Lent 2 – Year B ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth – Yeah Right!’

Sermon for Lent 2 – Year B
Sunday March 1st 2015

Mark 8:31-38

The meek shall inherit the Earth
Yeah, Right!


A couple of years ago I had a dream. It was so striking that I wrote it down in my journal. In it I was in a canoe paddling up a stream. The stream, as streams do, became narrower and the water shallower, therefore the effort of paddling became greater until I grounded. Of course the obvious thing was to turn the canoe round, but the stream was too narrow

It must be said, when I ponder that dream and its meaning for me, the contemporary church also hoves into view. The stream getting narrower and shallower, perhaps a metaphor for falling numbers? And trying harder and harder . . . perhaps we need to get our bearings. To remind ourselves of one or two fundamentals . . .

1. God is not relevant to our lives

I have pondered often and long about why so many of us are at the very least hesitant about ‘sharing our faith with others’ – and the answer that came to me in the early hours of one morning this week was that we imagine the conversation in our head – a little like this.

I’m a Christian
I’m not
My faith makes a real positive difference to my life
Really? What? We have been friends for a long time. Your life and my life – they are pretty similar – indeed in many respects you might say I have a better life than you, no?
Well, yes, errm – I see what you are saying, err but I have a profound peace in my heart
Yes. Good. I’m happy for you. I find a walk on the beach does that for me. Isn’t it lovely 🙂

So how are the grandchildren doing then . . .

When I say ‘God is not relevant to our lives’ I mean it. But what do I mean by ‘our lives’. I mean the lives we determine for ourselves. The life which is all about our life story – the story which people may tell of us after we die, of career and home and children and hobbies etc. etc. The lives into which we try to fit God rather like a new kitchen accessory – a Unique selling point in a house, or in this case a life

We have grown up in a culture which springs from Christendom – a world where ‘everyone was a Christian’ – God was in his heaven ‘watching over it all’, and all was well with the world. ‘God’ in this scheme was there to sort out the difficulties of our lives. Like a kindly chaplain, or a Spiritual plumber, or indeed a kindly parking attendant who found us that parking space we really needed or otherwise we’d be so stressed at that important meeting with the bank to discuss our mortgage . . . God is ‘there to look after us’. But of course, for our friend with whom we are in conversation, they pretty much manage to get along very well thank you very much without any of that, and also they have spare time on a Sunday to use as they wish . . . and of course should life’s circumstances become difficult then perhaps we don’t really need this church stuff anyway because God is there looking after us, or perhaps he isn’t and actually it doesn’t seem to really make any difference . . . after all there are lots of helpful guides to having a better life – some are religious, some aren’t . . .

2. Our lives are not relevant to God

Sorry if we find this thought troubling, but they’re really not. God does not spend every moment of his waking hours figuring out how to get our lives sorted out so that we can have the life we always dreamed of . . . indeed we may have noticed that 🙂 And vice versa, there is nothing we can do to ‘help God’. On the one hand the dominant expression of faith is that ‘god is up there somewhere looking over us’, and on the other, the Church seems obsessed in what Margaret of Sienna calls ‘solicitudo religioso pro Deo’ To translate roughly, ‘a blasphemous anxiety to be doing God’s work for him’. Whatever, ‘God’ is largely absent from the proceedings
Like in the canoe dream – people paddling harder and harder as the stream narrows and the water shallows. The church is busier than ever, getting the message out, endless committees, initiatives etc.etc.etc. ‘God’ becomes an ever vague shadow, out there, somewhere, perhaps??

Last week I concluded that we would do well from time to time, not to put ourselves in the disciples’ position, as they observe Jesus healing people, but rather to place ourselves in the position of those who are healed, in other words, In Jesus direct line of sight.
Well, let’s do that this week and where is Jesus looking, oh yes he’s looking at his disciples. He is telling them, quite openly that he ‘must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.’

And we all know Peter’s response – And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

Now let’s just pause at this moment. Immediately before our gospel reading, Peter has declared that which God has revealed to him, not what he has figured out for himself, what God has revealed to him, That Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed one, The King of Israel . . .

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him?????!!!!!!

3. The problem is ‘Our Lives’ . . .

Jesus words seem like madness to Peter – but it is Peter who has the problem . . . turning and looking at his disciples, Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” Jesus tells Peter ‘You don’t get it! You don’t have a clue! You are the One trying to destroy my work . . . and we, like Peter have So much confidence that we do get it . . . but as I said, we cannot give a coherent account of what IT is to those amongst whom we live

The problem is ‘Our Lives’. When we listen to what Jesus says, it seems utter madness, we are there with Peter. Jesus says ‘The meek shall inherit the earth’ – and we rebuke him saying, that’s a nice sentiment Jesus, but actually its the hard work and fine accounting skills, its our genius that will get us what we want . . . and the moth and rust will corrupt and if we store it all in vaults after our deaths, the thieves will break in and steal.

I was in a church meeting a long way from here earlier this week, where the wheels of power were turning. We were planning and proposing. And someone gave a very lengthy account of a significant event in the life of the church and credited one person with all the credit and said how much we owed them by way of thanks, and no one batted an eyelid . . .
No one – myself included – said, ‘Let us pause and offer profound thanks to God without whom Nothing is possible. It was as if God didn’t even exist.’ We’d pulled it all together.

We modern westerners are So in control of Our Lives – and thus the way we run them is in direct opposition to the way of Jesus – Jesus who says ‘The meek shall inherit the Earth’; ‘do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth’, ‘unless you become like a little child’ How could a child even begin to run the church as we do??? Jesus who says For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

4. Jesus response to the problem of ‘Our Lives’

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

As I was painfully reminded this last week by a friend, we miss the horror of what Jesus is saying here. The Cross has become a pretty item of jewelry – or we talk about it is terms of the sufferings that are common to all human kind, broken relationships, illness – ‘We all have our cross to bear’ we sigh. Jesus speaks to the whole people of God, who symbolised by Peter have their minds set on human things and faces them with something horrific. No one there, none of the readers of Mark’s gospel in the first 300 years will have not seen, in all likelihood Many Crosses, not hanging round people’s necks, but with people hanging on them. ‘You really don’t want to go there’, but Jesus says this is the Way.

Pontius Pilate wanting to let people know where the real power lay, didn’t always bother with wood, bit of a waste, he would nail people to the walls of Jerusalem. Everyone knew the horror of it and had seen how literally excruciating was the death of the Crucified, over hours in unendurable agony. The utter destruction of a Life – indeed bodies were left there to be devoured by wild animals and birds.  So horrifying that people could not bear to speak of it or write about it. Truly A Satanic tool.

Jesus takes Our Lives to the Cross, and we are called to follow him. Indeed this is the meaning of our Baptism – not some folk rite, so that we are in on this Chaplain God and can expect his services. Christendom neatly sidestepped the Cross and delivered up a faith of the irrelevant God, placing the human and our lives back in the centre of things. But our Lives are only the centre of things if w are In Christ, the Crucified One. We are baptised into his death so that He might be Our Life, Our All in All. As St Paul puts it in Colossians, ‘For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God’  Our baptism is the End of Our Life. The end of Our agendas, the end of Our plans. The life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God. For truly Christian life to begin, Our Lives must end. He must become Our Life. The Risen one

And So we come here, we confess our Sins, that once more we have lived for ourselves and not for Him who loves us, We feed on his word which is Life giving Like honey on our lips, we respond in words irrelevant to the World, the Creed, and in his infinite Grace and Mercy, he feeds us with His Very Life.
Glory to Jesus Christ
Glory for Ever

Ordination Sermon

Sermon on the occasion of the Ordination of Jo Fielding to Priesthood in the church of Christ – PENTECOST 2013

Jeremiah 1:4-9
Psalm 33
John 21.15-29
‘Do not be afraid’

In a few moments time, +Kelvin will ordain Jo to the Sacred ministry of Priest, a Priest in the church of Christ. Priesthood only makes sense in the context of God’s people, And Jo, you may well look at the church today, and think ‘what on earth am I doing here??’ I hope you do.

One of the things that seems to pass pretty much unremarked in this well known gospel incident, where Peter encounters the risen Christ, is that Jesus refers to His people as Sheep . . . feed my lambs, tend my sheep, feed my sheep. It is all too easy to Romanticise sheep, but only someone with no experience of them can do so. It is an unpromising metaphor!

I have several shepherds in my family, English Lake District Hill farmers . . . – and from personal experience I know that there is nothing at all romantic about working with sheep. Sheep are ignorant, they are willful,  they require you at times to be up in the night at times risking life and limb to rescue one that has got into a jam, they are remarkably unbiddable, and above all they are easily scared by anyone and anything. Sheep are Full of fear, and although I have never myself witnessed it, there are those who say sheep run West every morning at the alarming sight of a strange ball of fire rising on the Eastern horizon

So Sheep is not a flattering metaphor for the people of God, but in that we are fearful, it is perhaps the truest. For of all human emotions, fear is probably the most powerful, the most prevalent and the one which drives so much of what we do, albeit usually at a deeply unconscious level . . . and the people of God are not immune from the human condition in this respect.

The OT in pretty much its entirety is a testament to the ignorance, the unfaithfulness, and the wilfulness of the people of God. Why are they unfaithful? Why are they willful? Why are they unbiddable – because they are afraid . . . But let us not deceive ourselves playing silly games over the uniformity of the two testaments. There is a remarkable uniformity between the children of Israel, the disciples, and the infant church to which Paul writes – a remarkable uniformity of . . .  well for want of a better word ‘sheepness’, frightened ‘sheepness’.

I had thought to begin this sermon with the parable of the talents and focus on the third slave – the one who is afraid – but of course to speak of ‘talents’ is itself an all too easy way to evade that primordial fear. ‘OUR talents’, so we tell ourselves ‘make us safe’. We may well think, we need a talented person. We need someone we can all take confidence in!! Send us someone to get us out of this mess!!

We also hear the cry in the church, Send us Strong leaders. Send us someone with a track record in growing the church. Send us someone to save us, for we are afraid!! And ignore what God has done. And ignore the gospel – that God Has Sent His only son into the world. It is an odd thing that the Church in its fear ignores Jesus Christ and the salvation he has wrought, and His promise to build the church.

. . . but don’t go feeding us the strong medicine of the gospel – don’t make us face the Living God. If we truly understood ordination, we might well say – whatever you do, don’t send us a Priest. Indeed the people of God in one way or another will always try to stop a Priest being a Priest

One of the key reasons we should require our priests to be faithful in the reading of Scriptures, is so that they are under no illusions about the people whom they are called to serve . . .

But, God be praised, the Scriptures are an even more consistent testimony to the long suffering God who has called them into being, who breathes his Spirit upon them, and who calls some of their number to the sacred ministry of a priest.

Some of their number. The other reason we require our priests to be faithful in the reading of Scripture is that they never forget, they too are sheep. Where does Christ look for shepherds?? Amongst the sheep, Amongst the wilful ignorant unbiddable and the fearful – ‘but I am only a child!’ Wails Jeremiah. Yes, the priest must also read the Scriptures to unmask her own tendency to conspire with the people of God – it was after all Aaron who made the golden calves and such ministry goes on unabated to this day in the church. No – Priests come from the sheep and they need to be alert to that.

There is a foolish tendency to imagine that the disciples ‘Got it’. That following the resurrection they were so brim full of the Love of God, the realisation of what the resurrection meant, that now Peter ‘gets it’ Now he understands. But the evidence of the New Testament suggests not. Peter, however boldly he proclaims the gospel at Pentecost  – is afraid of the implications of the gospel – as we read in Galatians 2, he separates himself from the Gentile believers – Aaronic ministry continued

And Jesus sees this in Peter – listen to His words. Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’ Peter, you weren’t prepared to lay down your life for me, and even at the end, after you have been following me however many years I choose, you will have to be taken unwillingly to die for the sake of my name and to glorify God. Peter, called to feed the sheep, is a sheep to the last . . . as the people of God, we’d love to see ourselves in a more favourable light, We are deniers of the truth – And Jesus reinforces the point – placing the one who denied him at the front of the line where we can all see him, if we but looked. Peter is chosen that we do not get above ourselves, that we do not think that it is about us and our skills, our abilities, our knowledge – Or even, and Peter is the best example of God – our ‘desire to lay down our life’. Peter is chosen to remind us that it is All about the Glory of God, as Peter’s death will be, and as I pray, your priesthood will be, Jo

Yet despite the overwhelming evidence of Scripture and the history of the church, regarding the church and its leaders – we still run away from it. The Spirit of Aaron is not dead. We may Romanticise the Priesthood, – and perhaps more so on a day like today.- Ah, the sacred ministry of the Priest . . . how Wonderful . . . Romanticism is utterly out of place – it is a horrible sign that we are avoiding Christ – that we do not believe – we haven’t looked the cross in the face.

And then again we run away as I have suggested by imagining that it is all about the competence of the one  called – I think on this second point it is instructive that those elements of ministry which are the strict preserve of the Priest, require no skill set whatsoever. Blessing the people, pronouncing absolution of sins, baptising, and presiding at the Eucharist. At the heart of Priesthood is something which requires nothing in terms of skill, learning, training, natural gifting – and everything in terms of giving yourself.

The Carmelite nun, Ruth Burrows speaks of the Christian life, that life which is focussed in the Priesthood, in these terms – It is as if we carefully craft a life – we work hard at it, we bring all we have to it and then – as if it were a most beautiful vase we carry it up a steep mountain to proudly show it to God, only to get to the top of the mountain and discover that God is not there, and that God is down the mountain, down a steep and perilous path, down somewhere we cannot see, and that we have a choice – we can seek after God, or we can stay on top of the mountain. but to seek after God requires us to lay all that hard worked, that beautiful vase, al that learning, all those skills, to lay them down. As a priest presides at the Eucharist, they do just that. Lay down all their skills, learning, accomplishment and risk themselves, entering the Holy of Holies, seeking out the living God – the one whom no one can see and live  – and what is more – to lead the people of God to that place. To pick up the Cross.

And so we run away, or to use Burrows’ metaphor, we stay in the light of the things we believe we can trust – we hold on to our skills or Romanticism, we strive to be Strong leaders precisely because we are running away from the Cross of Jesus.

God in his mercy is weakening his church, precisely that he might be its all in all – but we do not believe. We do not believe that death is the door to life – we are afraid precisely because of the Cross of Christ. Even though it is often on our tongue – we reduce the Cross to a metaphor, or a doctrine. ‘The Cross is about God’s Love for the world’ – a subtle means of romanticizing the Cross – or a doctrine – ‘God was in Christ reconciling himself to the world’ – Yes it is Scriptural, but it is also dissociated from the Reality of the Cross, which is a first century Jew, nailed to a piece of wood, naked, flogged, gasping and dying . . .

it is no wonder that the Church is always to be found running in the opposite direction, but in a few minutes we are going to Ordain Jo to hold the gaze of the people of God on that reality in ministry of Word and Sacrament to say ‘Behold, your God’- to embrace it in her life, and bid God’s people to follow.

Of course – like the prophet Jeremiah she may well say – Who? Me??

‘Now the Word of the Lord came to me’ – How fine that sounds – There I was just enjoying life and ‘the word of the Lord came to me . . .’
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, That’s nice 🙂 but we don’t follow the path of what is unfolding : before you were born I consecrated you; Hang on a minute . . .! Isn’t this something I choose??? I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’

Perhaps THE clearest sign that someone is truly called of God to the ordained ministry is that they are running like hell for the exit . . . At least it shows that they really have encountered the Living God . . . you realise that you may after all end up . . . like Jesus. [Another cause for romanticism – ‘Ah, you want to remind people of Jesus? You want to be like Jesus . . .???]

‘a naked, flogged, gasping and dying first century Jew, cruelly nailed to a piece of wood’ by whom? By the people of God’

As a priest you are to hold the crucified one before the eyes of the church. And we may well not thank you for it – so you need to hold it before your own eyes day after day after day. For this is the pattern of your ministry. People today may well wish you every success in your ministry – but what are we the sheep looking for??

What does success look like – ‘If only Jesus knew what we knew’ ‘If only Jesus had access to our skills our wisdom’ ‘If only Jesus got it . . .’ is the translated bleating of so many of the sheep

‘It is finished’ he said – and there was no-one there – there at the zenith of his ministry – the sheep had all scattered. There is Successful ministry – There is God reconciling himself to the world. There is The Priest

As a priest called to be with God’s people – your greatest challenge is that it will often be God’s people who don’t want you to follow that path. Who desire to be part of something which soothes our fears – something which makes us sure we are on the winning side – Like Peter they will say  “This must never happen to you . . .” Where have we heard this voice before??? Look! You need to turn stones into bread – here’s a book to show you how – Go on a course in “How to Throw yourself down from the Temple” – that will get the crowds flooding in – actually if you want, we can sit you at the feet of many who ‘for a fee’ can show you how you can rule the world . . . Just whatever you do, don’t turn us to face the Crucified one . . . Don’t be a Priest . . . be a manager, be a good pastor, be the sort of person everyone can admire and love . . . but don’t be a Priest. So today the Church also calls you to make vows – that you not forget that you are a Priest, to hold your gaze on the crucified one, and to promise to hold ours there also, even though we may not thank you for it, or indeed wish you success . . .

I said at the outset, that we might well look at the church today and think ‘Crikey’ – Actually perhaps there is no better time to be ordained – when all our earthly resources are spent, when all our attempts to save ourselves have come to nothing, perhaps when fear is at its height. When the vase we have carefully constructed is shown to be fit for nothing. I close with a brief thought, an image and a word from the Scriptures.

Firstly a word from the Psalms – Facing the Cross – confronting our weakness, the word of the Gospel is the same – ‘Do Not be afraid’. 18 Truly the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love . . . to deliver their soul from death, and to keep them alive in famine. The Lord will deliver your soul from death, he will keep you alive in famine.

Then from my Tutor in Christian Ministry who when pushed to give a visual metaphor for the Priesthood said ‘The one Stood at the head of the line of God’s people at the Colisseum’ It is a picture of utter vulnerablilty and requires no skill, no gifting, just devotion to Christ – ‘Do you Love me?’ is the only question Jesus asks Peter. Not ‘can I trust you not to get it wrong again?’ Not ‘can you build a fine church for me’ – That is not what Christ requires of you – Jesus himself has promised to build the church . . . He asks ‘Do you Love me?’ That is Enough – That is Everything

Through the Bible in a year – April 10

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Deut 14-16; Col 2; Psalm 119:81-96

‘See to it that no-one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit . . .’

How easy it is to be taken captive. Of course this is not a frontal assault. This is not as if someone has stormed into our house and taken us all hostage. No, such captivity is ‘welcomed’ – we are ‘captivated’, entranced is a good word. Ideas, images, take hold of our thinking. We who were just a few verses ago seemingly captivated by the one who ransoms us, who liberates us, are now pondering those things which are upon the earth. We find ourselves caught up in controversy, a mass of words and thoughts which draw us in and then we find that they do not give us life.

There is so much in the world that so captivates us – it is all too easy. There is but one remedy, to through patient meditation root our minds in the Truth that is The Living One. To be alert to our souls anchor in Christ. As Jesus says, Abide in me, as I Abide in you. To dwell in Christ, to be at home in him, to know ourselves aas at home in him as he is in us reveals the falsity of those gleaming things which so tempt us away from the Hearth of God’s hospitality, as was the Prodigal, as were all the lost sheep.

There is but one problem, that he comes to us in ‘distressing disguise’ – so trained are our minds that we mistake the passing glory of the world for the Eternal Glory of Christ. Once more we are called to meditate upon Christ and him Crucified – there is nothing ‘captivating’, or entrancing there. Nothing to delight our passions and desires, just the pure appeal of Love. There is nothing in Him for our senses, just His presence as Gift.

The Christian walk is a long apprenticeship in learning the truth that Christ Crucified has become for us Wisdom from God, to become true philosophers, that is ‘Lovers of Wisdom’, The Wisdom present through all eternity. All else has been nailed to that Cross.

God Is Love – He Really IS!!!

The message of the cross, St Paul tells us is foolishness to those who are perishing . . .

The problem many of have as Christians is that it is foolishness to us also . . .

As we considered yesterday, ‘The key element . . . 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.’

Those of us who deep down want a God worthy of us, a God who is little more than a projection of what we think to be our best attributes, our strength, our power, our Careful Love given to the deserving, our Intelligence etc etc – have to deal with the awkward fact of Jesus of Nazareth, and his complete and utter humiliation upon a Roman Cross.

There are two common tricks we employ to dodge Jesus, one is the ploy of ignoring the plain teaching of the church down through 2000 years and saying in effect, when we look at him we do not see his divinity. His humanity is as it were a mask – his divinity is hidden. This is an old heresy and one which we return to in one form or another every day.

We find it all but impossible to accept that the humanity of Jesus perfectly reveals his divinity, that there is NO contradiction – we wait for The Real Jesus to step out from behind the curtain, the ‘God’ we secretly longed for.

The second trick of course is to ignore the Jesus’ way of being – how he refuses to save the world by Good Works, by not resisting evil but by allowing himself to be given over into the hands of sinful humanity.

Both ‘tricks’ are of course ways of ignoring the call of this Galilean fisherman to follow him in the way of vulnerability, in the way of Love. The way of the Cross we will leave to Jesus, he can do the dying bit and then ‘Abracadabra’ we can enjoy Easter as the Real Jesus makes himself known

When we come to Good Friday – it is good to stop there as long as possible, hour after hour after hour – to hear deep within ourselves, ‘This is your God’ – bleeding and dying, giving himself for the Love of those who hung him there.

The rush to Resurrection is a sure sign that we haven’t yet accepted that what we see in Jesus’ humanity is the perfect expression of our Strange God, that he is a stranger to us, that the way of the Cross is foolishness to Us . . .

Through the Bible in a Year – March 26

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 19-20; Gal 1-2; Psalm 106:24-end

Once more we wonder at the unity of the Scriptures – sometimes not so clear, sometimes all too clear – as when Moses holds before the Israelites the brass serpent that they might be healed – so the Son of MAn must be lifted up, that all who believe in him may not die but have eternal life.

In Christ, in some strange way we see our own death, and thus are set free from death – his death is also paradoxically our healing. And here we have one of the deeper meanings of Sin and Death – and why Jesus links suffering and sin. That at heart we are Sin sick – the distortion of sin is not some mere breaking a moral code – rather it is a fundamental fracturing of the Good which God has declared in Creation.

It is wrong to turn the Cross into some mere transaction, in the Cross we see the healing of all of Creation – all that is needed is that we turn to face it and believe.

Thus Peter and Paul find themselves at loggerheads and Paul challenges Peter – for one of the Key fractures of Sin is that between Jew and Gentile. The Galatians are primarily rebuked because they have succumbed to the message of some of the early Jewish converts, that life was to be found in the moral purity of not associating with Gentiles. Jesus in his ministry and in welcoming the thief upon the cross into Paradise broke down this wall of hostility. It is this which Paul addresses in Galatians as they try once more to be ‘pure’ by acts of separation from the Gentiles as Peter displays by withdrawing from table fellowship, an action which Paul challenges as antithetical to the gospel – and undoing of the work of the Cross, by which the two have become one in Christ.

In all our refusals to associate, for whatever reason, we do the same

Through the Bible in a Year – March 24

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

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.

. . . your father is merciful

Just this week, this story from the UK caught my attention, if only for the stark quality of the reporting of the offences and the judgement. It’s worth reading if only to realise that we do not live in a world marked by the quality of mercy.

Chris Huhn and Vicky Price have done wrong, inarguably – ‘THEREFORE they must pay the price’.

It is the remorseless logic of this Sequitur that the Law demands. Judgement without mercy.

Recently I’ve taken much time to consider Peter. In some respects he is my patron Saint – with his at times almost comedic attempts to get it right and his lack of the classic virtues. Lent, when we look at the reality of our lives is a time I keep coming back to Peter.

Of course we all know of Peter’s gravest error, that he denies Jesus three times. The early church agonised for years over those who publicly disowned Jesus when faced with the possibility of death. Thus revealing that the denial is not to be dismissed as some adolescent overexuberance on the Chief Apostle’s part. Jesus’ restoration of Peter is no mere pat on the head, understanding ‘that we all make mistakes’. This is a Grave offence. Which reveals that Jesus’ actions towards Peter as in our terms frankly scandalous.

However much we try and psychologise the interchange between Jesus and Peter – ‘of course he had punished himself enough’- the fact is that there is NO punishment. Most interestingly Jesus does not even demote him. Jesus knows he cannot trust Peter, but then he knows what is in a man. He appointed him knowing he would fail him. And having asked ‘are you still on board? Are you still following?’ – reinstates him to his position of Chief Shepherd – he doesn’t even take away the privelege of martyrdom, which Peter has scorned.

What is clearly not central here are Peter’s quality as a leader, however much many ‘biblical sermon series on heroes of faith’ try and project our Ideals onto this and other frail humans. As has been remarked over and over again, by our criteria Jesus’ choice of those who will carry his mission into the world makes no sense at all.

WE would chose better, and having made such judgements, the price of failure, of not being what Our judgement had suggested those chosen actually were, would be demotion. What church leader, when fallen from Grace, is reinstated? The judgement of those who called him, or her, are shown to be faulty . . . the chosen one pays the price. Our failure of judgement is laid on the one we called.

No, what is central is not a quality in Peter. Jesus hasn’t seen something in Peter which we could see as well if only we tried hard enough. No. What is Central – indeed the only thing that matters is the call of Jesus. That is all. Peter IS unqualified – that is clear and only becomes more so. His only qualification that matters is the call of Jesus, and this endures after all the other ‘qualifications’ are shown to be straw.

In the case of Chris Huhne and Vicky Pryce, there is no reinstatement for ‘the guilty pair’ – no-one says to them ‘neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin’. All there is is the remorseless logic of the law, tempered by . . . nothing. They had high office, we expected better, they must pay the price . . . Of course as the elections in the Vatican remind us, Peter’s office was even higher

At the heart of the Christian faith is a dead Jew on a Roman Cross. In just a few days now we will stand before this cross. Perhaps for the first time today, one of the most significant messages that the Cross of Christ conveys to the World struck me. That is that Judgement itself is Judged and found utterly wanting. The death of the one who had no sin, for all its metaphysical overtones, in its starkness reveals that human judgement is itself only an instrument of death. That the only one who is not worthy of death is judged to be worthy of death by the world, says everything.

Of course, if Christians started to truly treat one another with the sort of mercy that Jesus showed Peter – reinstating fallen leaders, throwing parties for Prodigals, then of course we would in all likelihood lose much if not all of our credibility in the world.

But then when you think about it, the idea that the Creator of the Universe hangs on a Cross, to reveal his utter mercy. That on the third day he rose from the dead and began the work of reinstating and restoring all those who had so publicly humiliated him – is itself not credible. Perhaps that’s why we continue to judge and so be judged. We don’t really believe, that it’s true. ‘People Do need to be punished, they must pay the price’. We don’t believe the fundamental doctrine of our faith, the Jesus has paid the price.

If it really IS true however that the Chosen one pays the Price – then perhaps we might see the world differently. If the punishment Has really been laid on Him, then Jesus’ re-instatement of Peter is actually not the most incredible thing – rather the Divine Sequitur of mercy is the only possible response. It’s all that’s left. The price has been paid.

Through the Bible in a Year – January 23

The Scheme for January and February can be found here

Genesis 46-47; John 19; Psalm 32

Our Psalm today requires much by way of meditation – that prayerful ‘chewing’ upon the Word in prayer that brings forth Life. For it is a text of truthfulness. Scripture throughout bears witness to the Truth – sometimes it is veiled, the revelation of Christ does not lie on the surface for all to see – but occasionally it is seen in all its glory. In other places, as in this Psalm, we are led into truth. The Psalmist declares, ‘Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven’. He then speaks of his own experience which has led him to this happy realisation – how he was wasting away in trying as our forebears did of old in the garden, to hide the reality of his life from God. But then he comes into the Light – we may well say he comes to Christ – and learns the blessed release of Openness, of Truthfulness.

As we first meditate upon the ‘Proposition’ – happy are those whose sins are forgiven – it may well be alien to us. We may accept it as the Word of God, but it is alien. It is a Fact which we accept in trust, but we have not yet become acquainted with it – we have not ourselves experienced this truth. We may not yet have come to the point where the fact of our own existence in its sinfulness has been any burden to us. But as He comes close to us, this state of affairs cannot pertain, we must either come to the light or flee ever deeper into the darkness. As he becomes ever more clear the crisis comes to a head.

And so Everything is brought to the point of Judgement. We see in Pilate a growing panic as the one who Is the Truth stands before him – the conflict between Light and Dark is exposed – the Light is brought out once more and the darkness os revealed for what it is – a refusal to come into the light. “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!’ We cannot bear the light!!!

Pilate comes to see that for all his worldly power – he cannot do the right – he is given a choice – he is told where his authority comes from, but he refuses to step into it. He does not believe.

It is in this supreme revelation of the Truth of our existence in Christ, that the door to our forgiveness is thrown open wide. As Death is brought out into the open, Life is poured out.

As we wrestle ourselves with God, as had Jacob, who now in a most extraordinary turn, blesses Pharaoh, all this is brought to the fore in our lives. The Truth of Christ is made present to us, and we too have the opportunity offered to us of the fullest healing of who we are.

Truth is revealed to be Personal – a Person – the one who sets us free.

“Blessed are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

Happy are those  . . . in whose spirit is no deceit – who have stepped out of darkness and into light

Who know Christ, and are themselves Known, Apprehended, and Freed by Him