Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Institutions have the capacity to make demons of us all

Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church
21 June 2015 11.00am

Ephesians 4:1-7  I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.  7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift.

John 13:33-35  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.'  34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Listen to the sermon here:

OK, it’s confession time.

Except… are we allowed to do that here?
          Isn’t ‘confession’ more of a Roman Catholic thing?
They do it, I’m sure of it, I’ve seen the little booths
          when I’ve visited Catholic churches on holiday.
          …or was that Greek Orthodox?
Or is it the High Anglicans?
          There’s little confession booths in Anglican cathedrals, isn’t there?
Or is it the Methodists…?                                            
          Do they do ‘confession’? I have a vague feeling they do.
          I think it’s one of their ‘lesser sacraments’. Or did I dream it?

Well, anyway, here’s my confession this morning:
          There are times when I really don’t like church very much.

There, I’ve said it.
          But before I ask for absolution, perhaps I’d better explain.

I’m not talking about this particular church,
          I’m not taking about the congregation of Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.
I love this church, and I love it’s congregation.
          …well, most of the time.
          Just occasionally I want to shoot people. But it passes.

No, what I mean when I say that I really don’t like church very much
          is that I despair at much of what goes on in the name of the people of Christ.
I despair at the division, the arguments, the fighting,
          the judgmentalism, the superiority,
                   the condescension, the arrogance…
          and I could go on, and on, and on…
In fact, I’ve got about 20 minutes left before the next hymn,
          and it’s tempting to just do just that…

But I’ll hold off giving full vent to my frustrations for a moment,
          and we’ll see where it gets us.

Many of you will know that Bloomsbury is open to the public during the week,
          and that we have a faithful team of volunteers
                   who sit at our reception desk, welcoming everyone
                             from lost tourists trying to find the British Museum
                                      or Co-Vent-Gar-Den,
                             to famous actors on their way to a read-through
                                       of Doctor Who, Call the Midwife, or New Tricks
                                      in the Forum upstairs.

Sometimes, if I have a bit of time to spare,
          I like to go and hang out in the foyer, to see who comes through the door.
It’s not just an excuse to go star-spotting, I promise.

Anyway, sometimes I’ll end up giving some tourists a guided tour of the sanctuary,
          and almost inevitably, they’ll ask me ‘what kind of a church is this’.

Of course, when I say ‘Baptist’,
                   that can mean very different things, to different people.
          For some, it means we’re like the Southern Baptists of the USA,
                    and people assume we’re theologically fundamentalist.
          For others, it means nothing at all,
                   and I find myself having to explain something
                   about the origins of the Baptist church in the UK
          Although, at this point,
                   it’s usually fortuitous if Ruth wanders through the Foyer,
                             because she’s our tame church historian.
                   I’m just the Bible guy.
I think part of what confuses people,
          is the Normanesque front to the church:
they think they’re coming into a cathedral,
          and are then surprised by what they meet
          when they come through the doors.

A couple of times recently,
          I’ve been asked by visitors to explain the different
                   between the Methodist, Baptist and Catholic churches.

And, in Ruth’s absence,
          I’ve found myself telling the story of how, in the fourth century,
          Christianity was transformed by the Emperor Constantine
                   from a persecuted and illegal sect
                   to the official religion of the Roman Empire.

And then how, skipping forward through the division of the empire
                   into Eastern and Western Christianity,
          and on through the centuries of the Holy Roman Empire,
we come to the Protestant Reformation,
          when a period of corruption and turmoil in the official Roman Catholic Church
                   prepared the ground for Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others
                   to spearhead a breakaway movement,
                             as they sought to recover the ‘true church’
                             that they believed had been lost by the Roman Catholics.

And then we come to the UK,
          and Henry VIII making his decisive break with Rome,
          over a mixture of theological conviction
                   and an argument with the pope over whether he could get divorced.
And so we get the Church of England,
          still a national church, but not one which owed allegiance to Rome.

And then we come to the early Baptists, breaking away from the Church of England,
          believing that they had discovered the true form of church,
          and forming their first congregation here in London in 1612.

And then we come to the Methodists, whose founders, the Wesley brothers,
          never actually wanted to break away from the Church of England,
          but whose followers were forced to leave.

And then we come to the great missionary movements of the nineteenth century,
          when Baptists and Methodists and Anglicans spread throughout the world,
                    piggy-backing the British Empire
                   to spread their forms of church wherever they could.

And suddenly, in just a few minutes of very basic church history,
          we have two millennia of power-grabbing, in-fighting,
                    division, disorder, and domination.

And you wonder why I say that I don’t really like the church very much.
          And I haven’t even started on the crusades or the inquisition.

It often seems to me that,
          whilst the teachings and example of Jesus,
                   as the revelation of a God of grace and love,
          are a wonderful, life-transforming, and inspiring thing;
those who seek to follow those teachings and example,
          seem to have a persistent and proven ability
                   to take the community of Christ-followers a very long way
                   from the kind of thing Jesus was talking about and living out.

What it needs, surely, is a fresh start.
          A reboot.
Perhaps we who understand it, we who know what Jesus is about,
          need to start the true church in our generation!...

Except, of course, it’s all been done before.

Which is why we’re here, in this slightly anomalous building,
          with its Normanesque front, and unusual curved-pew sanctuary,
                    explaining to visitors why we’re not Catholic, Methodist, or Anglican,
                    and why there are no confessional booths down the side aisle.

In so many ways, I’d love to throw it all up in the air and start again,
          doing it right this time, where everyone else before has failed.
Except that won’t work,
          because no matter how much we try and learn from the mistakes of the past,
          we will always end up making new ones of our own.

The curious, diverse, and fragmented nature of Christianity,
          with its different streams and denominations,
tells us much about human nature,
          and our capacity to institutionalise the divine.

There are no easy answers to the deceptively simple question
          of how the body of Christ should order and organise itself.
There are no easy answers to issues such as baptism, eucharist, and ministry.

Each generation of Christ-followers
          encounters a changing culture,
and forms of church that took shape in previous generations
          have to adapt and transform as culture shifts,
          or else they die out, as the cultures that gave them birth pass from memory.

This has never been more true than in our own world;
          and just as the protestant reformation
                             can be traced to the rise of the printing press,
                    and the ease with which ideas could be circulated
                             through mass production of books,
          so the digital information age throws before us
                   a whole new host of challenges,
                    that would mystify those who have gone before us.

New forms of church are emerging around us,
          with virtual church becoming an ever-present reality.
More and more people are choosing to retain faith,
          but to distance themselves from the institutions of church structures.
After all, why go to church
          when you can meet like-minded fellow believers online,
and access sermons and worship material
                   on YouTube and SoundCloud?

But even here, in the supposedly egalitarian space of the internet,
          the possibilities for domination and control are ever-present.
The religious websites that attract the most hits
          are the ones with the best advertising, the slickest presentation,
                   and the best funding.
And the selling of worship is a multi-million dollar industry,
          not unlike the secular music industry,
with live shows generating album and merchandise sales throughout the year.

And where, we might legitimately ask, in all of this,
          is the son of man who had nowhere to lay his head.

Where, in all of this, is the one who said to his disciples:

34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.
          Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. 
35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
          if you have love for one another.

Where, in all of this, is  the simplicity of Christian living,
          where is the loving community of the body of Christ.

Honestly, sometimes, it’s enough to make me want to give up on the whole thing.

Except… as a wise man called Brian Haymes once said to me,
          ‘the saints of God are in the pews’

I might want to give up on it all,
          but God hasn’t, and won’t.

It is one of the mysteries of faith
          that God continues to call us to one another;
and that when we come together in the name of Christ,
          he is present with us by his Spirit
in ways that are transformative and life-giving.

And so we come to Paul,
          and the letter to the Ephesians.

The tendency of people towards institutionalisation,
          and the tendency of institutions towards control,
is nothing new.

And the process began in early Christianity,
          almost as soon as believers started gathering in small groups
          for worship, prayer, preaching, and mutual support.

Because someone has to keep the money,
          someone has to prepare the room,
          someone has to cook the meal,
          someone has to prepare communion,
          someone has to do the flowers,
          someone has to call the meeting to order
          someone has to decide who’s preaching next week,
          someone has to choose the hymns.

It doesn’t take very long for something that looks quite like church,
          to emerge from the Christ-centred enthusiasm
          of the earliest Christians.

And the letter to the Ephesians gives us an insight
          into some of the struggles that they were facing:

‘I … beg you’ says its author,
          ‘to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called’

Why would he say this, unless it were the case,
          that the people in the church were not doing this?

But he goes on, and it doesn’t take a lot of reading between the lines,
          for us to work out what some of the problems
          in the Ephesian church might have been.

They are told that they should live
          ‘with all humility and gentleness,
                   with patience, bearing with one another in love,
          making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.’

This starts to sound a bit like a church
          on the edge of tearing itself apart.
There are people there who are the opposite of ‘humble, gentle, and patient’.
          In other words, they are arrogant, vicious, and short tempered.

It is surely enough to make you want to give up on church altogether!?

Except… the call of God is to not walk away.
          The call of God on the people of Christ is to make every effort
                   to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Because in the unity of the people of Christ,
          the body of Christ is made real in the world,
          for the good of all.

As Ephesians goes on:
          ‘There is one body and one Spirit,
                   just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 
                one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 
                                one God and Father of all,
          who is above all and through all and in all.’

And so these ancient and yet timeless words,
          echo down to us through the millennia of Christian history.

Calling us, in our time, to be the body of Christ,
          in our world, in our place.

We are called to love one another despite our differences,
          to bear with one another when we would rather walk away,
          to resist the temptations to anger, arrogance, and egotism,
          to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Of course our church isn’t perfect.
          Of course the ministers and deacons get it wrong sometimes.
Of course there are people who we disagree with,
          and there may even be those who want to shoot, occasionally.

But we are called to one another.

And in our community, the way we do it,
          we have ways of expressing our commitment to one another
                   which give rise to the institution
                   that we call Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.

Baptism marks the point of entry into the body of Christ,
          as we commit ourselves to a life of discipleship.

Membership of the church is an expression of our covenant relationship,
          and our commitment to one another.

Church meetings are times of prayerful gathering,
          where members can share together in the sacred task
          of discerning the mind of Christ for this place, at this time.

Communion is a time of shared fellowship,
          as we re-member the body of Christ in our midst,
          and commit ourselves to the way of the cross.

But in all of these forms that we put around our calling to Christ
          and to his body that is the church,
we need to remember that it is Christ that we are following,
          and that he calls us to live together in love.

The danger to us here is the troubling fact that
          institutions have the capacity to make demons of us all.
They suck the loyalty of those who become part of them
          and they turn loyalty into service, and service into servitude.

Good people can do, and have done, great evil
          in the service of truly great institutions.
And this is true even, and especially, of the institutions we call church.

Those who would faithfully serve Christ
          in the company of their fellow sisters and brothers,
can, gradually and subtly, over the years, decades, and centuries,
          become servants and slaves of institutions
                   that still bear the name of their founder
                   and still espouse the ideals of their saviour
          but which ultimately demand the absolute allegiance
                   of those who set out to serve Christ alone.

As I said, institutions, even churches,
          have the capacity to make demons of us all.

Now, I love my church. Genuinely,
          I love the unique place that is Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.
          I am proud of the stand it takes on justice and inclusion,
                   I am proud of its willingness to question assumptions
                             and rethink faith for each new generation.
          I am proud of the people who give unstinting and sacrificial service,
                             in and through Bloomsbury,
                   to see the world transformed in the cause of Christ.

And I assume that many of those sat here today feel the same.

Whether you've been coming here for years,
          and have made a lifetime of commitment to and love for this place.
Or whether you've recently arrived and are just starting to realise
          that this strange and wonderful church
          might just be your Christian home and family.

But we all of us need to hear the warning
          that even the best church has the capacity to make demons of us all.

If we find ourselves worshipping the church, and not Christ,
          something is going wrong.

And yes, it is possible to worship a church.
          It is possible for our allegiance to shift towards the institution we love,
                   and away from the one in whose service the institution was created.

This is why, of course, we need to keep ourselves accountable.
          This is why we need one another.
We need help, in this Christian journey of ours.
          We need fellowship, accountability, and mutual pastoral care.

Home groups, and other groups such as exchange or Tuesday lunch,
                    genuinely matter here,
          as they provide a context for this scattered congregation of ours
                   to gather for the up building of authentic relationships
                   based on trust and mutual respect.

But, perhaps most of all,
          we need to keep our worship services focused on Christ.
And so we gather on Sunday mornings in his name
          to proclaim together our devotion to him,
          and our commitment to living out his teaching and example.

We break bread and share wine in memory of Christ’s sacrifice,
          and as we do so, we re-commit ourselves
          to the path of Christ-like sacrificial living.

We are baptised in the name of Christ
          to mark the beginning of our Christian journey,
                   in public commitment and shared obedience
                   to the path of following Christ alone.

This is why the worship practices, and liturgies,
          and sacraments of the church matter so much:
                   not for their outward form,
                   but because they keep the church focused on Christ it's head,
                   who calls it into existence.

A church which becomes focused on itself, its members, or its mission,
          at the expense of its total devotion to the cause of Christ,
          is a church that has lost its way.

I do not believe that this describes Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church.

But those of us who are committed to Bloomsbury,
          need to know that even here, as in all churches,
          there is the capacity for deception and idolatry.

Even this place will receive our worship if we offer it.

And none of this is easy, and it never has been.
          But each of us has been ‘given grace
          according to the measure of Christ's gift.’,
          as Ephesians puts.

And each of us is called to walk the path of costly discipleship,
          committing ourselves day by day to following Christ,
          and to living in love and unity with our fellow believers.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Who is God?

Sermon preached at Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church 7 June 2015

Who is God?

John 14.1-14   "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.  2 In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?  3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.  4 And you know the way to the place where I am going."  5 Thomas said to him, "Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?"  6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.  7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him."  8 Philip said to him, "Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied."  9 Jesus said to him, "Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'?  10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.  12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

Exodus 3.13-15  But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?"  14 God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'"  15 God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.

You can listen to this sermon here

It may be a function of my line of work,
            but it seems to me that a lot of people
                        seem to spend a lot of time talking about matters of belief.
            ‘Do you really believe in God?’, I’m asked,
                        often by people who are struggling to understand the perceived inconsistency
                                    of an apparently rational and sane human being
                                    believing something that appears irrational, and quite possibly insane.

Sometimes the question is more nuanced,
            and comes from a place of personal questioning:
                        ‘Do you believe in miracles?’,
                        ‘Do you believe in the power of prayer?’
                        ‘Will you pray for me?’

Sometimes the question feels designed to test me:
            ‘Do you believe in the virgin birth?
                        In the resurrection? In the Trinity?’

And sometimes the question seems designed to trap me:
            ‘Do you believe in the ordination of women?’
            ‘Do you believe in same-gender marriage?’
And so I could go on…

Do you believe…?
            Do you believe…?
Or, perhaps more pertinently:
            ‘In what do you believe?’
Or even,
            ‘In whom do you believe?’

This is an important, and surprisingly contemporary, issue.
            And our passages this morning take us right to heart
                        of this question of belief.

We come to this question today,
            as part of our post-Pentecost sermon series,
in which we’re looking at what it means to be ‘the church’,
            and, perhaps more specifically,
            what it means to be ‘this church, here, in Bloomsbury.’

Last week, Ruth started the series
            by inviting us to consider what it might mean to say
                        that ‘God calls a church’
And today we’re taking a step back from that,
            to ask the question of who this God that calls us might be,

I mean, it’s all very well speaking of the church as ‘the people of God’
            but if we don’t have at least a working hypothesis of who God is,
            we’re going to struggle to work out what the church of God might look like.

And whilst at one level, this might seem like a straightforward enough question,
            at another level it’s a very difficult one to answer.

So, Who is God?

Or, perhaps even more basic than ‘Who is God?’,
            we might just start by asking ourselves, ‘Is God?’

‘Does God exist?’, says the person from their death-bed?
            To which I will say: yes, I do believe that God exists.

The questions of what God is like, of who God is, and of how God can be known,
            are, it seems to me, subsidiary questions
            to the most basic question of whether God is.

It’s not without significance here,
            that when God was revealed to Moses,
            the name of God was revealed to be ‘I Am’.

God is;
            and what God is, is not just the first person of the Trinity,
            but the first person of the verb ‘to be’.

‘I Am’, said God to Moses,
            ‘and because I am, you are.
            ‘And so is he, and she, and they, and we.’

The God whose name is ‘I Am’ is a first-person God;
            the God of first principles.

If God is, then all else follows.

So, for me, belief in God is my starting point for faith.

Let me put this another way…

It’s a bit like the John Wyndham novels I used to read as a teenager.
            I don’t know if you’ve read them too?
                        Books like The Day of the Triffids,
                        The Kraken Wakes, and The Midwich Cuckoos?

Anyway, the thing about John Wyndham’s stories,
            is that they are all incredibly logical outworkings,
            of one initial basic conceit.
As a reader, you’re asked, fairly early in the story, to believe one thing that isn’t true,
            and then everything else follows logically.
All that is needed for his stories to work is that one initial leap of faith,
            and then all else falls into place.

And for me, belief in God is that one initial leap of faith.
            ‘Is God is, or is God ain’t’, as Louis Jordan might put it.
For me, God Is.
            ‘I Am’ said God to Moses, inviting him to believe.
And that same invitation to faith echoes down the millennia to us,
            inviting us to make the same leap of faith,
            to see where it gets us.

I have long concluded that it is only my belief in God,
            my focusing on something outside of my own existence,
that keeps me from being the utterly self-centred, self-absorbed, person
            that I know I have the capacity to be.

It is only my conscious decision to worship the God that is other to me,
            that challenges my tendency to the sin of idolatry,
It is only as I offer devotion to the God who is,
            that my desire to place myself, and my own concerns,
                        at the centre of my universe
            is confronted.

But who, or what, is this God?

Part of the problem with trying to articulate the nature of God
            is that all language about God is inherently metaphorical,
            and therefore also inevitably provisional.

God’s essence cannot be captured in finite human language,
            and no words can do justice to the infinite heart of the divine.

God is a verb, not a noun,
            and so God cannot be defined by a proper name.
The description of God as ‘I Am’, is a statement of God’s activity;
            it is not a name by which God can be summoned.

But this God who ‘is’ can, it seems, be experienced.
            God’s actions can be encountered
            more surely than his name can be known.

And I think that it is in the love of God,
            that God is most surely to be encountered.

‘I Am’ says God to Moses,
            and what God is, is love.

If God is, then God is love.
            And to assert this is to speak a powerful counter-testimony
                        to those who would speak into existence
                        the many gods of hatred, violence and division.

The mystery of the God who exists in love,
            is made known to us through loving relationship.

And this, of course, is the mystery of Trinity;
            the insight of the early church that the God who is, and the God who is love,
                        is also the God of eternal community.

The first person of God, the ‘I Am’ of the leap of faith,
            is not the end of the story,
because the ‘first person’ sits alongside the second and third persons.
            God is not just divine Father, but also eternal Son and living Spirit.

The God who is beyond us, is know to us:
            in our world and in our lives,
            speaking salvation into being in our midst,
as the word that was in the beginning, calling all into being,
            becomes the word made flesh in Jesus Christ.

And it is through a living, loving relationship with Jesus Christ
            that I believe God is to be most fully known,
            as the Spirit of Christ bears witness to God-made-flesh
            in the stories of our own lives.

This is where our initial leap of faith takes us,
            certainly within the Christian tradition.

Of course, people believe for all sorts of different reasons:
            some of us have simply inherited our belief system,
                        while others will have arrived by a process of conviction,
            some of us have latent belief, which we’ve not quite managed to lose yet,
                        while others of us, myself included,
                                    have what I can perhaps best define as ‘reluctant belief’.

It can all be very troubling, very confusing, very divisive,
            and that’s before we even start to address the question
                        of whether some sort of belief is necessary for salvation.

Well, says Jesus in John’s gospel,
            ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled.
                        Believe in God, believe also in me.’
It seems that, for the author of this gospel at least,
            belief in God is intimately connected to belief in Jesus.

How do we know God?
            We know him through Jesus.
And how do we know Jesus?
            We know him by his Spirit at work in our lives.

Belief in God is not based on belief in creeds, confessions, and catechisms.
            Neither is it based on security, stories, or scriptures.
Rather, belief emerges as the outcome of a lived relationship
            with the one through whom God is made known,
                        and in whom God is revealed.

Belief is the product of a relationship,
            it is not the outworking of a theological conviction.

And here I think it’s important to take a moment to clarify something significant:
            Not all beliefs are equal.

Sometimes, the concern for ‘balance’ in our post-enlightenment society
            means that we end up giving equal weight
                        to very different orders of belief.
So, for example, on the television news
            the scientist representing the weight of scientific opinion,
                        may find themselves given equal billing
            with the lone representative of the minority view that disagrees with them.

It’s the same with matters of faith and belief:
            Asserting belief in God as revealed in Jesus,
                        is not the same thing as, for example,
                        asserting belief in the effectiveness of homeopathy;
            despite the best efforts of some new atheist polemicists
                        to equate belief in God
            to the equivalent status
                        of belief in fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Francis Spufford makes this point eloquently.
            He says:

‘Whether God exists or not is unprovable,
            so for an individual person,
            whether He exists or not is always going to be a matter of belief.
But at the same time, quite independently,
            he either exists or he doesn’t,
            irrespective of whether He’s believed in.
He’s a fact, or a non-fact, about the nature of the universe.
            So if you believe, you’re making a bet
            that God exists whether you believe or not.’[1]

So it is that Jesus says:
            "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.
            No one comes to the Father except through me. 
            If you know me, you will know my Father also.”

Here, we meet Jesus offering the readers of John’s gospel
            a new and radical path to God.

The Jews of the first century believed that the way to God
            was to be found in careful observance of the Jewish Law
            as revealed in their written scriptures (Pss 86.11; 119.30).
While the Graeco-Roman religions of the time
            believed that the complexities of the pantheon
            revealed the path to divine knowledge

Over against both of these, Jesus offers something new, something radical.
            The way to God, says Jesus, is to be found through lived relationship
                        with the one in whom God is revealed,
                        and through whom God is known.

God is not encountered through obedience, observance, and ordinances,
            but through relationship, friendship, and revelation.
Jesus opens the way to God
            because in him is to be found life in all its fullness,
            and in him is the truth that shatters all our defences,
            and disarms all our pretences.

In Christ there is nowhere to hide,
            because in Christ we are most fully known,
            even as we come to know that which is most fully other to us.

When we open our eyes to see the revelation of God in Christ,
            we are united with the life and the truth
                        that is at work in this complex, fallen, broken world,
            drawing all of creation into God’s loving eternal embrace.

When we join our voices in worship, and name Jesus as Lord
            we do it not to make God feel good about himself,
                        but because we are sharing with Christ in the re-centering of creation.

When we pray to Jesus, we do so not to abase ourselves before the almighty,
            but in order to align ourselves, our lives, and our world,
                        with the one in whom all earthly principalities and powers
                                    find their completion and fulfilment,
            and in rejection of all other claims on our lives
                        that might otherwise demand our allegiance.

Belief for belief’s sake is, frankly, pointless.
            But belief that emerges from a lived relationship with Christ,
                        sustained by his Spirit at work in our lives,
            is something that changes the world.

[1] Francis Spufford, Unapologetic, p. 77