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Friday, 3 January 2014

On Inconvenient Boundaries

(January 5th) 2014

Readings:        Sirach 24.1-12
                        Psalm: Wisdom of Solomon 10.15-21
                        Ephesians 3.3-14
                        John 1.10-18

Amongst the many themes of the Hebrew Scriptures that were allowed to infiltrate and inform the thought of the early followers o Jesus was the identification of Jesus with Wisdom. He becomes many things, of course, as the Christians, like Mary, pondered these things. He became the Suffering Servant of the Isaiah tradition. He became the sacrificial scapegoat of the Leviticus tradition. He becomes the Son of God, the Christ of God, he becomes most powerfully Lord, challenging the supremacy of Caesar and almost risking the oneness of the Hebrew God. Less popular in some circles, he becomes Wisdom, she who searches for and even embodies the search for meaning in human existence. It is perhaps for that reason that I am loathe to restrict the workings of God merely to some identifiable organization – church or, worse, denomination. The search for meaning breaks out of the straight-jackets of institutional religion. While there will be few surprises in this cathedral culture at that dismantling of boundaries, there are many circles in which the thought is abhorrent: God’s saving work is too often restricted to human boundaries.

There can be sloppiness entailed in the blurring of boundaries. In some circles of faith there is a kind of ‘anything goes’, in which the central elements of our faith are blancmanged into a pot pourri of compromises: anything goes because nothing matters. Such faith is a demonic parody of the faith that was being midwifed by writers like the author of the Fourth Gospel and the author of the letter we call Ephesians. The centrality of Christ was non-negotiable. Where and when that Wisdom Christ emerged was a broader issue: there are others not of this flock, warned Jesus.

I prefer to see the Wisdom-Christ at work in lives that radiate that same commitment to love, compassion and justice that I see incarnated in Jesus’ own life. Those who have heard me before will know that I bang on endlessly about the work of the Spirit embodied in the lives of an Aung San Suu Kyi, a Fred Hollows, a Steve Biko, a Malala Yousafzai: they, incidentally, represent the best of Theravada Buddhism, atheism, a-religious political activism and Islam for starters.  I see disgustingly much that is unChristlike in practitioners of my own religion, in all its shades of high and low, liberal and conservative. Nevertheless it is to this odd faith that you and I have been called by God and that leaves us little wriggle room: the narrative if Jesus, in all its subsequent flaws, is the narrative in which God has called us to walk. There is a specificity about Jesus to which we are called to anchor ourselves – however inconvenient his abuse by others might be – and to that we are to remain faithful.

Within that sometimes inconvenient set of boundaries we have a responsibility placed on our shoulders: the responsibility to be Jesus to those around us. You don’t have to know me for long to know that I fall far short of that task – and you might too! That is why in liturgy we must spend that little bit of time in the process we call confession and absolution, that little bit of time enacting a ritual drama to remind ourselves that we are not as good as we should be, and that it is only be the workings of God that we can enter into relationship with the divine and divine eternities at all. We leave these small rites out of our liturgy at the peril of becoming sloppy in relationship with God, and that is a peril that I take seriously. But if we allow these strange rites and others to shape us we can become the ambassadors to the community that God calls us to be: we may not be wise, as Paul reminds us in his famous address to the Corinthians, but we can become sufficiently saturated in Christ that we can reflect his wisdom in and to the world around us. By being saturated in Christ through our exposure to him in worship, in fellowship, in scripture and in discipline we can reflect and bear his love to the community into which God has called us, we can ‘bring to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ’, as the writer to Ephesus put it.

As we enter into a new calendar year, full of challenges and changes, resolutions, successes and failures, we are called, as we were in the beginnings of our church year several weeks ago, to make a place for the Wisdom of Christ. By allowing that wisdom to transform and re-make us, individually and collectively, we can be bearers of Christ into a world often unaware of his benefits or the need of humanity for him, but which is all too dysfunctional without him (as we are!). May God go with us in that responsibility to bear witness to the wisdom of the child of Bethlehem, the man of Nazareth, the victim of Jerusalem, the here and yet coming Messiah.

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