‘The Lord has need of it’
One of, if not The key elements that sets Christian faith apart, is its understanding of God.
As The former Archbishop of Canterbury, the late Michael Ramsey said, God is Christlike, in God there is no unChristlikeness as all. So as we see Jesus, we must thus reshape our understanding of God.
In Holy Week we are faced with this Incarnation of the radical undoing of any idea of God that is a projection of our wish fulfilment, ultimately upon the Cross, the God who is Crucified, the God who dies.
Throughout the week there are markers of this strange God revealed to us in Christ.
Firstly at Palm Sunday, we are reminded that we worship a God who makes himself dependent upon us. Throughout the gospels we are confronted with the needy God, the one for whom there is no room in the inn, the one who must ask the Samaritan woman for a drink, the one who has nowhere to lay his head, the one who has no coin, the one has need even of a lowly beast of burden, the one who thirsts, the one who in the end will lie in a borrowed tomb.
He sends his disciples to find the colt, and the words he gives them is The Lord has need of it.
This is how this strange God comes into the world, not in fullness and power, but in emptiness and need. Challenging all our preconceived ideas about God, and continuing to challenge those ideas about God which even after 2000 years we refuse to lay down. Challenging our ideas also about Mission.
Our ideas about Mission tend to start with our Power, our Resource, and the need of others. Yet when God comes into the world, all he offers is himself, he even relies on others to feed him.
Rowlands Williams in an address to the Benedictine community at Monte Cassino, spoke of how Emgland was converted by Augustine’s monks, that the people were won over by their poverty and prayer, that like the disciples of old they took nothing with them and were entirely dependent upon the people to whom they went. How different to our perceptions about church and mission.
Our ideas if both are based on fullness and power, we ‘need’ our own money, education programmes, paid staff, etc etc etc. Yet, if Christ lives in us, why do we need all these extras? If . . .
Jesus comes as one entirely dependent upon those to whom he comes, there is Nothing that stands in the way of his message, He Is the Good News.
‘With Jesus our only possession . . . ‘ goes the words of a song. Dare we, like Christ be dependent on those to whom we go?
Num 17-18; 2 Cor 12-13; Psalm 106:1-23
Paul goes further to elucidate the mystery of the triumph of the way of weakness – that in weakness the Power of Christ may more fully reside.
Again we are confronted with our own emphases on our talents and gifts and abilities. It is hardly surprising we pray so poorly in the church in the West, we are so talented and gifted, there is no need!
Hard as it is for us to hear – it is in our need, our emptiness, our weakness that Christ deigns to dwell – as he himself is revealed as the one who triumphs through the ‘weak’ way of Love – the one who empties himself for our sake – the one who comes to us to seek somewhere to lay his head.
Paul’s boasting in werakness, is in fact nothing more than his identification with Christ
Num 16; 2 Cor 11; Psalm 105 vs 26-end
‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’
Paul as we know is not interested in glorifying himself – there is no whisper of ‘my ministry’ here. In doing so he sets an example of humility which is perhaps the cardinal virtue of faith.
But boasting in weakness is a wonderful gospel ploy – for if we boast of that which is nothing, then all that can be seen must be of God – that Christ may be all, in all
Also it is interesting to note that we do not take Paul’s example all that seriously in the contemporary church, with our eyes all too often set on the glittering array of seminary qualifications – all the things which Paul has put behind him. What is more Paul speaks not of his glittering acheivements in his faithfulness to the gospel, all he will speak of is his afflictions.
He himself has known little comfort in the world – he has known little but tribulation, but finds his peace in the one who himself, ‘made himself nothing’, the one who has overcome the world.
Paul, like the Lord he serves knows in his flesh that the way of Life is the Cross.
Num 14-15; 2 Cor 9-10; Psalm 105 vs 1-25
One of the key signifiers of the Truth of scripture, is its Overwhelmingly unflinching honesty about the people of God. As someone once said, ‘it is hard to sit under scripture each week, for insofar as we are the subject of scripture we are not in any sense photoshopped!’
From Moses and the Israelites, to the disciples of Jesus, to the Corinthian Christians, there is little to give us any sense of Pride over the issue of Election, indeed as a moments survey of the canyons of our own moral landscape quickly ratifies – ‘we are those of unclean lips and live amongst those of unclean lips’
Thus the wisdom of the Eastern prayer prayed without ceasing, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me a sinner’
As Christians we seek to reveal the love of God amongst ourselves
Gods love is utterly care-less
Loving the unlovable
Forgiving the unforgivable
Num 12-13; 2 Cor 7-8; Psalm 104
Paul despite eschewing what is falsely called ‘wisdom’, leaves no rhetorical technique unused as he goads, exhorts and strains to call froth the Life of Faith from his Corinthian brothers and sisters. And here he has his work cut out, for centuries of faith have proved without demur, that the poor are far more generous than the rich.
That it is far easier for the poor to enter the kingdom, than the wealthy
However much it may stick in our craw to think in these terms, it is only what Jesus has told us.
If we are comfortable with life as it is, we will do little to enter by the narrow gate. Indeed in a world of relative comfort, even the narrow gate is transformed into ‘asking Jesus into your heart’ – a call which has no scriptural warrant as it is used in contemporary church life. All is a life of ease.
Yet here in the sharpest point, where Mammon in exposed for the false god it is, where the simple sign of repentance, sharing that which we have with those who do not have is laid before us (Luke 3:11), we rationalise our way around the clear command of Jesus as effectively as the wealthy Corinthians do.
Sadly we do not recognise that this invitation to share is an invitation into the very life of God. The invitation to life in the kingdom is rejected.
Num 10-11; 2 Cor 5-6; Psalm 103
Once more a brief pause to consider a Psalm
This time, 103, one of those often committed to memory and it would be a good practise so to do.
Christian faith, as we have noted, is all too easily turned in on itself – we have ‘a faith’ which secures us. The beginning and end of our faith is our salvation, either in the here, or the hereafter. Whereas the Biblical witness is that the End, the Purpose of faith is the Glory of God.
Thus meditation on Psalm 103, with its total focus on the attributes of God is a useful medicine for the incurvatus soul. It will not let us turn in on ourselves, rather it opens us to God. And so the Psalmist both begins and ends the Psalm with true words of faith – Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me Bless His holy name.
For surely the end of our faith is to Bless God
Num 8-9; 2 Cor 3-4; Psalm 102
Paul gives us a beautiful picture of the Christian Life here
You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all; and you show that you are a letter of Christ, prepared by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
There are two brief things we might consider here
Firstly, once again, Paul has hard things to say to the Corinthians in the letter, yet at the same time he sees quite clearly the Life of Christ amongst them. The Life that he has proclaimed amongst them is now inscribed on their hearts.
Paul looks on the heart – he does not judge with the eye, he has learned to see as Christ sees.
What is more he sees the Christian Faith not in static terms but in terms of growth – extraordinarily ‘into the glory of the Lord’, or put another way, into the likeness of Christ. So much of Western Protestant Christianity in particular denies our ‘telos’, our end, an thus is directionless. It sets no path before us by which we may so e transformed, indeed it isn’t even expected. We rather ‘hope for heaven’ beyond this life, rather than look in Hope for its gradual emergence amongst us.
Secondly we may well ask of ourselves, in what sense are we ‘a letter of Christ’? How is this ‘shown’? How are we being transformed in and through our common life that as a people we are changed from one degree of glory to another?
Num 7; 2 Cor 1-2; Psalm 99-101
Paul opens his ‘second’ letter to the Corinthians, following the opening address, with these words
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.
These are words of great comfort and consolation – and immensely rich and powerful – but I think a word needs to be said about the ‘affliction’ of which Paul speaks, for as becomes apparent he understands it in terms of affliction encountered in the basic Christian condition, discipleship.
There is much affliction that is common to the human condition, but Paul’s words are not addressed to these circumstances, rather he speaks of ‘the sufferings of Christ [being] abundant for us‘. In other words that in the life of faithful discipleship, the community of faith can expect no better than their Lord and Master. The scorn of the world.
Over the years however, as faith has become radically individualised and cerebral – such an emphasis is lost. After all, in a pluralist society who suffers for holding a different set of opinions? When we make friends with the world, rather than with the one who has reconciled himself with the world, we avoid the costly call to discipleship and no little if anything of what it is to enter into Christ’s sufferings.
Furthermore, in two different ways we as Sin directs us, turn the meaning of the story back on ourselves, making ourselves the centre of the story.
One we might understand as the liberal error. We interpret Paul’s words in terms of that general suffering which is common to all, and indeed we so also interpret the Cross of Christ, that it is God entering into the suffering human plight. This is the exact opposite of what Paul has in view here – that we enter into Christ’s sufferings, that we take up our Cross and follow him into a world which is hostile to the Good News.
The other is the Conservative error, which distances the body of Christ from Christ, that denies that we can be involved in Redemptive suffering. It leaves the church as onlookers in the business of Salvation. We are left just called to follow Jesus by holding the ‘right’ set of opinions about him
The Only Christian Faith is enacted faith, performed faith – Faith taking on flesh in the life of the Church.
The Only Christian Life is the Life of Christ, present amongst his people so enacting this costly faith and knowing in their flesh the abundance of Christ’s sufferings.