Sunday, 19 July 2015

When God is at home in his Church

This is a complicated passage, and I confess that I have really struggled with it.

It is about the unity that Christian believers have when we are in Christ, and it can be divided up into three sections.

1. Paul tells us what we were without Christ (2.11-12)

We were not part of the people of God
He is speaking to people who were not Jews. 
4000 years ago God chose the Jewish people to be his people. He said he would be their God and they would be his people. He gave them his law. And he said that through his people all people would be blessed. 
But as Gentiles, as non-Jews, Paul is saying to his listeners, you were not part of the people of God. 

And we were at war with God. 
We chose to live without God, as rebels against God, enemies of God. 
I was wilfully blind and deaf when it came to the things of God, because I wanted to live life my way and to satisfy my own desires. 
Yes, we might have spent time in meditation and said it was prayer, or we might have turned to God when we were in trouble, but most of the time we were not praying to the real God but to some make believe fantasy of God. 

I remember Eric Delve, who at the time was an evangelist, telling the story of his conversion. His life was in a mess. He had treated his wife like dirt, and had brought her to the point of a nervous breakdown. She was a Christian and at one point the local vicar had gone round to him and said, ‘Eric if there was a man who blatantly deserves to go to the hell of Dante, you are that man’. And he said how, on one occasion, when he was walking across Bristol common, having spent the night with yet another prostitute and feeling awful, he cried out, ‘God help me’. And he said he heard God and God said, ‘No. Not until you surrender your life to me.’

We were at war with God. We blinded ourselves to the reality that we owe God everything and have given him nothing, and that God owes us nothing but has given us everything. And we lived for ourselves and not for him. 

Some of you still may be there. And you need to do something about it – pretty quickly – because you are, in the words of verse 12 ‘without hope and without God in this world’.

2. Paul tells us what we are in Jesus Christ (2.13-18)

Because of the blood of Christ, because of the death of Jesus on the cross

i. We have been brought close to God

‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ’ (v13) 

The language that is used here is the language of the deepest intimacy. It is not just the language of someone who is far off being brought near. Paul says that when we put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ and in his death for us, we become ‘in Christ’. 

We can understand the language of ‘Christ in us’. 
We talk of inviting Jesus Christ into our lives. Of his Spirit coming to live in us. 
If you want a graphic picture of this, think of communion. We eat the bread and we drink the wine. We take it into ourselves. And we say that by faith Christ comes into us.

The language of us being ‘in Christ’ is more difficult. 
But let me explain it like this. 
This is a piece of paper. This is a book. When the piece of paper is placed here, it is in the book. It and the book are totally united. If the book is burnt it is burnt. If the book is honoured, it is honoured. 
As believers, God put us in Christ. So when Jesus hung on the cross, in Christ we hung on the cross with him. When he was raised from the dead, in Christ we were raised. 

And if Jesus, the eternal Son of God, is always with his Father God, then if we are ‘in Christ’, we too are not only always with Jesus but also with Father God. 

That is why Paul writes, ‘through him [Christ] we have access in one Spirit to the Father’. (v18)

ii. We are part of a new humanity. 

‘that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace’ (v15) 

Again think of this piece of paper. It is ‘in’ the book. But now if I add this piece of paper and this piece of paper, they are not only ‘in’ the book, but they are also part of one another. 

And the passage speaks of how Jesus, by his death, has created this new humanity: of people who are in Jesus.

And so Paul speaks of how Christ has ‘broken down the dividing wall of hostility’ (v14) 

He is speaking here of the divide between Jew and Gentile. It was a very real divide. Jews despised Gentiles. Gentiles ridiculed Jews. In the temple in Jerusalem there was a physical wall. It was the wall that separated Jew from Gentile. On one side all people could mix together. On the other side, the holy, special side, only Jews could go. 

There was even a notice (you can see it if you go to the Israel Museum) which stated in Latin and Greek not that trespassers would be prosecuted, but that trespassers would probably be lynched. 

But ‘in Christ’ that wall of hostility is broken down. Jewish believers in Jesus and Gentile believers in Jesus could come together as one. There was something, someone much bigger who united them. And elsewhere he speaks of the hostility or conflict between slave and free, barbarian or cultured, man and woman. And he says that, ‘in Christ’ we are made one. 

In the book Sapiens by Harari, which is a brilliantly written version of the history of Homo Sapiens – even if it is from an overtly Atheist-Buddhist perspective – Harari writes, ‘Evolution has made Homo sapiens , like other social mammals, a xenophobic creature. Sapiens instinctively divide humanity into two parts, ‘us’ and ‘them’. ‘Us’ is people like you and me, who share our language, religion and customs. We are all responsible for each other, but not responsible for ‘them’. We were always distinct from them, and owe them nothing. We don’t want to see any of them in our territory, and we don’t care an iota what happens in their territory. They are barely even human. In the language of the Dinka people of the Sudan, ‘Dinka’ simply means ‘people’. People who are not Dinka are not people. The Dinka’s bitter enemies are the Nuer. What does the word Nuer mean in Nuer language? It means ‘original people’. Thousands of kilometres from the Sudan deserts, in the frozen ice-lands of Alaska and north-eastern Siberia, live the Yupiks. What does Yupik mean in Yupik language? It means ‘real people’.’

But as people who are ‘in Christ’, as homo Christianus, we discover that it is not us and them, that we are not over against others. We are part of them – whoever they are, whatever background or culture they come from.  It does not matter whether they are African, Asian, American or European. And we realise that we are not complete until everyone who God has called is included ‘in Christ’. 

iii. We have knelt together at the foot of the cross. 

v15 tells us: ‘He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances’. 

It could be talking about those specific laws that separated Jew from Gentile, such as laws about circumcision and food and ritual uncleanness. It is interesting how we use laws – whether written or cultural - to keep people who are not like us away from us. 

There is the story of the South African who tried on 3 weeks, in the days of apartheid, to go into a particular church. On each occasion he was turned away because he was black. In desperation he prayed: ‘God I’ve tried to get into that church on 3 Sundays, and they won’t let me’. And God replied, ‘I don’t know what you are complaining about. I’ve tried to get into that church every Sunday for the last 20 years and they won’t let me’. 

But I think that this is probably talking about the law in a different sense. People see the law and think that if they can keep the law, if they can live good lives, then they would earn enough brownie points to be let into heaven. 

And that of course leads either to an arrogant pride which thinks I have done it, and looks down on all others – who are not ‘as good’. We hear it all the time, ‘I may not be perfect but I am better than them’. Or it leads  – if people are more honest about themselves – to a crushing sense of failure and inadequacy and fear. 

But by his death, Christ has abolished the external law. You are not going to be put right with God by keeping the law. You can’t. All we can do to put our trust in him and in his death on the cross. All we can do is to kneel down at the foot of the cross and receive him by faith. 

And that is the astonishing equaliser. 
I am not in Christ because I am good or worthy or humble. I’m not. I cannot look down on you. 
And you are not in Christ because you are good or worthy or humble. You are not. You cannot look down on me.
You are in Christ, I am in Christ, the believer in Eritrea or Peru or Tehran who is in Christ because we are nobodies with nothing who have come to Jesus, because we need his mercy, his forgiveness, his new life and his hope. 

iv. We have been given peace

The word peace is mentioned 4 times in this passage.

Peace with others (v14)

Peace with God (v16) 
This is the peace that comes from knowing that we are right with God – because of Jesus. The peace that comes from knowing that even though God knows me completely, including all the rubbish, he still loves me. The peace that he pours into our hearts by his Holy Spirit.

I was speaking with someone the other day and he was struck by the line in Micah 5, which speaks of the coming of Jesus. And it says, ‘And he will be our peace’. And Michael said how 30 years ago he was drawn to go into a church. And God met with him and gave him a deep peace. He speaks of that as being his moment of conversion and of how that peace has never left him – even now as he suffers from a fairly advanced form of Motor Neurones.

3. Paul tells us how our unity in Christ is seen in the world (2.19-22)

We are no longer aliens and strangers, but fellow citizens and members of the household of God.
And we are being built together to become a temple. 

We are not talking about a literal building. I know that we pray prayers and sing hymns that speak of our church buildings as temples, but they are only shadows of the real temple. The real temple is not made up of literal bricks or stones, but of people. 
We are built on Jesus, on his death for us, and on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the teaching of the New Testament. 

And as people who have been brought close to God, who share in a new humanity, who have knelt down together at the foot of the cross and who have been given the gift of peace, we are being built together. 

And this temple has a purpose: to be a place of worship, but more than that, to be the place where God is.

When Christians live in unity, 
when we remember who we are in Christ,
when we dismantle the walls that are so easily built up – those deadly walls built of the bricks of selfishness, pride, jealousy, unforgiveness, resentment, status or power seeking, envy and fear
then God is there.

There is a story told about a father who brought his daughter to church. He told her, ‘This is God’s house’. On the fifth visit, the little girl asked, ‘Daddy, if this is God’s house, why is he never at home?’

When God’s people gather in the name of Jesus, when the doors are wide open, and the walls come down, then God is at home.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

What do we believe about the Trinity?



1. Limitations of language
‘If you can understand it, it’s not God’. (Augustine of Hippo)

 2. Experience of disciples

a) They knew that there was only one God

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me. (Isaiah 46:9)

The first followers call the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, God (Colossians 1.3) 

They also saw that Jesus prayed to God as Father (eg. John 11.41), is conscious of being loved by the Father, of being sent by the Father, of being given all things by the Father (3.34), of speaking the words of the Father (12.49f), doing the works of the Father (4.34, 6.38), judging with the judgement of the Father (8.16), sharing in the glory of the Father (8.54; 17.5), and of being one with the Father (John 10.29).

Jesus had this sense of being in the Father and of having the Father in him (John 14.10f,20). The idea of ‘perichoresis’. He said that whoever saw him, saw the Father (John 14.9)

cf. John 5.23,24,30-38; 6.29,44,57; 7.16,18,28,29,33; 8.16,18,26,29,42; 9.4; 10.36; 11.42; 12.44,45; 13.20; 14.24; 15.21; 16.5; 17.3,8,18,23ff,

Jesus sends the Spirit: ‘When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’ (John 15.26)

b)  They also came to know Jesus as God

It was God who walked among them (John 1.1,18; John 8.58f cf John 10.33)
It was God who saved them. (2 Peter 1.1 cf 3.18)
It was God who rose from the dead (John 20.28)
So they speak of Jesus as the eternal Son of God visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1.15), as the ‘the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being’ (Heb1.3) 

G A Studdart-Kennedy: (Quoted, Understand the Trinity, McGrath, p103)
'God, the God I love and worship, reigns in sorrow on the Tree,
Broken, bleeding, but unconquered, very God of God to me’

c) They came to know the Holy Spirit as God

Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit …? You have not lied to men but to God. (Acts 5:3–4)

They speak of the Spirit as:
·         the Spirit of God: ‘if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you’ (Rom 8.11) also, for example, 1 John 4.2
·         the Spirit of the Son (Galatians 4.6)
·         the Spirit of Christ (Philippians 1.19; 2 Peter 1.11) 

3. How the reality of the Trinity has been expressed in Christian thinking

Council of Nicaea (325)

We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father (and the Son),
who with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified,
who has spoken through the prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.

Of Faith in the Holy Trinity (Article 1 of the 39 Articles of the Church of England)
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.

Other ways that the mystery of the Trinity has been expressed:

      ·         The 3 leafed clover/shamrock
·         Ice, steam, water (Sabellianism)/three chord note
·         The river: source, stream, mouth
·         Augustine tried to see the Trinity reflected in creation: eg. the lover, beloved, and love; memory, understanding, and will; the objects of sense, the will to attend to them, and the sense impressions of them


4. Why is the language of the Trinity important?

a) It guards us against error

The danger of over-emphasizing the one substance of God (Unitarianism, Jehovah’s Witnesses):
There is one God who is:
– the Father ‘up there’: but then he is still distant to us and it makes Jesus a created being. His death cannot show us the love of God. The cross can only speak of the love of God if the one dying on the cross was the eternal Son of God.  (Romans 5.8; 1 John 3.10).
Islam is the logical monotheistic faith.
- Jesus Christ ‘who was up there but came down here’: but what are we to make of the fact that Jesus prays to one who is Other to him, and what are we to make of his death?
- the Spirit: If we separate the Spirit from Father and Son, and make the Spirit the force within us which drives us, then we make ourselves God. The true Spirit gives us a love for Jesus, a desire to call him Lord, and a hunger for the Glory of God the Father.

The danger of over-emphasizing the distinctiveness of the three persons
Which God is the main God? What is God like – the angry Father or the loving Son? The crucifixion becomes the supreme example of child abuse.

b) It opens a new world to us.

i. I can pray to the Father, Son or Holy Spirit, but they will each lead me to the others.

Gregory Nazianzen, Orations 40.41, on Baptism: “This I give you to share, and to defend all your life, the one Godhead and power, found in the three in unity, and comprising the three separately; not unequal, in substances or natures, neither increased nor diminished by superiorities nor inferiorities; in every respect equal, in every respect the same; just as the beauty and the greatness of the heavens is one; the infinite conjunction of three infinite ones, each God when considered in himself; as the Father, so the Son; as the Son, so the Holy Spirit; the three one God when contemplated together; each God because consubstantial; one God because of the monarchia. No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.”  (as quoted by Robert Letham, The Holy Trinity, 378)

ii. We are invited to share in the relationship of the Trinity.

- the commission of the Trinity: “Jesus says, ‘As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world’ (John 17.18 cf 20.21)
- the works of the Trinity (John 14.12)
- the words of the Trinity (John 17.8)
- the joy of the Trinity (John 17.13)
- the intimacy and glory of the Trinity
‘I ask that  .. they may all be one. As you, Father are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 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.’ (John 17.21ff)

iii. Shapes our understanding of

·         personal identity: The Son finds his true identity in his relationship with the Father, but he also longs to draw human beings into that relationship. My true identity comes from my relationship with Christ and the Father, and also from my relationship with others. (Philosophical movement called personalism. Zizioulas, Being as Communion)
·         love: The love between Son and Father is a love that delights in the Other, and is so at one with the Other that it beats with the same heart (John 1.18). It also delights in the Otherness of the Other, and it seeks the glory of the Other. But this is not an exclusive love: it longs to draw others into its union. 
·         mission/purpose: the Father sent/gave his Son to draw others into the community of love of the Trinity, through the speaking of the words of God to them, and through his death for them.
·         glory: the glory of the Son was when the Father was glorified. The glory of the Father is when the son is glorified.

5. Ways of expressing the Trinity that are more relationship based
(each of these are inadequate in themselves, but do help us see the idea of relationship in the Trinity)

-          The Shack, William Young

-          Three people sharing a hug

When I look at the Trinity, I am right to see One. This is One Hug - one expression of love, one heartbeat, a unity. They delight in each other. They live for the glory of the Other. The Son wants everyone to see how amazing, beautiful, glorious the Father is. The Father wants everyone to see how amazing, beautiful, glorious the Son is. The Spirit wants everyone to see how amazing, beautiful, glorious the Father and Son are.

But when I look at the Trinity, I am also right to see Three. Three persons within in the One Hug. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

But the Trinity is also an open Hug - each person inviting others to join in the Hug. It doesn't matter if I start with the Son, with Jesus. He brings me to the Father and the Spirit. It doesn't matter if I start with the Spirit. If it is the Spirit of God, he will bring me to the Father and the Son. It doesn't matter if I start with the Father, he will bring me to the Spirit and to the Son.

-          The Trinity icon








APPENDIX: Some references to the working of Father, Son and Spirit

And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3.16-17 cf Luke 3.22 

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Matthew 28.19 

The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. Luke 1.35 

He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has placed all things in his hands. John 3.34f 

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. John 14.26 

But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. Acts 7.55 

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you. Romans 8.11 

For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God. Romans 8.15f 

And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!  Galatians 4.6 

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him. Ephesians 1.17 

for through him [Christ Jesus] both of us [Jews and Gentiles] have access in one Spirit to the Father. Ephesians 2.18 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you. 2 Corinthians 13.13 

how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!  Hebrews 9.14 

who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: 1 Peter 1.2 

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God.   1 John 4.2