Firstly in the destruction of Jericho – as will be seen over and over, it is not the people who are to prosecute the Lord’s work. So often we forget this – we try to ‘bring in His Kingdom’ – we are certainly co-operate with the Holy Spirit, but the work is not ours. We do not decide what to do and ask God to honour our plans, rather at all times we must realise we are followers – we do not know, we cannot see ahead what God has in store, we only ever get in on a work in progress.
For those of us in the Western church, this is perhaps one of the most important and also difficult lessons to learn. In all dimensions of our work, we plan and strategise, we decide what is going to happen, if we are at least modestly wealthy and if you are reading this, then you are probably in that category. Yes things happen to us, Reality breaks in from time to time to tell us that we are not in charge, but we are well trained in pretending that is not so, even Rationalising our action from Scripture if we are of a religious bent.
So our churches ‘know the score’ ‘we know what has to be done’ – there is little or no sense of following this strange God. Rather it is Obvious to us what we should do.
So faced with our Jerichos, would we walk round and round them blowing trumpets but otherwise in silence??? No, we have much better plans than that . . .
Then once more, having been obedient, we still think, ultimately this is about us. We ‘take the city’, but then take also the spoil. Achan’s sin in the end was about securing himself – why else do we seek riches? Having had powerfully demonstrated over and over again that this is God’s business, that God will provide, still the incurvatus life seeks to wrestle control from God.
Of course, the two are related – why do we have the sort of wealthy churches where we can deceive ourselves that what we call ‘The Lord’s work’ is actually our own? We are warned over and over against hoarding for it inevitably leads to a life we run on our own terms
This story is Not about us, but we are called to live in the generosity of God, to give all we have. To Follow
The supposedly true story is told of a four year old child when his proud parents bring home his sibling [Richard Rohr : Immortal Diamond Kindle location 505]
The baby was placed in his cot in the nursery and his brother petered his parents saying ‘I want to talk to the baby!’ They assured him he could, but he pressed them saying, ‘No, I want to talk to him now, on my own!’ Well curiosity got the better of the parents, wondering what was going on, they left the boy with his baby brother and listened in at the door, to hear these words, ‘Quick, Tell me where you have come from! Tell me who made you! I am beginning to forget!’ . . .
At the heart of the human story is forgetfulness, we forget to whom we belong. Our story starts off in the garden where who we are is plain to see, but then Shame plays its part, and we hide, and in that hiding is a forgetting – it is as if we want to forget, because the pain of knowing who we are is too great – we are Afraid.
In the Garden, our ancestors we are told, hid because they were afraid. In the direct presence of God his Father, the man says, ‘I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid’ So we hide, and the longer we hide, the more we forget why we are hiding – but then occasionally some sharp stab of reminder comes back, some hidden shame and we hide once more.
Easter as I will not tire of saying, comes round every year, and lasts for fifty days. For fifty days every year as the people of God, we are held in the Light of the Risen Christ burning in full glory. Light Pouring forth that we would shield our eyes from, so Brilliant is its intensity. And we want to hide. 50 days is just too much exposure to the light
Over the coming weeks we will hear readings from the book of Acts which hold before us a picture of the church which to our ill formed eyes is impossibly pure and hopelessly idealistic. We dismiss it – we deny the Light. Today we see Saul blinded by the brilliance of Christ, and hear the Risen One ask him why he is persecuting Him, we are confronted again with a seeming impossibility about who we are as the Church, that Christ’s identification with the church is Total! Not why are you persecuting my people, no, Why are you persecuting me. So much of what we do as a church, so much of our carefully contrived theology seeks to deny the one who would love us. ‘Lord, you cannot identify yourself with us’ We want to live with the Shame, it is easier than coming into the Light’. We say ‘we are the body of Christ’ but then try and reduce it to mere words.
From Revelation, a door into the Presence of God is revealed, with the everlasting brilliant worship around the Throne – and most sharply of all, we are confronted with the Risen Christ, who commands us to abandon our doubts, who places upon us what often seems the impossible burden of forgiving others – and who stands before us, when all we want to do is hide.
I wonder. Did that little boy want somehow to go back? Had he come to an age where he had come to realise that all human love was conditional, had he begin to see that the world was full of weeds and thorns and that it was only by toil and the sweat of his brow that he would be required to make a life for himself. Was he seeing how terrible it was to have to make a life for yourself? For indeed it is a literally a terrible thing – and indeed how terrible we seem in our self made lives to the eyes of a child? Realising the lies of the world, Did he want to go back? And like all of us discovering that we live in a world of deceit, discovering there is no way back . . .
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke of the Catastrophe of Easter. For the Resurrection of Christ is the End of the World as we know it – there is no way forward from Easter on our own terms. It is the end of making our Own lives as the life of the Risen one is all that is on offer and to our sin blind eyes it is intolerably bright. Having seen the sun in full glory, the temptation is to follow our ancestors and hide, to try and go back . . . back to that safe place that existed before Jesus was raised, before God’s New Creation came crashing into our consciousness
and so it is hardly any surprise that just two weeks later where do we find the disciples? they have gone back to their fishing. They have gone back to the easy certainties, a life where they can call the shots, where their skills as fishermen at least have a chance of securing them against a world of weeds and thorns – a refusal to accept the life that Christ offers them Now!
Perhaps as we are So wont to do, they too have reduced the Resurrection to a story about what happens to us after the death of our bodies. Perhaps they are starting to say, ‘well Jesus is Risen, that’s wonderful, we don’t need to fear death anymore – we can go back to our lives in the secure hope that after death we will go to be with him’. Brothers and Sisters, I want to gently, but firmly suggest that to reduce the Resurrection to a story, even a true story about ‘what happens when we die’ is the very work of the Devil. In fact it is no less than to put Christ back in the tomb. It is to behave as if nothing has changed, when the message of the Resurrection is Catastrophic, Hell is harrowed, Death is defeated, Angels are rejoicing. . . there is no going back, there is no back to go back to 🙂
But the disciples have tried – like a child trying to enter the womb a second time, to steal Nicodemus’ words – they have tried to go back to the false securities of the world they know. For the Life that Christ offers is too bright, too much, we cannot control it, it is out of our experience, it is beyond our hopes.
And Peter epitomises this – For Peter the Resurrection of Jesus has not broken into the reality of his everyday life – it has not yet called him forth into the full glare of the Light of the Resurrection. He has not yet been born again – he has not come blinking into the New Creation that the Resurrection of Jesus has announced. He is Not yet crying out Christ is risen, Alleluia, for him the Resurrection is catastrophic. It is Bad News. The Risen one is pursuing him, the Hound of Love, the Hound of heaven, and Peter wants to flee!! He’s still hiding, he’d prefer to live in amnesia.
John’s gospel is The gospel of the Resurrection – The New Creation that Christ Is is its theme, It is only John who speaks of the Cross in terms of Glory – for it is only the Resurrection which declares it to be such. The letter to the Hebrews speaks of, Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame. The Cross was the Great instrument of Shame – a Curse in the eyes of Pious Jews, Foolishness to the ‘Wise’ Greeks, and deliberate tortuous humiliation to the Romans rulers. Shame is writ large, Yet John speaks of it in terms of the Glory of God. Jesus takes our Shame. And Peter’s. Peter is Deeply ashamed, as were our first parents.
Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” Of course they haven’t – the Living One has already declared that now they will fish for men – their old life cannot be returned to. There is no going back
He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. 7That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” This has happened before – Luke records the incident and Peter’s response – ‘Get away from me Lord, for I am a sinful man’ John writes – When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. Nothing has changed for Peter – perhaps he too hopes for heaven, but that hope hangs by the thinnest of threads, a thread which breaks the moment he realises the Risen One confronts him – he sees the Risen JEsus and all hope is Lost – for he does not yet understand. He does not believe that the Resurrection announces the Vindication of Christ’s work upon the Cross, that death and Hell, and Sin and Shame have been vanquished. he has not yet been born afresh into this new reality. He is still hiding with Adam and Eve – ‘I saw you on the shore, and I was afraid, because I was naked’ . . . but this is the New Creation, this is Not a second crack at the Old Story – rather this is what God has purposed all along – To Love the World from before the beginning of Time, as he has Loved the Son, since before the Creation of the World. Christ is Risen and now the relentless pursuer is Free in the World . . . steadily with unhurried pace . . . God is coming after us
In the Old story, Peter fails – he denies Jesus – thus he is condemned to a life of fishing and a vague hope that their might be something to come after it all, but not much hope given what he has done . . . Peter is You and I before we awaken to the Resurrection. Before we believe and are Saved. This is the story that is so well known, so familiar – we fail and we are ashamed and if we are caught, we are punished, and we say desevedly so – and indeed there is a distortion of the gospel which makes much of this old story . . . but another time
But What is our perception this morning? Not particularly as individuals, but as the Church? Peter is a cipher for the Church. What is the story which guides our common life? What are we doing here? Do we think about the future of the church in the light of the resurrection, or do we think about the future of the church as if the old story still holds sway? Will it all fail and die unless we do something? We need to find a way to make it better? Is there any hope? or have we awoken to the Reality of the Resurrection. After all, if the Lord can raise up stones to praise him, think what he might do with five people in a rural church? And here? What story do we live out of? Is this story about religion and ‘life after death’ or do we believe and wake up from that lie of the devil to be what in truth we are ‘The Community of the Risen One’. Of course that is so very hard. The comfort of the womb, the pleasures of Egypt, the golden days of the church, whatever and whenever they were . . . all death narratives. It’s easier to go back and hope for heaven, than to embrace the New Life of the Risen One and go where we are led – but listen to his voice . . .
Do you Love me?’ Do you Love me? Do you Love me? Peter has denied Jesus – he has said ‘Even if Everyone else goes, I will never abandon you’ He has shouted from the rooftops, ‘I Love him more than all the others!!’. He is utterly self deceived. He has denied Life – not once, not twice, but Three times. He has utterly nailed the door of Life shut . . . and the Risen One calmly steps through the walls of Peter’s shame . . . hear the words of St Paul – ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.’ There is No condemnation . . . Neither do I condemn thee . . . Simon, Son of John? . . . Look at me . . . I cannot . . . Simon, Son of John . . . do you love me more than these? “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” 16A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” 17He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. No Condemnation, no demand for better behaviour, no demotion – Feed my sheep – I will still build my church on this rock, No condemnation . . . this is otherworldly – it is God’s New Order. We can barely believe such radical liberation – No Shame, No guilt, No trying to get it right – Just Love.
Finally, Jesus calls them on. The disciples have tried to go back, but their nets are empty, only The Risen One now gives life – as Chris reminded us last week, The Risen One holds the keys – Only the Risen One empowers the mission of the church to fish for men and women. Peter and the Disciples are called to follow Jesus once more – he leads them away from their boats, finally the nets are abandoned for Good. ‘I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And in Peter’s case to the fulness of Identification with the One who utterly identifies himself with the church. Peter like Jesus will die a death of Glory. Peter is a cipher for the church – the body of people who in dying to the Old Story are born again to the New Life of the Resurrection and so Glorify God
“To the one seated on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And all God’s people said, “Amen!”
‘Therefore, when we could stand it no longer . . .’
In the last verses of yesterday’s reading from Thessalonians, we heard of Paul’s profound love for his new brothers and sisters.
Just take a moment to consider this.
Then he carries on with the words at the top of this post. Now remember, Paul’s relationship to these believers is at best sketchy – they don’t go back years and years, he has no blood tie – his only bond with them is that they are his fellow Christians. Yet he speaks of his affection and his desire to be with them in terms which frankly few of us use outside of profound romantic attatchments, or as parents to children.
Perhaps in this latter there is an echo of what is going on, for Paul has ‘parented’ these Christians. But I think in these words there is a HUGE challenge to us in terms of our Devotion to one another as borthers and sisters in the LORD.
Is this how we relate to those people with whom we worship Sunday by Sunday? Put another way, do we truly recognise Christ in one another.
Our devotion to Him is only in truth as deep as our devotion to one another . . . and vice versa.
As so often is the case in reading the Scriptures, chapter and section divisions can obscure significant truth. So Paul concludes his arguments in Chapter 4 with the opening words of Chapter 5, ‘Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.’ It takes just a moments reflection to hear once more the words of Christ, ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ – that in the mutual love of the Body of Christ we are imitating the very heart of the life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the mutual indwelling in Love.
It is very important that we carry this image with us into what is for many one of the most difficlt passages in scripture. For some Ephesians 5:21 et seq. is a ‘text of terror’, for others a means to cast in stone a way of life, ‘which was from the beginning’. But for St Paul it is neither of these things.
Again the section heading does us a huge disservice – Paul is talking here about the mutualsubmission of members of the body of Christ. First it needs to be said over and over and oever again that in the body of Christ, the age to come is being manifest, thus the PRIMARY relationship of ANY Christian to ANY other Christian is that of brother and sister – kin, dearly loved children of the Father.
So Paul works out his theology of mutual love in terms of mutual submission, or in the NRSV translation which I am using here, ‘Be subject to one another out of Reverence for Christ’
Firstly, we must consider, what does it mean, ‘out of reverence for Christ’ – at a simple surface level, we might say that simply put, this is what Jesus commands, thus we must so do. But the command of Christ can Never be disassociated from the Life of Christ. In other words in obedience to the command of Christ, we enter into the Life of the one who became subject even to death, death on a cross. The One who is first, who takes the Last place, and who is thus in the Kingdom exalted to the highest place.
So to follow Christ is to humble oneself and become the willing slave of all.
Next we must come back to Paul’s larger argument. This Way of being, that is the very Life of Christ manifest, is the Way of Life of the Church. In other word this is NOT primarily about the specific relationships Paul later speaks of, rather Primarily this is about Every relationship within the Body of Christ.
This said, Paul recognises that there are those within the church who are relate to one another in ways which are not of the eschatological kingdom. Temporal relationships which in the End will be no more.
Thus the words of Paul to husbands and wives, owners and slaves, parents and children are as it were footnotes to the Primary command of All believers as Kindred in Christ to ‘be subject one to another’
What Paul has in view here is the HOW of mutual submission. In these extra-ecclesial and thus secondary relationships, HOW is this worked through.
So wives be subject to your husbands ‘as to the Lord’ – husbands be subject to your wives by loving them as Christ loves the church, giving himself up for her – the husband gives himself up for the sake of his wife. The wife looks in love towards her husband as she does towards Christ himself. Indeed it may well be argued that here what is asked of wives is no more than is asked of Every member of Christ’s body one to the other – be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Treat your husband as you would any of your kindred. The Husband is given the culturally mind boggling command that in Christian households he is to be as Christ to the Church to his wife – he must lay down his life for her. He is not Lord in the heirerarchical sense. Our Language breaks down here as we can only understand Lord in temrs of earthly Lords and masters who Lord is over their subjects . . .
And so we could go on through the other categories of relationships
The point is that these cases are in face Secondary – they are not the primary relationships within the church – husband and wife are brother and sister, Mother and son are sister and brother, ‘owner’ and slave are brother and brother.
Paul in effect, in his call to all to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ recognises the ephemeral nature of these other passing relationships.
Paul here is leading us in what is for most if not all of us, foreign territory. that is that the Primary arena for the working out of the Christian life is within the community of faith. The Risen Christ says ‘By this shall they know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another’.
I have written and spoken elsewhere on the marginalization of the church in almost all Western traditions – read almost any contemporary book on ‘spirituality’ and abracadabra, the Body of Christ disappears . . . We have by and large reduced the Church at ‘best’ ‘to a man-made society for promoting and developing ideas’ and at worse to a social club for the religiously inclined, or organising place for ‘social justice issues’ We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten our Calling, to ‘grow [as a body of people] into the full stature of Christ’ that the Wisdom of God may be made known to the rulers of this dark age, as we are built up in love. THIS is what the church must give herself to. Yes we must teach, but the goal of the teaching is te building up of the whole body. Why, Why, Why is much if not all of our teaching directed at our individual lives, when in truth these are something of which the Scriptures know little if anything?
Paul has not lost sight of this vocation – have we?
Paul here returns to a theme we encountered in Romans 14 – that of not allowing disputation over those things which are not fundamental to our shared life of discipleship, get in the way of that life. Once more it is over the matter of food sacrificed to idols, something which the Law and the Tradition abhors. Paul ‘knows’ that these restrictions are meaningless, but for some, who do not possess ‘knowledge’, they remain abhorrent and a stumbling block.
They are a stumbling block in that those who practise the behaviour, cause those who are not so ‘well informed’ to shun the fellowship of believers – and thus to withdraw from Life itself, which is only to be found in the community of faith, which is the body of Christ.
However morally acceptable before God it might be to eat food sacrificed to idols (which are nothing), it is unacceptable before God to do anything which would repel a fellow believer that they were caused to fall away, that is break from the Life Giving fellowship.
Paul’s concern is for the salvation of his brethren, which his Wisdom tells him is not primarily a matter of right ‘knowledge’, but sacrificial love. So Paul will lay down his Right to eat food sacrificed to idols, indeed he will not even go near it is it would offend his fellow saint for whom Christ died. Similarly he will not use his perfectly justifiable Rights to wages for his work – he is intent on not allowing his opponents to have a reason to judge him and thus themselves fall under condemnation.
What we see here is a revolutionary love for the brethren, that will go without for their sakes. It is part of the outcome of Paul’s way of life, his self discipline for the sake of the brethren. For he knows that if he puts a stumbling block in front of one of the least of the flock, it would be better for him to have a millstone put around his neck and be thrown into the sea, than face the consequences of his action.
Frankly in the contemporary church with so many issues being screamed about from the highest rooftops, it is sometimes hard to imagine what such a church would look like – but perhaps we ought at least to try and find out?
Yesterday, we pondered this gospel which is ‘foolishness to the Greeks’ – and our inability to express it in words.
When Paul comes to Corinth, he does not proclaim ‘the mystery of God in lofty words or wisdom’ – rather he decided to know nothing coming among them than Jesus Christ and him crucified.
Of course, schooled as we are in being taught truths, it may well seem that Paul is undoing his prior determination – but in truth he is reinforcing it. He does not come amongst them primarily knowing ABOUT Christ crucified, but importantly by knowing Christ crucified. This is just one word, yet it is the most profound difference. Paul’s ministry as he continues to reveal is nothing more nor less than the living out of a profoud identification with Christ crucified. Paul in his ministry cannot stand at some distance, as if he were explaining even the most beautiful of works of art to people. The Gospel can only be proclaimed in and through this radical identification with Christ and him crucified, the embodiment of divine love.
Christ cannot be ‘known about’ as a substitute for the Life of Faith – in the end all attempts at apologetic are doomed to failure and those that apparently bear fruit do not. Thus Lesslie Newbiggin’s assertion that the church when it is being truthful to itself is the only hermeneutic of the gospel available to us. This is precisely the point that Paul is making. He has to reveal the gospel in himself and that is only possible in the radical identification with the crucified and risen one.
At the heart of all the problems in the Corinthian church as we shall see is precisely this shying away from such identification.
‘if you would be my disciple, take up your cross and follow me’