I don't know which operating system you run on, and yes, perhaps I mean that technologically and metaphorically but Henryk and I are not Windows people or Applemac people, we are Ubuntu people. 

There is a community of people who write software just for the fun of it. 
We download it free. 
Their joy is in the creating. 
Ours in the receiving.

Ubuntu is an ancient African word for community. It means 'I am what I am because of who we all are'. Desmond Tutu speaks on Ubuntu Theology and how we only know who we truly are in relationship with others.

There is no commonly recognized Hebrew word for 'self'. In the Bible 'self' is conveyed instead with words like לב (heart/mind), נפשׁ (soul), and רוח (spirit). The Bible is more interested in communal life not individual life, in communal salvation not individual salvation. It is not possible to truly know yourself devoid of the nexus of people who remind you who you are. 

In John 17 (23) Jesus' prayer explores community: ‘I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’
Next Sunday we read about Philip. As we know Jesus has been appearing to his disciples over these weeks between his rising and his ascending: in a garden to Mary, in a room to Thomas, at the beach for Peter, on a certain road called Emmaus.

Whilst Jesus was still with them, Philip, whom we don't know so well, only that he had wondered if anything good could ever come out of Nazareth, said to Jesus, ‘Show us the Father and we shall be satisfied’.
Jesus says exasperated: ‘Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. (John 14.8-10).

Christians know God the Father. We know God. 
Is that an arrogant claim? 
It can seem so in a post-modern world where it is fashionable for everything to be uncertain.
The scriptures tell us we know who the Father is because the Son has revealed him to us. We have seen the Father through the relationship lived between the Father and the Son attested to in the scriptures. We know who God the Father is, as we see him in relationship with his Son.

Similarly, we only know who we are in relationship with others.  At the beginning of the Bible we hear that it is (Genesis 2.18) not good for man [humankind] to be alone.

We need one another to know who we each are. In a network of relationships we love one another into shape.
As the saying goes, if you want to know how a man will treat you, just look at how he treats his mother. This is a little cliched but what it scratches at is some truth about how we reveal who we are through the way we live our closest relationships.

In Christ's high priestly prayer, he takes this a step further. He tells us that in our seeing the relationship lived out between the Father and his Son, we see God.

Jesus will go on to say – love one another because that is how people will know you are my disciples.

Ubuntu: I only know who I am in relationship to you. 

Holy Ubuntu: I only know who God is in the relationship he lives out with his Son.
So church? 
Why should church not just be another community venture? 
Ubuntu: community is good, right? 
Why is our strapline here at All Saints: Expressing the love of God in our community?

Why is it not just Expressing love in our community.

Well, because belonging to a God-centred, Jesus worshipping, Spirit filled community as we are, not only do we better come to understand who we are. We better come to understand WHOSE we are.

We are in horizontal relationship with one another and a vertical relationship with God.

G K Chesterton describes people who live in a small church community and how they actually live in a much larger world than those in large communities who can afford to join themselves to people just like them. That will only ever form, at best, a clique, or a club. In small communities, like this one, our companions are chosen for us.
So church – more than Ubuntu.

Church - also a body of people who study the scriptures to know God; to see there the relationship between the Father and the Son.

But Ascension and Pentecost challenge us, also, to be more than this.

Just as Philip demanded: Show us the Father and then we will be satisfied. It is often so for us. We read about Jesus, we read about God, we come to love one another with a godly love, we come to know ourselves, both 'who' and 'whose' we are in community together.
We might similarly cry: Show us the Father, show us Jesus and then we will be satisfied!! 

Well, the godhead has. 

Today we think more over about how Jesus has ascended to the Father. The early church is in a period of waiting for the coming of the Spirit.  

Come Holy Spirit is the most important invocation of the church. It is only because of his arrival at Pentecost that the ascension can be any good news at all. 

For if the Son has returned to the Father then what are we to do?

We are to receive the Holy Spirit whom they send in their place.

It is through the power of the Spirit that we are brought into all truth. 

It is through the power of the Spirit that when we doubt who we are, he can gently remind us again.

It is through the power of the Spirit that we can love those who are hard to love in a community where companions are chosen for us.

Tertullian quotes the pagans and their reaction to early Christians: their common shocked response was ‘See how these Christians love one another.’ They were amazed but had no frame of reference for this power of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit makes Christians Christian – makes Christians distinctive more distinctive than other bodies of good people gathered with intentions philanthropic.

This love is love 'so the world may believe' as we hear in this morning's Gospel. Pagans became Christians so intrigued were they by this love. Richard Burridge, Dean of King's College London, scholar of John's Gospel, says ‘In the End, we love each other not for our own sakes, nor even so that the world may believe, but because this is how we share the very life of God and come to be with him and in him for ever and ever.' (Burridge, R. (1998, 2008) John: The People’s Commentary, Abingdon: The Bible Reading Fellowship, p202). The Ascension is good news because we were given the Holy Spirit, the Spirit brings even our ascension too into the community of God. We ascend as we share in the very life of God: ‘I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one. Holy Ubuntu indeed! Amen.

1 comment:

Phil Almond said...

'The Bible is more interested in communal life not individual life, in communal salvation not individual salvation.'
Not so. Jesus and God command, exhort, plead, invite us to come to Christ individually. And we must all stand as individuals before the judgment tribunal of Christ. But, having come, I do agree that relationships with other Christians are of immense importance.

Phil Almond


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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions