s power to heal and His desire for us to know Him:
“…We have a God who does the incredible, making the impossible possible… You may feel ordinary but you can be part of something extraordinary. For the risen Jesus takes the ordinary – you and me – and turns us into normal extraordinary followers.”
Some of the content of the Sun is undoubtedly sordid, distasteful and really not the sort of stuff Christians should be encouraged to read, but you have to applaud the editors for allowing such a blatant Christian messages to be published. You might think that John Sentamu has stepped into a den of vipers, but if he hadn’t done it, would anyone have taken his place and would the gospel be preached so regularly from the Sun on Sunday’s pages?
Jesus drew plenty of criticism for hanging out with those the religious leaders thoroughly disapproved of. Take this example:
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32)
Jesus hits the nail on the head with his answer. If we spend our time preaching to the converted, how are those outside the church ever going to hear the gospel? Sometimes as Christians and as the church we need to associate ourselves with ‘sinners’ in order to share the good news of Jesus, even at the risk of damaging our reputation. Rather than being frowned upon in some quarters, we should be encouraging it as long as our beliefs and message don’t get compromised in the process.
This weekend God’s greatest evangelist was a footballer who used a tabloid to tell the world just how amazing God is. God knows what He’s doing and we need to learn to follow His lead.