The Rt Rev Gordon Mursell on Talking about God in the modern World

The Rt Rev Gordon Mursell talks to us this morning about "Talking about God in the modern world." 

Gordon has produced rather a definitive book on spirituality (see Wikipedia entry). You can see from the beginning that herein we are encountering a man who has done some remarkable business with God - he has the 'boldness gift' about which he speaks. 

He begins with such humility about his quest to share with us something of his insights about how to talk about God today. 
Will we resonate? He suspects so. 

he begins by taking us to the Acts of the Apostles and how the religious authorities are horrified. 

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realised that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognised them as companions of Jesus. When they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. So they ordered them to leave the council while they discussed the matter with one another. They said, ‘What will we do with them? For it is obvious to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable sign has been done through them; we cannot deny it. But to keep it from spreading further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.’ So they called them and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.’ After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.

Original Word: παρρησία, ας, ἡ
Part of Speech: Noun, Feminine
Transliteration: parrésia
Phonetic Spelling: (par-rhay-see'-ah)
Short Definition: freedom, confidence
Definition: freedom, openness, especially in speech; boldness, confidence

Boldness is a gift and it is a privilege and if we are to be authentic then we must be so with boldness and receive this gift, it is the fruit of knowing that we belong. But a childlike-boldness to share everything can be quashed. We need to be liberated to bring all of our lives in a child-like trust. We haven't got a God who is only interested in us when we behave!!

Hebrews 4:16: Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Thesis for boldness with an analysis of the farewell discourse in the gospel of John.

We all live in this world with that blend of foreboding and genuine hope. 
What is the world into which we are invited to speak?
The cosmos is the world, which literally means the created order. The whole caboodle! The whole created order in its opposition to chaos. 

There are subtle and the rich ways in which the evangelist John presents the cosmos:
Cosmos - the created order - neutral in meaning - factual
Cosmos - human beings, the people 
Cosmos - the world in its opposition - similarly Paul speaks about life according to the flesh. This world in opposition is the most common meaning in John's gospel. 

The world did not know him, has hated them because they did not belong to the world. The world exhibits not bad people but rather bad systems - bad systems that make good people do bad things. I (Rachel) hear resonances of Walter Wink here and his seminal work. The sense of the scapegoat and their being hunted down is what happens with bad systems. These bad systems are infecting the church as well, of course so we can't be naive. 

The structures are something about which Jesus is aware. 

And yet, there is another hope-filled way in which the Cosmos resonates for us.  Jesus came to transform it. 
John 3:16: ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.' 
Not just people. 
Not just the church. 
God's longing is for the transfiguring of the entire cosmos. 

- a new heaven and a new earth. 

In Jesus' prayer, he prays (John 17:21) that the world may know! The world has the capacity for terrible destructiveness. And yet Jesus came for this world. We must therefore challenge the world and yet see that God came to die for this very world. 


We celebrate and we challenge. 

Here are a few ingredients that will help us based on this passage: 

The first way is to wash feet - John 13. 
Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, ‘Lord, are you going to wash my feet?’ Jesus answered, ‘You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’ Peter said to him, ‘You will never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered, ‘Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.’Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!’ Jesus said to him, ‘One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean.’

We need to incarnate. it is about how you live not only what you proclaim. After we have had our feet washed, we are then to wash feet. This is an offer made unselectively to both resistant Peter and betraying Judas and it is offered despite the ways in which it might be received and it is the prerequisite for washing other people's feet. 

When God says to Jesus, "You are my Son, my beloved, my child, I am so proud of you," we can reflect that this is a deep need in all of us. In the confidence that God engenders in Jesus, he goes then into the wilderness after these baptismal words have been spoken over him to hear the voice of destruction. We hear both of those voices too. There is at the heart of Calvinism a blessed assurance though for our comfort. The doctrine of assurance that is rooted in Romans and John captures this sense of our belovedness in God. Affirmation is important in our life - we receive it first and then we offer it. This assurance gives the Christian the right to fail and still know that we are loved. This truth is modelled in the washing of feet. 

Some will reject this love because the devil can overtake us in our most fragile areas. 

In John 13:31 - we hear that now the Son of man has been glorified - in this betrayal then- because the glory of the cross is the glory of suffering, Christ shows us that in our vulnerability, we can glorify him in the midst of rejection and shame and disappointment. 

The second way is in abiding - John 14, 15. 

When Elijah withdraws to the wadi and stays there to abide, he is not given a vision, he has to face the very bankruptcy of society (Gordon paraphrases one of Bp Alistair's books on this subject).

Elijah creates a new household with the widow and her son and so this is his positive response to his suffering. 

John 14:22 
Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’

in other words, what's the point of the church? Why did you bother with the world - you could have talked directly to the world. Jesus' response is that he will make his home with us and it is out of this abiding that we will speak to his world of him with boldness.   

Abide comes 40 times in John's gospel. Ben Quash has written a book on abiding. Meno in the Greek - to live with. 

"Where are you abiding?" ask the disciples of Jesus, when they first get to know him and the disciples abode with him and begin to understand him better - they can then proclaim that he is the Messiah - they become evangelists through this experience of literally abiding with him. 

In John 8:31 - if you abide in my word, you will know the truth and this truth will bestow freedom, John explains. 

John 14 is used many times in funeral addresses - this sense of a final abiding is so important. 

To abide with anyone is about living at depth. It is about making space for people and relinquishing control. Jesuit Gerry Hughes explores what it might be like to really live with Jesus. Gordon explores Gerry's thesis with very comic effects. Gordon is really funny!! It is difficult to abide with anyone, really, he concludes, we have to rearrange our emotional furniture, we have to make space for outsiders and for Jesus. To live together is the call - with those who are unlike us.

The third way is in the vine - John 14
The pruning, the living for the branches, the cutting back to allow for the flourishing of the other. This is the challenge in this image. The decreasing so others can increase. Your abiding needs to be deep enough and can only bring you joy when someone else grows and bears fruit, if this deep abiding in Christ is a reality for you. 

The third way is in friendship, John 15
The prayer of Psalm of 55 reveals the betrayal that is possible. Jesus does 'vulnerable,' we are encouraged to do so as well. Jesus was betrayed and he calls us to this risk, to relate to others, we have to give up power. Costly friendships. Sacrifice. 

The fourth way is in bearing witness, John 15

Gordon explores how pastoral encounter require something from us that can become over-ridden by the need to be needed. Either that or we are unable to empathise. But really pastoral care is delivered in the simply bearing witness and the listening.God listens. We can then bear witness through testimony. Richard Baukham explores this, this need to listen. the church can be a community of people that bear witness to pain and to transformation.

The fifth way is in adapting, not conforming, John 16

How to cope in places of Exile - by adapting but by not conforming - e.g.the hospital, the discriminating spaces. Even when "Wives obey your husbands and slaves obey your masters," challenges us and we hear Paul asking us to outwardly adapt but inwardly defy. We are not to be intimidated, we are to enthrone Jesus Christ as Lord. There is no grovelling subservience required to the state or any powers but only loyalty to Jesus Christ being lived out within all relationships. This is a right subservience. in right relationship with God we can be unafraid. Living is politically subversive because we enthrone God and 'Our God Reigns' - we do not have to conform - there is choice! 

The final way is in glorifying, John 17

Always about the future. Live into the future, even in defiance of the present. A chlld-like confidence enables this. 
Praising in an anticipatory way. 
Press into the glory. 
There is confidence that it is to be found. 

Awesome stuff!!!

He ends. No....

I could have sat at his feet all day!

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