Thursday, June 19, 2008

Not Secret at All

So there’s been a lot in the news over here recently about two government officials leaving secret documents on trains. The first one was a potential catastrophe—it had to do with Britain’s security efforts to counter terrorism here and around the world. Luckily it was turned in without it falling into the wrong hands. The second was slightly less damaging—it described how money was laundered by terrorist groups, and how the government was trying to cut off those funds. With the Labour government already losing its public support and credibility, this was a major screw-up.

Secrets are important. From military plans to PIN codes, we all benefit from secrets staying, well, secret. Some of the great stories from WWII focus on the breaking of secret codes and the advantage it gave the side with the information. In the Pacific Navy codebreakers helped the US crush the Japanese forces at Midway, a battle that was all the more astonishing because it took place just six months after Pearl Harbor. During the war in Europe the deciphering of the Enigma code gave the Allies an advantage that helped end the war.

The other night we went to the US Embassy to see one of our young people become an Eagle Scout. It was a beautiful ceremony—full of tradition and respect and parental support. It’s the second year in a row that a young man from our church has earned the rank, and we were proud to be there.

The event was held in one of the large press briefing rooms, a bit like a small theater in the basement of the Embassy. They used the projection screen to list the scouts who were earning honors, and to show slides of their events over the last year. When they were done projecting images, the screen went back to its home page: an enormous seal of the US State Department, big eagle and all, on a solid looking blue field. At the top there was a graphic saying that the image was part of the Embassy intranet, and below it had the following words:

Sensitive, But Not Classified.

Partly it was a reminder that we were in a government building, and that secrets played a major role in the work that was done here. It was a way of saying that the information on that system needed to be treated with care, even if it wasn’t top secret. But the phrase has stuck with me for the last few days—there’s something about it that bears on our relationship to the Gospel.

It many ways the message of Jesus Christ is sensitive. It gets at the heart of who we are—of our sinfulness, our hopes for a future (and a present) that matters, and our desire to wrestle control away from the Sovereign God. The Gospel addresses real things—real issues about life and love and suffering. It’s also sensitive in that it needs to be nurtured and shared and even understood. Every Christian is tasked with studying the message of Christ, partly so we can grasp its transformative impact on our lives, and partly so we can communicate its meaning to other people.

That’s where we lose the plot of our own story, if we’re honest. Recognizing that the Gospel is sensitive is one thing, but resisting the temptation to keep it classified is another. By its very nature the message of Jesus Messiah is meant to be shared lavishly, even frivolously—certainly it’s not meant to be kept secret or hidden or covered up. It’s precisely the sort of thing that we should be leaving on buses and trains and anywhere else we can think of. It’s precisely the sort of thing we should be living and sharing without any cloaking or covering.

There’s a challenge here for all of us. The challenge—the dare—is to figure out creative ways to share the good news we know as freely and generously as we can. That’s hard, but then again, no one in their right mind ever said this would be easy.

As I watched the new Eagle Scouts stand in front of their peers, with their parents behind them sharing in the glory, I thought of all the places we go and the things we have and the activities we get to enjoy, as we share in God’s glory here. Those guys won’t brag—it’s against their code—but they will bear the mark of that Eagle badge for the rest of their lives. I was reminded of the line from Stuart Townend’s contemporary hymn, ‘How Deep the Father’s Love for Us’:

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection.

That’s it in a nutshell. Nothing classified—no secrets—and no time wasted trying to take the credit for ourselves. When I reflect on the message of the Gospel—which is an awful lot like saying ‘When I survey the wondrous Cross’—I’m reminded that there’s nothing about it that should be classified—held back—from a world that needs to hear it badly. It made me think that if we ever got to a point where we had our own intranet system, the graphic on it should read as follows:

Sensitive, but for general distribution, even to the ends of the earth.

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