This past week, I have being thinking about the nature of the Church and the nature of the Christian life. There is clearly a disconnect in the life of the Church and its members in how this life ought to be lived. Part and parcel of this is a lack of the idea of the need in the Christian life for holiness and righteousness as well as for love and grace. The Gospel this week (Luke 12.49-56) might come as a bit of a shock and will certainly be made uncomfortable by its language. So often we think of Jesus as being, “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild.” What tend to forget is that though the Gospel is good news, it can also be experienced as terribly bad news.
In our contemporary society and even more so in the ecclesiastical community, there is an almost automatic repulsion to the idea of judgement and especially of God executing any kind of divine judgement at all on earth. The difficultly is that the Church, if it does not embrace this concept which is clearly believed in the Church and in the Scriptures, we fall short of who we are intended to be. There is no need for the transformation of a person’s life and even more so the structures of human society if there is no judgment and consequences to the ways in which we live our lives. In effect, we declare ourselves righteous and without sin if we fail to acknowledge that God is both holy and righteous on his own. And please know that I speak to you about this subject not only as one who shares in the same judgement with you for what we had done with and about Jesus Christ. I say this to you as someone who faces double judgement as a pastor and a priest in the Church, for claiming to know Christ in the world and how I have led the people of God.
There is a reality that Christians in the Anglican tradition on the North American continent need to grasp: there is judgement on each and every life. There is judgement on every person and only the righteous will stand; the rest will not. That is why Jesus came in the first place. God loves this God hating empire so much, that he send his one and only Son, that whoever believes (participates and trusts) in him should not have to perish but have eternal life (John 3.16 translation mine).
We cannot use or religion and religiosity as a shield and a guarantee of personal salvation – it is not just about one person but about all of God’s people coming to God through Christ in the Spirit. Christ went to that hill and to give his life that we might live his in ours. As St. Paul say, “It is not I who live but Christ in me.” We have been claimed by God in baptism not because we are the best, the brightest, the richest or the smartest. We are his because we are willing to be known as his. We identify with Christ through baptism and because of this we die to this sinful, divided and dying world. And in this daily cycle of dying and rising to life, we know that conflict with the world is inevitable. Combat however, is optional.
We rightly fear judgement because we like to think that we are in control of our own lives. No one call tell us what to do because it belongs to us. Divine fire and judgement are a reminder it is God who is in control. We are constantly being reminded that we are not our own, that we were bought with a price and therefore we should honour God with our lives, lock, stock and body. Thinking that we are in control leads to a life that is latently filled with hypocrisy and therefore increasingly without God. Being leaves us as a bunch of play actors with a form of self righteousness and there is no health, no salvation in us.
So where does this leave us? Let’s keep in mind that holiness and righteousness are relational words not verbs. That is, it is not so much about what we do as it is about the relationship we have and how we keep them. It is time to move beyond a superficial living the Gospel into all that God holds and has for us, know that we are going to live out the dyings and risings of Christ in daily life. We need to learn to be peace filled people rather than trying to make this empire a peaceful, secure society. Such a place can only exist when the hearts of men and women, with God’s transforming love are filled.
How does this start? By fixing our eyes on Christ, who settling aside the shame and scorn of his own death on a cross,Christ offered it to God. He has been there and he will walk with you through it all. So let go of all those things that weigh you down and of the sin that so easily entangles, and run the race with endurance so to remain close to the Master and continue giving yourself him into that abundant life. Get underneath and bear up all of the things that need to be endured and live into all of it. After all, the Church, the People of God, are not meant to be just the community of the kum-by-ah.