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Friday, 19 August 2016

cherry picking Jesus

(August 21st) 2016


Jeremiah 1:4-19
Psalm 71:1-6
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

It is tempting to cherry pick our images of God, designing God to suit ourselves. By and large the words of scripture should be or only source for images of God, but even within those 66 books (as Marie reminded us last week) of the Protestant canon (I prefer the Catholic collection with its greater scope) there is an inexhaustible forest of imagery. Cherry picking to suit ourselves even within that forest of resources is dangerous.  As a rule of thumb I stress that all that we need to know of the Father is revealed in the person of the Son; in the birth, life, teachings, death, resurrection and promises of the Son we find all we need to know, and we don’t need to dig deeper than that. But even that is a vast resource pool; Jesus is wise, feisty, gentle, vulnerable, rebellious, obedient, bold, fearful, righteous, compassionate, even irritating … where do we stop?

We don’t! We grow through a lifespan of faith into more and more knowledges of the Son and through him into more and more knowledges of the Father. I use the plural ‘knowledges’ deliberately; no one person or culture has a copyright on the knowledge of the Son made known, revealed and made known by the Spirit. God knows us better than we know ourselves, knowing the journeys we shall be led on, the mistakes we will make, the redemptions we will find, the tears we’ll shed whether of laughter and joy or suffering and pain. God knows them and journeys with us through them: ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.’

The author of Hebrews, like many authors in the Bible, makes one thing abundantly clear: God is not our playmate, not a chum or a household god, to be brought out in times of trouble and forgotten when no longer obviously needed. God is a being of terror; I confess I become a little frustrated with those who say we should never speak of ‘fearing’ God: we must fear God, though perhaps nothing and no one else. Yet we are called too to love and be loved by God. For as long as we serve and obey God’s call to justice and love and compassion then the love of the God who knits us together in our mother’s womb, the love of God rather than the wrath of God, will be our light and our way.

But the God of the bible is not afraid of wrath, and the writers of the bible are not afraid to tell of God’s wrath, and we must not be complacent about God’s wrath. The attitude of much Christian preaching is to pretend that we can direct God’s wrath on others, the big fore-finger pointing away from ourselves.  Gays, Muslims, atheists, whatever: I suggest over and again that we should leave others to God and watch instead, as many have noted, the three fingers pointing back at ourselves. God’s wrath may be seen as directed at me, at you and me, at us as we claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. ‘See that you do not refuse the one who is speaking; for if they did not escape when they refused the one who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject the one who warns from heaven!’ says the author of Hebrews. When we sign up for the love of God we sign up, too, to be the targets of God’s healing, redeeming wrath as well.

One of God’s tried and true techniques is to hand us, individually, collectively, or both, over to the ramifications of our own choices. Paul warns of this in his opening to the letter to the Romans; there he speaks of God’s ‘delivering’ or ‘handing over’ human beings to our inclinations. If we are currently witnessing in the world’s most powerful nation the politics of mediocrity and selfishness, of hatred and racism and sexism, then it is because we as the human race have not stopped the voices of mediocrity and selfishness, of hatred and racism and sexism in our own spheres of influence, perhaps even our own hearts and minds. If we are witnessing the overheating of planet earth, God’s garden gift to us, then it is because we have not stopped the exploitation of the earth’s resources in our search for an ever more self-indulgent lifestyle. If we are witnessing the growing opportunistic anger of oppressed peoples in a post-colonial world it is because we have failed to redress questions of justice, of genocide, exploitation, and nonchalance on the part of the Haves towards the plight of the Have-nots.

You and I can’t set the entire world to rights. We can however see the way in which Jesus over and again turns his gaze on us and challenges us to set to right our infinitesimally small pixel of the universe. We can’t cherry pick the bits of God we like and don’t like, want and don’t want, but we can see through the actions and words of Jesus the aspects of our own lives that God wants and doesn’t want, likes and doesn’t like. Above all in this and many similar passages Jesus makes abundantly clear his dislike of religious hypocrisy, the type of hypocrisy that uses the name of Jesus or indeed of Christianity as an excuse for hatred, bigotry, oppression and a myriad other evils.

You and I can’t set the entire world to rights. We can set ourselves to rights, by the aid of God’s Spirit, and we can intercede over and again for God’s world. As we set about doing that then the God who loves, heals and redeems will love, heal and redeem us and those we love and pray for, and will do so even when we can’t see it (for God’s perspective is eternal).

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