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The Habitation of God in the Habits of Followers (sermon)

May 4, 2013


Acts 16:9-15             John 14: 23-29

(with inspiration this week from Colin D Miller’s marvelous thesis “The Practice of the Body of Christ: Human Agency in Pauline Theology after MacIntyre”, Dept of Religion, Duke University)       

mount-brewsterThose who go into the mountains, like I did on my week off, will know that, from a distance, things seem so much simpler. The mountain looks two dimensional. But as you climb up through the bush line and up the ridge, you soon discover you are on one of many ridges, with great drops of thousands of feet between you and the destination and in the distant the glacier looks simple but those little wrinkles are really enormous crevasses. To get to the mountain top there are many ups and downs, you never imagined before. In fact the two dimensional mountain in the distance is really a whole world of valleys and crevasses.

From the perspective of Jewish hope the future could be summed up in one or two simple, two dimensional phrases, the resurrection, or the day of the Lord. This was the day of final justice when the oppressed Jewish people would be vindicated, the gentile nations would be punished, and God’s glory would be known by all the nations and all would be well. At least, that’s how it looked like from a distance.

With the resurrection of Jesus, Christians believe, a whole world of valleys and crevasses came into sight. Yes hope was dawning. No, it was not as they imagined. Yes there was still a mountain in the distance. But there was a lot more to getting there than they had thought.

Hence Judas’s question… How can it happen that you will reveal yourself to us but not to the rest of the world? How can the dawning of the age to come begin with just a few disciples and not the whole world? That wasn’t the story line about the future they knew. The story line they knew involved a particular kind of publicity technology. Very simple technology really. The technology of the sword. God comes down to earth and kicks everyone’s butt (if you’ll pardon my American). And as a result everyone knows who God is, and lives happily ever after. Something like that kind of publicity happened when the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian. And many people thought it was great publicity (any publicity is good publicity). Except it’s not the God, who is the Father of Jesus, who is revealed to the world, it’s the butt-kicking God.

In the age of the Internet we might sympathise with Judas’s question. How come you are just revealing yourself to a small group of very uncool people nobody knows and not to the whole world? Surely a viral YouTube video would make much more sense if you really want the world to know! Different technology similar question.

We tend to think that spreading the gospel of Jesus is a matter of getting the information out there. That’s a very modern way of thinking. Jesus, if your mission is the world, your methods need a bit of technological updating, we think.

But our Scripture reading is very clear. Jesus is not interested in information… formation maybe, but not just information. Our section of John’s gospel says it again and again. Jesus is interested in love and action. If you love me you will faithfully live out my commandments. Knowledge and revelation and truth come to those who love Jesus and practice the way of Jesus.

As opposed to Constantine and the Internet Jesus has no interest in publicity by information or publicity by the power of the state…

So when Judas (not Iscariot) asks: how come you’re not telling the whole world? Jesus doesn’t say I’m not interested in the rest of the world. He doesn’t even say, I’m revealing myself to you so you can tell others. He says I’m interested in creating people who act in a certain way because of their love for me. v23

“Jesus answered him: Those who love me will faithfully live out the things I’ve taught. And my Father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them”

The world will never be saved by information. This news of the coming of God reaches the world by means of love and action. People who love it will act differently.

But there’s more: It’s not just about action, it’s about habits. Again this is something our modern way of thinking doesn’t pick up. We think the moral life is about decisions made on the basis of information. We think of ourselves as free agents who at any time can do anything we want… so all that matters is getting the right information. Jesus is clear, the life he is creating is not just about action… it’s about the kind of action in which God makes a home on earth. It’s about habit (same root as habitation). God makes a home amongst those who have a propensity to act in a certain way (the old word was virtue). Love for Jesus forms a certain kind of person, with certain kinds of virtues or habits of action.

Jesus goes further… it’s a specific kind of peace that Jesus gives to these people, one that is different from the peace that the world offers. It’s not the kind of peace that the world can receive or understand.

Do you see what’s happening here? The gospel is, in a sense, invisible to the world. It’s not information that anyone can just understand. It’s a reality that can only be known by being lived in. It spreads through action. It spreads through the transformation of human beings and their habits. It spreads when a community demonstrates a peace that is different from any peace that the military can keep.

Recently I was reading about the things that go unnoticed at times of violence when the so-called peace (pax Americana) is broken. The Guardian newspaper reported that on the same day as the Boston bombing, 11 people were killed by guns across the U.S. That sad list included a pregnant woman in Dallas allegedly shot by her boyfriend; a 13-year-old who took his own life after being bullied at school; and an off-duty New York City policewoman who killed her husband, her year-old baby, and then committed suicide with her police-issued handgun…. These are apparently just everyday ‘peace-time’ events, outside the so-called war on terrorism. Jesus promises us a different kind of peace… different from what the world calls peace.

Lets be clear what is at stake here for us as Christians. Followers of Jesus follow him because God is revealed in the world in the life of Jesus as nowhere else. In Jesus God gives a peace that the world doesn’t know. In Jesus God gives a Spirit that the world cannot receive. In Jesus something alien breaks into the world… something that the world wants to get rid of. Last week Geoffrey Vine talked about change and what it means for the church to take a lead in change. What I think today’s reading offers to that discussion is this. If we want to know which of the many changes in our society worth taking a lead on, (not all change is good, right?) if we want to know whether to support the amendments to the Marriage Act, if we want to know whether we want to support the rapidly growing enthusiasm for Anzac Day (to take a couple of current examples) followers of Jesus don’t simply follow the trends, they don’t look to the Prime Minister or the Queen, they look to the way of life opened up by the life of Jesus himself. I personally am inclined to support the former (changes to the marriage act), and oppose the latter (enthusiasm for Anzac Day), but I don’t reach that opinion by following the trends (both matters happen to be well supported in our wider society at the moment). I see them as implications of following Jesus (quite regardless of what the world thinks).

Let’s go back to the mountains in our imaginations for a moment. Another place we were introduced to in our holiday at Makarora didn’t even have a name. Our friends just call it The Chasm. It’s not on any of the official maps. It looks nothing from the road. But if you park where a certain creek crosses the main road and walk 30 yards to an old bridge and then go down under the bridge and walk up stream a few metres you enter an deep channel next to the river which opens out to something like a natural cathedral with misty water coming down from the heavens with the light behind it. A whole new world opens up to view.

Like Christianity, you have to get wet to discover it….

The Chasm is not on the official map…like Jesus and those who follow him. The Ruler of this World has no handle on it, the world doesn’t really know it. And yet, rumour has it, it’s there… the body of Christ, a world within a world, the gift of the Spirit in the habits and lives of people who love Jesus enough to take his commands seriously (above all else).

Thanks be to God.


One Comment leave one →
  1. May 4, 2013 9:33 am

    nice one Bruce – like the chasm reference – off the map but there!

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