Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Whom do we follow?

It is said that when children are asked a question at church or in Sunday School if nothing else comes to mind the answer is Jesus.

The answer is always Jesus.

This morning we have come to explore the question “whom do we follow?” And, the answer is Jesus: not because the answer is always Jesus but because this is who has called us to follow him.

But, might I add, we who are adults and are no longer children need to put aside our childish ways. The apostle Paul in his teaching recognised the need to move from feeding infants milk to providing solids.

This morning we plunge into the depth of the mystery of who Jesus Christ is as adults.

Over the years I have mentored and supervised many people exploring whether or not they should become a minister or preacher and those who have already entered into the process of formation for ministry in the church.

One of the fundamental questions I often ask is this, “What is it that makes Christianity unique?” How is it a different philosophy, a distinct religion?

Often the answers that are given include things like ‘compassion’, or ‘love’, or ‘kindness’ or ‘belief in God’. Whilst each of these may be aspects of what it means to be Christian I am always pushing and searching for the answer to come which is expressed so poetically at the beginning of John’s gospel.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh and lived among us.”

This is the doctrine of the incarnation, the idea that God in Jesus became fully human, the Word became flesh and lived among us.

The question of who Jesus Christ is has ever and always been a contentious one in the history of the church and remains less so today.

It is my conviction that within each of the four accounts of Jesus’ life found in Mark, Luke, Matthew and John (which is the chronological order of the writing of these gospels) is this message: Jesus is God.

In Mark 1:1 “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”

In Luke 9:35 “From the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’”

In Matthew 27:54 “Now when the centurion and those with him, who were keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were terrified and said, ‘Truly this man was God’s Son!’”

And again in John 10:30 “The Father and I are one.”

Each of the gospel writers sets out to expose the question of Jesus identity as God and to explore what God was doing in our midst.

Despite the witness of the scriptures to the incarnation the church has been in constant state of crisis around whether or not to believe this revelation.

From the moment Jesus called his first disciples to the time when Paul was writing his letters, through to the great Christological debates of the 4th century, when Athanasius faced off against Arius and we were given the Nicene Creed as a defence of God and Jesus identity, right through to the present day when so called Progressive Christians regurgitate ancient views, as if they are new. In each era and each age we have struggled with the idea that God walked among us.

Yet for me this is the distinctive note of our faith, the determinative point for my knowlng and knowledge of God – Jesus is both fully God and fully man and it is he that calls us to follow him.

This morning I want to share with you 3 reasons the incarnation is so determinative for my faith.

It is the way I have come to know who God is.
It is the way I have come to know hope in the face of darkness.
It is the way I have come to understand my place in the world.

The incarnation is the way I have come to know who God is. Jesus said to Philip, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.” The implication is that to know God and God’s way we should look at Jesus who is God in our midst.

The great Reformation theologian John Calvin in his seminal work the Institutes of Christian Religion speaks of how manifestly clear God represents himself and his everlasting kingdom in the mirror of his works but goes on to lament that such is our stupidity that despite such manifest testimonies they flow away without profiting us.

I can marvel at the wonders of the creation, from the unfurling of the stars and planets through the evolution of the world to the present wonders which surround us. I may even claim to see God’s fingerprints on the handiworks before me but this knowledge does not lead me into knowing God personally not living as faithfully as I should.

It is knowing that in Jesus that the Word became flesh that the game changes. To know Jesus for me has become knowing God. To see his willingness to share our life and pain opens to my eyes the possibilities of God. It is to know of God’s compassion, of God’s concern for the poor, of God’s desire for justice and mercy. Knowing that Jesus is the Word made flesh opens my heart to the immense love of God who does not remain separated and distant from what God made but is willing to share in the very life that God created; to share in the life that I live in the world that God created.

This God who walks among us in Jesus is a God who cares deeply for all that God has made; who cares for you and I.

Who is Jesus Christ? He is the one who shows me God because he is God.

The incarnation is the way I have come to know hope in the face of darkness. In my life I have seen the capacity for harm and hate that exists within humanity. I have felt anger and disdain and hate in my own life. I have turned away from those in need. I have lost friends and family members to the mystery of death. I am acutely aware of the challenges of poverty, of slavery, of pollution, of exploitation, of greed, of climate change and the list goes on.

I am a knowing participant in the darkness of the world.

In the face of the darkness and suffering which I see and experience and participate in I know that God in Jesus submitted himself to the violence of the world. Betrayed, denied and rejected by his followers, disowned by his own people, tortured and killed by the authorities of his day Jesus took the reality of the deepest darkness of suffering and death into the divine realm. The impossibility of God’s death is the commitment of God to share in the fullness of our created existence.

When I read the hopefully words of Psalm 23 that though I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death you are with me I know and believe this to be true because the Word was made flesh.

In response to this death comes resurrection, new life, new creation. In the midst of all of the moments of suffering and pain and confusion God declares hope. The tomb is empty, the worst that created life can offer, death, is not the final word.

Who is Jesus Christ? He is the one who shows me God is not prepared to let the darkness in my life or any of yours to be final word.

The incarnation is the way I have come to understand my place in the world. In John 17 Jesus prayed, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus prayer is that our lives might be united to God’s life.

For many years I felt homeless. Growing up the longest I lived in any house was 4 years. At University studying anthropology I read a paper called “White man got no dreaming” It spoke of the connection of indigenous Australians to the land. It emphasised my feeling of disconnection from this land in which I live which, a land was taken from others.

Despite this feeling I discovered the true meaning of home the first time I entered the pulpit. In that moment of sharing my first sermon I had an intense feeling of homecoming. My life, my home, my purpose was as Paul wrote hidden in the life of God.

This union with God’s life was achieved and could only be achieved in the sharing God in human life, in the decision of God in Jesus to be one of us. In his life is the meeting point of Creator and the created and through the power of the Holy Spirit you and I get to participate at the intersection of the divine life with the created life.

This realisation of homecoming for me into God’s life is I believe the very same good news discovered and proclaimed and witnessed to by the gospel writers.

The good news is that none of us, no one has to be homeless anymore for we are drawn into the household of God, a household which transcends time and space, race and nationality, young and old, male and female and may I say all religions.

Who is Jesus Christ? He is the meeting point of God and creation in whom all things exist and find their true home, in which I have found my homecoming.

The word became flesh and lived among us. Whom do we follow? A man? A teacher? A prophet? A priest? A king? Yes all these things but most of all in Jesus we follow the God who walked among us.

It is mind bendingly amazing to think of those first disciples standing on a beach being invited by Jesus “Come and follow me”. In Jesus God spoke to them in their own language, became their friend, walked beside them and loved them.

It is humbling to think 2000 years on that Jesus is still calling people to become his followers, to be his disciples. The grace of God in Jesus voices tumbles and echoes down through the ages to invite you and I into the mystery of God’s life lived among us: to celebrate it and to proclaim it. This is indeed good news.

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