Sunday, 29 January 2017

Building in despair

The Christian life is not an easy one.  More often than not churches, parishes and individuals all feel as if there is no hope and are flapping their arms in despair.  We can only see the darkness around us and not the light that is Christ. Like a Zen master we often stand around berating and striking our followers to bring them to experience the light of Christ as we become frustrated with the apparent lack of understanding being shown. Or else we fall back to erudite words to inspire and bring hope which only bring fleeting highs in a place of overwhelming darkness.  We believe these highs to be the real deal and like an addictive drug continue to seek them rather than Christ's light.  Paul writing to the Corinthians points out in his hymn to the cross the foundation of our lives (1 Cor. 1.18-31) whilst Matthew's Gospel shows us how (Matt. 5.1-12).  However, in a single verse of pure poetry Micah spells out the essential attitude (Micah 6.8).

In Paul's first letter to the Corinthians there are some amazing pieces of rhetoric that reflects deep thought and understanding.  In his hymn to the cross, Paul uses an understanding of both the Jewish faith and the Greek funeral oratory system of his era.  In linking them within this passage he cuts through the ties of ethnicity that create division and seeks to build a magnificent edifice on the weakest foundation of the world at that time, a man crucified on a cross. In our day to day misunderstandings and our fears can we like Paul and the Corinthians lay our differences aside and start to build?  The foundation, just as in Paul's time, is a foundation not of strength but of weakness.  The Christian faith has been battered by the tides of rationality and a culture that sees only profit for profit's sake.  If we think clearly about these things we are in a position that is no worse and no greater than found in Corinth. Paul's oratory appeals to both intellectuals and those who are faith believers not because they are beaten at their own game but because Christ offers a fresh approach.  It is like being given two options both of which mean death and suddenly finding a new path that is inconsistent with everything that has been thought possible before.  The cross turns everything upside down.

Is it possible to build on a weak foundation in the midst of nothing?

Christ gives us a way to live that life at the beginning of the classically named Sermon on the Mount at the beginning of chapter 5 of Matthew's Gospel.  The Beatitudes are perhaps at first glance somewhat unusual and topsy turvy. The poor are blessed, the sorrowful are blessed as are the hungry, the gentle and the peacemakers.  A far cry from reality one would think and does this mean that we have to become these extreme low end, despised people. Can't we be rich and free from hunger?  Our rational and interpretive scholarly minds try to finagle our way out, putting spin on to interpretation so that we can be at ease.  Yet, as Christians these are our living instructions these are our way of building on the weak foundation of the cross. Just to give some examples as to our own interpretive slant to these instructions.  Instructions, if you will, given not to erudite learned people but to the poor and the hardworking women and men of rural society.  Who are the sorrowful? What are they sorrowful for?  We automatically, I think, start with those who are mourning death but perhaps they are sorrowing / mourning something else entirely.  Perhaps the mourning is not death but the recognition of sin and wrongdoing and so we are mourning what we have / have not done as a people?  In recognition comes understanding and an ability to stand in hope for our lives as we turn away from sin to embrace Christ.  In doing so we build our lives centred on God and so we become blessed by God.  We begin to think in terms of others and so seek after righteousness, more rightly translated as a just community. This becomes an action that is lived out into the world around us.

Micah sums this all up in the simplicity of one verse describing what God wants from us as we grow into his presence and take on a Christlike personna.  We begin to give to God a contrite heart as we walk with a humbleness (poverty of heart) before God seeking to do justice and mercy with the loyalty expected by those who have formed a covenant with God, as we have through our baptism.

1 comment:

Chris Elders said...

I agree that Paul's description of the cross as a sign of "foolishness" or weakness, compared to the signs demanded by the Jews and the wisdom desired by the Greeks is compelling, and emphasis the humility and sacrifice that is at the core of our faith. A stark contrast to the prevailing views of the day? However, I find it depressing if churches and parishes feel as if there is no hope - that is the very thing I turn to church to find. I woke this morning to the tremendously depressing news coming out of the United States that an executive order signed by one man could bring so much suffering and worry to so many innocent individuals and their families. So yes, that leaves me with a feeling of sadness, as an individual, but not despair. Instead, it is that "sign of weakness" on which our faith is built that gives me hope and provides the alternative vision "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" Fortunately, by the time I returned home, it transpired that the courts in the United States had done just that!

I know that parishes and dioceses can face challenges, as can other organisations both secular and spiritual, and we may feel similar pressures in our own lives, but it is the vision of justice, kindness and humility (among other things) that must shine bright, not despair and lack of hope, if we are to make real God's Kingdom here on earth