Guest post: The Revd Dr Leslie J. Francis (Professor of Religions and Education at the University of Warwick).
BECOME sensing people, and savour the rich imagery of this powerful prayer. Go back to the Day of Pentecost, as recorded in Acts, and mingle with the crowd. Relive the experience of those original apostles on the day when the Holy Spirit was outpoured on God’s chosen people. Go back to the Day of Pentecost, and stretch out your arms. Feel the power of the Holy Spirit blow through your world like a mighty rushing wind. Hear the roar of the wind as God blows into the Church. Know that you are empowered. Go back to the Day of Pentecost, and open wide your eyes. See the fire of the Holy Spirit touch the hearts of all around. Smell the flames as they alight upon countless heads. Know that you are anointed. Become intuitive people, and imagine how God longs to transform you through the burning fire of God’s love. Pray that you may be fervent in the fellowship of the gospel, eager to assemble with fellow Christians, eager to hear and to discern the word of God, eager to meet the risen Christ in the breaking of bread. Pray that you may be found steadfast in faith and active in service, eager to listen with Mary at the feet of Jesus, eager to serve with Martha the needs of Christ’s world. Let the burning fire of God’s love transform you. Become feeling people, and recommit yourselves to the active service for which Christ longs to commission you in God’s world. Hear afresh the challenge of Jesus’s teaching. When I was hungry, did you feed me? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When I was homeless, did you open your door? When I was lonely, did you walk alongside me? When I was depressed, did you listen to me? When I was sick, did you visit me? When I was dying, did you bring me hope? Recommit yourselves to active service. Become thinking people, and face the theological issues raised by this prayer. Here is a prayer addressed to a generous God, addressed to a merciful God. But remember that this is not the whole story. The generous God longs to give us more than we deserve, more than we desire. The generous God longs to give us full measure, pressed down and overflowing. But remember: God’s generosity should not be taken for granted. The merciful God longs to forgive us, longs to restore us. The merciful God longs to set us free. The merciful God longs to be gracious to us. But remember, God’s mercy needs to be tempered by God’s justice. Face the theological issues raised by this prayer.
The Revd Dr Leslie J. Francis is Professor of Religions and Education at the University of Warwick, and Canon Theologian of Bangor Cathedral.
Church Times, Pentecost, 2008
I want to talk to you about getting our eyes fixed and understanding our vision. Many of you will relate to what I am saying if your view was suddenly blocked on Friday by the billowing smoke that blew across our very town from a blaze that erupted in an old warehouse – thick, acrid smoke filled the air and people were rather afraid. Many on the ground had only one response, to look up and be curious – to wonder about the sky and what was happening. Others, thank God, had their eyes fixed firmly on the ground...looking out for any people who might have been affected by the blaze....turning ambulances around, (as I witnessed on the A6) to head back on roads towards us... preparing hoses to put that fire out! They had their eyes fixed ahead whilst many of us, including me, sky-gazed.
As we consider the disciples' reaction to the ascension of Jesus, we see that it was similar. At the ascension of Jesus, those disciples have their eyes on the sky! They sky-gaze and two angels are sent to correct their vision. Disciples of Jesus, you and me, must concentrate instead not on sky-gazing, not on doing the maths on when Jesus will return. (It is not for us to know, says Jesus). We are to set our eyes ahead and look to the people all around us whom we must reach for Christ.
In the absence of Christ's physical body, we are his body!
In the absence of Christ's physical body, we are his hands and feet!
We must get on with the ministry that he began. At his ascension, Jesus disappears into the Shekinah glory, the same Shekinah glory that filled the temple in the Old testament, the same glory-cloud that accompanied the people of God journeying to the promised land, and as Christians, Jesus promises that the same glory can reside is us, through the power of his Holy Spirit.
We get to be the temple of the living God!
We get to carry his presence everywhere!
The disciples are told to wait for the one whom we already know: the Holy Spirit.
The disciples are to wait for the Holy Spirit to come and fill them for Christ's mission: a mission for which he asks us to set our eyes ahead on the world he has made and get busy helping him bring in his Kingdom. We do not get to sit back and gaze upwards, waiting.
Set your eyes ahead people.
Not only does Jesus ask us to set our eyes straight ahead as a people empowered by his Spirit, that same Spirit corrects our very vision, helping us to see in more dimensions.
We have just invested (for the kids) in a TV that when I put special glasses on, I can watch in 3D. By filling us with the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives us a special ability to see the people around us in a whole new dimension. Can you see in 3D or has your world become increasingly flat over the years as you concentrate too much on the faults and weaknesses in the people around you? If we can conceive of a Jesus who is present everywhere: Jesus the new creation, Jesus: risen, ascended and glorified, which is how Jesus asks you to see him, then do you realise that he is asking too, that you see the people all around you, those who are 'in Christ,' as new creations too?
Now this does not, of course, mean, we get to transcend time and space like Christ. Neither does this mean that we are always going to feel pretty glorious. But then this never was about feelings anyway, they change minute by minute. Our status is what it's all about. We are children of God because of what God has done for us in Christ, because our sins have been wiped away. This is why we really are pretty glorious, we are new creations. God says so!
Seeing people in 3D, in their fullest God-dimension, means seeing your fellow Christians here as new creations; as people capable of amazing God-empowered acts. It is Jesus asking you to see the people around you this way, as full of the most awesome God- potential – see the people around you in 3D – see their status as a people empowered and Spirit-filled because this is who Jesus says we are. We need to step into that circle of encouragement that surrounded him that day, forty days after his resurrection, and we need to start believing it both about ourselves and the people around us.
So put your glasses on people: stop looking up for a miracle and start looking around at the people-miracles all around you.
Put your glasses on people: you are new creations and capable of amazing things right here in your own back yard.
Put your glasses on people: you get to stay in Jerusalem says Jesus and become more and more empowered by the Holy Spirit spreading a message that will ripple out, and further out again, until the ends of the earth are reached.
And did you hear that? You get to stay here, someone has to. Your children were sent to Africa, you have been sent around the whole of the Midlands, in a year or so I will be sent somewhere new too, but Jesus asks those of us remaining to begin and continue here.
These streets are your Jerusalem.
This town is your land for God.
The new estate over there is your Samaria.
Put your glasses on people. Step into that circle of encouragement, the shekinah glory. Do not wait.
Put your glasses on people, think about the mission that Jesus is calling you to.
Put your glasses on people and tell us what the view is like. Amen.
A few weeks ago whilst I watched a renewal of wedding vows, I was struck by a promise two people made to make home a 'haven.' I have long been fascinated by the gospel's sense of home and the Saints' insistence that 'home' is not an easy place to find, unless it is found in God. John's gospel tells us in chapter 14, how Jesus comes to make home with us, to take up residence in us through his Holy Spirit, to become 'at home' in us and confer upon us a feeling of home: the feeling of home that we are always really looking for.
Paul and Peter, in the New Testament, both describe how we are restless: we are temporary residents in a strange land. I have always known that restless feeling. Jesus's promise is that he is completeness for our emptiness and our rest and home when we are searching and lost.
I have had times when I have desperately missed home, and times when I have lost my way home. I have 'made-over' homes, prepared homes anxiously for guests, bought and sold homes and given up my home to be housed and then re-housed with work.
I have done all of the above with one home becoming a stuck place, in that I dream of our first family home a lot, the home I call my 'baby-days home.' That home was my most 'haven-like' home.
Home is a very primary call and a very human need across all faiths, religions, ideologies and tribes.
In the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, we meet Lydia, who is so impacted by her encounter with a community of faith, that she herself is converted and baptised and comes to open up her home to other people.
Lydia encounters Jesus through Paul's teaching one day by the river because the Holy Spirit has been preparing her heart for this moment. People do not convert people: God converts people!
Lydia interests us for the way she parallels many people today: she is self-sufficient and independent. She is not unsympathetic to the things of God. She even worships and prays sometimes. However, she has neither been introduced to Jesus nor the Holy Spirit fully.
In many ways then Lydia could be one amongst our own culture in the West: autonomous and successful, this rather sassy business woman who deals in luxurious fabrics, occasional church attender but often too busy and self-sufficient for God...and God, well, God is creator certainly, and benevolent, intelligent designer, often, requiring occasional duteous visits and desperate pleas in desperate times, he is not yet, until she meets Paul, Son and Spirit as well. As Lydia comes into relationship with Jesus, everything that she is and has achieved continues, but in service to him too.
Lydia opens her home to Paul and his missionary band and begins what goes on to become one of the first house churches.
The Holy Spirit has come to reside in Lydia, to make his home within her, to prepare her to really hear and really see. And when Jesus makes his home in us, we are then able to open up our homes and moreover our very lives to other people.
Of Lydia's first house church, Paul will say in his letter to Philippi: “I thank God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy...” (Phil. 1:3-4). Lydia's home literally became a haven to them when they later escape prison and are ordered to leave the land but reside there for a while instead ...such is her hospitality, they are prepared to risk life and limb for it. About whose home can I say something similar, I wonder? Have I experienced home as a place I can't wait to get to? Lydia is a real home-maker in the godly sense of the word.
Homes that are havens are of course ideals, we all want this but few of us achieve it – houses get messy because life gets messy. And so Jesus, who himself entered this messy world, knows that human homes are not enough. This is why he asks that he makes home in us.
Home is life in Christ.
...and if home is life in Christ, what about our churches?
Cosiness in church is not what we are to be about – we need to be authentic. Hospitality is certainly a requisite gift but as a gift of the Holy Spirit, it does not confer cosiness upon us. As recipients of this gift of hospitality, we are to engage too with a restless Holy Spirit who blows where he will and will change us. This is not comfortable stuff. But it is the way of authenticity.
We create home when God is with us. Michael Mitton describes home in his book 'Dreaming of Home,' as a place where 'you find a place of safety where you can be yourself without fear or shame' but I add a challenge, it must also be a space that asks questions of you, just as Jesus does in the gospel reading, about whether we are truly following him. It is when we love him that we know him to be making home in us.
Often for many, home with God points to some kind of future reality. There are thoughts either of the end of time as we know it, when all will be put right, or we imagine our final resting place: our heavenly home with God. There is certainly a future orientation to home. Those promises are true but what, however, is even more radical, is that when Jesus says he and his Father “will come and make [their] home with us,” is that he means now, not tomorrow (that too)...but NOW - today: we are to know this quality of life in him as our present reality. This is that peace from God that John's gospel explores, it is that abiding in Christ that I call 'Finding our way home:' abiding, dwelling, a closeness beyond the closest closeness. This is what John wants for us, with Jesus, as he writes his gospel.
Our divine homing instinct will be fully satisfied one day but what is wonderful about Jesus is that he sets us on a homecoming course now. We will sense God's peace and bring his power into our communities as we love one another and follow Jesus.
So what do we do to aid the 'coming-home' process?
- Know that the gospel grows fruitfully where it takes risks. Paul's first European convert was this woman Lydia : a woman, seemingly self-sufficient and content with a large home until she came to know how truly homeless she was and how free she could become, dependent on Christ. She grew not an institution or a building but a church that began with a house group, a small fellowship of journeying, questioning seekers. In a changing world, the church needs to find ways to meet people where they are at, just like she does and stop hanging on to its outmoded, irrelevant traditions. Walter Brueggemann, a well-known bible teacher asks us to think about home as 'not any nostalgic return to yesteryear, that home is irreversibly gone. The home for which [we] yearn ... is the ‘kingdom of God.’
- How is it that the disciples were really able to say “We have left our homes to follow you” - this can only be because they were becoming 'at home in Christ...' and yet they restlessly pursued the Kingdom, asking others to find a home in Jesus too. We need to get creative as church about how we go about creating home, increasing a peace from God that leaves us secure but not cosy, journeying to completeness but not unchallenged.
As a Christian, death is not something that scares me like it did before I got to know Jesus. I mean it can't be nice when it hurts, and it sure is awful when it's too soon or if the circumstances are tragic but in itself I have to believe that it is not the end. I take God at his word and so there is Hope and though the bible gives many different pictures for what it will be like, when I leave this earthly life, all the images and pictures convey something really pretty cool, something pretty radical and something that is certainly going to be kind of awesome - that whole 'eternity bliss deal' - I am seriously signed up for that!
And so, no, 'I ain't too concerned,' you could say about the end.
... people might say to me 'but life is tough,' ... and 'regret isn't very Christian anyway, is it?'...and 'life is about other people and service' ....and 'suffering comes to us all' etc etc etc and all of that is true but Jesus also came to give us life in all its fullness, to release us from prisons of our own making and to enable us to become fully human.
...so when we do look at him, he sure is pretty real with people: he doesn't hold back; he loves them but he doesn't compromise - he tells it as it is, as he did with Martha and Mary over Lazarus, as he did with that woman at the well. He didn't people-please. He didn't pretend, he didn't do things by halves or put them off until tomorrow. He had stuff to say about 'worrying.' He had stuff to say about captivity. He had stuff to say about untruths.
1: Do you live a life true to yourself, not the life others expect of you?
2. Do you work too hard at too high a cost?
3. Do you have the courage to express your feelings?
4. Do you stay in touch with your friends?
5. Do you let yourself be happy: do you laugh, are you silly?
Face Your Regrets: describe them in detail. Express your feelings to yourself ... and others (with care). Then imagine yourself wrapping your regrets into “a package.” Take your package to the cross in your imagination. Hear God say 'I will help you sort this' and see him "get it"- that is, feel what you're feeling.
The principle of forgiveness is cyclical: God wants to forgive. God wants us to want His forgiveness. Even more than that, God wants for us to want His love and forgiveness so that we then go on released by this to forgive others. He wants us to 'get it' too, to feel something of His ache, his 'Jesus-suffering.' He wants us to understand something of the ache of every human person. With this we will then set forgiveness in motion with Him, practising it and receiving it, delivering packages with and for people and for ourselves and watching the cycle of forgiveness, release and grace be set in motion again.
In doing this we get real. How have you lived and learnt through the experiences of regret and forgiveness?
...and so Baroness Thatcher has died. There have been mixed reactions. The Queen was saddened. Ed Milliband avoided political comment and gave his sympathies to her family. One Scottish political activist partied to celebrate because his community in the West of Scotland still wear the wounds of her policies.
Margaret Thatcher dies and reactions are mixed.
This death, though, is particularly newsworthy.
One front page hails her as having saved the country.
This prime minister famous for saying, 'This lady is not for turning,' dies and everyone has an opinion. Everyone spends some time exploring their own reaction to her life and death.
Jesus dies and there is a mixture of reaction. One Roman soldier says, 'Surely this man was the son of God.' This Jesus whom the scriptures hail as one who came to save the entire world asks that we all explore our reactions to his life and death and make a response. This Jesus, famous for saying through his forerunner John the Baptist - “This generation is not for turning – but I ask that you do just that and turn and follow me.” comes not to wound community but to heal and restore and reorder our ideas about society and community.
And so today (Anglican lectionary reading) we see that Jesus appears to his disciples for the third time (John 21). The Risen Lord Jesus who has died but who now lives again encounters his disciples in their everyday moments and asks that they invite him into his life, listen to him and follow. This is a Jesus who instead wears wounds so that we can recognise him and have ours healed. This is the only way that Thomas will believe in him. This is the Jesus who knows us each by name not by constituency. He doesn't count our votes, he counts the hairs on our heads! He promises to build his church through us just as he promised to through Peter, with whom Jesus will breakfast and then commission into action. This is the Jesus who does indeed know your name as he knew Peter's and as he knew Mary's, for if he hadn't called her by name, she would have stood at the empty tomb and continued to address Jesus only as the gardener she thought he was. With her name on his lips she recognised him. Your names are there too.
The important thing about this third encounter for us here today is that Jesus meets us in our everyday. Jesus meets us when, like the disciples, we go fishing: when we return to our ordinary Monday business and leave church and our worship of him here because our every day can be a way through which we encounter and worship Jesus too.
Margaret Thatcher's legacy will live on long after she has died.
Jesus' legacy is us! We are his hands and feet on earth and he empowers us because he is the Risen one and gifts us with his Holy Spirit so that we might discern policies that change with the times, weigh the integrity of those who ask for our votes by comparing their rhetoric to that of the very 'word made flesh' who spoke the words of the sermon on the mount to teach us how to live.
Jesus asks that we live Jesus' way but he comes to us with his presence so that we might really live his way. All we have to do is invite him into our lives so that he journeys with us and we journey with him.
Christ has died and Christ has risen.
As he did for the disciples on the beach that day, he asks that he might eat with you, that he might guide you, that he might come and take up residence within you. He asks that he might begin your every day with you and breakfast with you.
Christ has died, Christ has risen!
Is this front page news for you?
Are you asking those around you for their reaction to this good news?
Are you a living as his legacy so that his work goes on in the world?
Are you partying at his death because this man is the Son of God and came back from the dead to show that he has triumphed over it.
Start each day with Jesus, breakfast with him...begin with him – invite him into your everyday and continue to ask yourself about the reactions that he is causing in you and those around you.
This Ash Wednesday may we so grasp our mortality that we work for the inbreaking of God's Kingdom now.
This Ash Wednesday, as we contemplate that it is to dust that we return, may we also hunger for the end of Lent resurrection and the promise of the future life that is ours because of Christ's humiliation.
To us all and those Philippians
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Paul wrote his letter to the Roman colony in Philippi some time between AD 60 - 65. The verses in chapter two, beginning at line five and finishing at line eleven are thought by many scholars to have derived from an ode or hymn of the early church. Fee is less convinced that this is the case and believes that the writing, particularly of the second stanza is Pauline in origin. However, perhaps it was an ode which Paul appropriated for his own purposes, if as an ode it reveals the very high Christology of the early church, it would have been chanted within the early decades of the death and resurrection event. It seems to be free from embellishments and elaborations, we have here very simply the expression of early worshippers professing indeed that Christ is Lord.
The ode contains two stanzas, the first is about Christ's humiliation and the second is about his exaltation. Each stanza contains one, very long, tightly packed sentence of condensed content. The content focuses on the person of Christ and what he did. It does not dwell on the resurrection or expound on the soteriological ramifications of his actions.
The first stanza begins with an ethical exhortation. The Philippians are being urged to have the same mind as Christ Jesus. The Philippians are then instructed regarding what that mind looks like. Jesus Christ was in the form of God. This is a statement of huge christological significance. Paul has used the very phrase 'was in the form of' . Is he commenting on the homoosoius nature of Jesus and God? Jesus Christ was 'morphe theou', of the same nature as God. This very idea would be debated by the early church fathers in their ecumenical councils for a number of centuries after this letter was written and be finalised by the Nicene Creed which makes it very clear that indeed Jesus is of the same nature as God.
The letter then goes on to explain how Jesus Christ did not consider this status something to be exploited and it is argued by many critics that here Paul is juxtaposing Jesus Christ with the Roman emperor, drawing upon the political context of his time. The church in Philippi was occupied by Roman centurions and the loyalty of its citizens was required, even by force. The Roman empire was a Kingdom built on an emperor who declared himself Lord and Saviour and Son of God and so the stanzas here are polemical and subversive for they present us with a King, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who did not grasp at the power and status available to him but humbled himself, even to the point of death, even death on a cross. A Christian Kingdom is built on self-sacrifice in a way that a Roman one is not and in Philippians 3, Paul will urge this group of people to stand firm in their citizenship of God's Kingdom and not Caesar's.
As well as commenting on the empire of Rome, here, Paul might also be articulating an 'Adam Christology', for Adam snatched or attempted to win the power of God through his disobedience, securing a death in which he was condemned and disgraced and would return to the dust from which he came. Jesus Christ is the new Adam, the first born of a new creation, who apposite to the sinful Adam, uses his status to empower a kind of self-abnegation and then dies to live forever.
Whether it be Adam or Caesar whom Paul has in mind here or as Hurtado describes, simply an image of man and his tendency to grasp at power, we are presented with a Jesus Christ who is both eternal and humble and so reveals God's nature.
The Kenosis as it is known, ekenosen in Greek, meaning to empty or nullify is what Paul describes next. Two verbs are attached to the pronoun 'himself'. Jesus Christ 'emptied himself' and then 'humbled himself'. That Christ is of the same nature as God is compounded here by his emptying himself for if he had only been a man there would have been no resources to empty. Patristic as this will sound, as God, the Logos is boundless, impassable and immutable and so the emptying can go on eternally. The emptying is in the becoming human and continues to the point of death, death even on a cross, which was, of course, the lowliest death, experienced by transgressors on the very outside of society.
Jesus Christ is born in human likeness and this phrase is useful for the way in which it articulates that likeness. It is not a docetic likeness, it is simply a way of saying he was born human but there is still the preservation of the divine. He was human in form but he has a pre-existent and eschatological divine form which is not diminished by his having become human.
We are presented with a Christology in the first verse in which Jesus Christ is fully divine and fully human. The emptying or kenosis has its origins in the suffering servant imagery of Isaiah 53 and particularly 53:12, which describes the sacrifice to death.
At the 'therefore' our ode moves in a very different direction. Overall, the hymn is chiastic because the descending movement of the first stanza cuts across the ascending movement of the second stanza, moving to its pinnacle at the 'glory of God the Father'. At the 'Therefore' the two movements cut across each other to form the Greek letter X (Chi). The second stanza exalts Jesus Christ who as the subject of the first stanza is the object of the second stanza. The exaltation is superlative in quality: he was 'highly exalted' and the sentences build to their finale in Jesus Christ being given the name above every name. He is rewarded for the kenosis just as Adam was condemned. Jesus Christ is given the name above every name where the definite article 'the' does much to underline 'the name'. This name is the Jewish tetragrammaton, 'I am who I am': YHWH and in Isaiah 45, this is a name that belongs to God alone and yet here it is being applied as Kyrios (Lord) to Jesus Christ. Isaiah 45:23 describes how it is at the name of Yahweh that every knee shall bow and here it is the homage befitting Jesus Christ. The high Christology of the early church is much in evidence. Their homage to Jesus Christ would have been subversive in a colony where homage was expected to Caesar. It would have been shocking to the Jews with their belief in a monotheistic God and to the pagans.
Ralph Martin in 'A hymn of Christ' is detailed in his account of Jesus Christ's sovereignty as signified by the high Christology of this ode. Everything will come under the cosmic reign of this Lord who is THE LORD. The heavens, the Earth and the underworld will come under his authority where 'under the earth' could mean the dead or even the gods and goddesses of the Greeks. Caesar too will eventually submit to this Jesus Christ who is Lord.
The high Christology of the early church, as revealed in this hymn is emphatic and confident, it is subversive against its political back drop, it is subversive about the Lord who does not diminish the glory of the Father, in fact, the more we develop the self-sacrificial mind of Christ and pay him homage, the more God is glorified. This Jesus then is a pre-existent and self-humbling and therefore highly exalted Lord, fulfilling the escatological promises of the Old Testament, which as a consequence, confers on this early church its states as the new Israel. This in turn confers on us a similar status. We are God's own people. It is this Christ we are to worship and imitate and pray to whose likeness we become conformed.
Sites ref. Revising Reform
- Techy and theo
- Euangelion Kata Markon
- We mixed our drinks
- not just a sandwich
- Dr Jim's Thinking Shop
- Positive Infinity
- In Christ by Paul Adams
- Her name is Lucy
- Lesley's blog
- Anita in Oxford
- Messy Church's blog
- Beaker Folk
- Thinking Anglicans
- CaptainChris's blog
- Gospel rights and wrongs
- More questions
- Aristotle's Feminist Subject
- Seven whole days
- Men and Women in the Church
- Dr Huw
- Notes from Off-center
- Child of the Wind
- The Half Welshman
- Rod's Political Jesus
- Gentle Wisdom
- Jack of all trades
- Brad Cook
- Exploring Our Matrix
- Inquiring Minds
- The Golden Rule
- Tim Ricchuiti's blog
- Biblioblog Euangelion
- Forbidden Gospels
- Revgalblogpals blog
- Karen's curacy cafe
- Dan and Anna
- Chipping away at Churchianity
- Lingamish award
- Peter Carrell's diocese blog
- General Synod
- Alistair Cutting's blog
- Women in Ministries
- Gentle Wisdom award
- Lingamish meme
- David Ould.net
- Available Light
- New Epistles