Video for September 14th, 2023
Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video. I do want to reassure you that I’m not still on holiday. I’ve been back for several weeks, but I put a few in the can while I was away, when inspiration struck.
In a Roman Catholic country like France it’s hard to miss crosses. They are everywhere, not just in Churches. Here's one at a busy intersection. There is even a movement amongst young Catholics to restore them and make them more prominent. There is something wonderful about being confronted with imagery of Jesus out here in daily life.
I wrote this as a balancing piece for last week’s about the fear of the Lord. If the fear of the Lord in the Old Testament was in some cases really about fear as God demonstrated his power in incontrovertible ways, the New Testament doesn’t do away with it but reframes it in terms of respect, placing Jesus as the central recipient. As with many aspects of Christian theology here are two ideas to be held in tension with one another. The danger with a view of God dominated by fear is that we depersonalise him. Rather than pursue the relationship to which he beckons us, we keep him at arm’s length. We sit more comfortably with the title Christ or simply talking about God. Conscious of our own shortcomings and unworthiness, we potentially miss the good news of the Gospel. Unworthy, sinful people can have a relationship with God, and indeed that is what we are invited into through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. A relationshipless religion can become one of ritual, rules and striving, constantly anxious about whether we are good enough or have done enough to earn our place.
Conversely a faith focussed entirely on Jesus can become frivolous, as we project onto him those aspects of human relationships that we most value, or of the latest feature of culture. He can become a sort of talisman, always there, offering unconditional positive regard, but never challenging our behaviour or inviting us into a demanding holiness any deeper than our own personal preferences.
We need both. The Angel to the Church in Ephesus in Revelation had one thing against them, they had forgotten their first love. Jesus Christ is God’s final revelation of himself to humanity. He should indeed be front and centre of our faith and life. But it needs to be the real person of Jesus, not a vison of Jesus that says more about our own cultural moment than it does the person that comes alive through the gospels. I don’t think the Jesus of the Gospels would have got through an Anglican ministerial selection conference. He was far too impolite! However much I might disagree with people, I have yet to call any whited sepulchres, and I think I would be in trouble with the spiritual workers branch of Unite if I was to accuse any of our clergy of being dim-witted. Jesus seemed to have no such qualms. Yet alongside that he showed a tenderness to the poor and hurting and kept the sorts of friends your mother wouldn’t have been very happy with. In John’s gospel some Greek visitors from out of town asked the apostolic bouncers, “we want to see Jesus.” From what they had heard, they were beginning to sense that there is only one God, not many, and that he has making himself known primarily in Jesus. Perhaps as local congregations we could ask ourselves, “how much of Jesus is seen and heard in who we are and how we relate to one another? I ask myself the same question. After all, the church is meant to be the mystical body of Christ on earth. There is no plan B to make him known! Would people be more interested in him if we made more of him? I don’t think we should just be talking about God or even Christ. If the great christian mystics and modern charismatics have one thing in common it’s that they invite us to sing to Jesus not just about Jesus.
I prefer a rather more poetic metaphor drawn from Tolkien’s Rings saga. It's a brilliantly understated and subtle Christian metaphor. In these dark times, Sam Gamgee’s glimpse of a star in the midst of Mordor restoring hope seems more appropriate as we seek to make this glorious Jesus known. “There, peeping among the cloud-wrack above a dark tor high up in the mountains, Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing: there was light and high beauty for ever beyond its reach.”