Amazingly, as I write, we are almost at the end of the Easter Season, with Pentecost just three Sundays away! I have enjoyed celebrating this season with the new focus the Revised Common Lectionary gives us (the Anglican Church of Southern Africa moved from the Common Lectionary to the Revised Common Lectionary in Advent last year), as the readings are more thematic and focused. There is also a substantial amount of good commentary available online, which proves invaluable when one needs an idea or two to kick-start one’s sermon preparation!
Today’s Morning Prayer readings touch on “re-membering” (Wisdom of Solomon 10:1-25), “renewal” (Romans 12:1-12), and I came across this lovely prayer from the Church of England’s Common Worship: Daily Prayer in relation to Psalm 106:
“Holy God, when our memories blot out your kindness and we ignore your patient love, remember us, re-make us, and give to us poor sinners the rich inheritance of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
It strikes me that re-membering and being re-made is what the Season of Easter is all about. We are reminded of the incredible act of God visible in Jesus’ life, ministry, death, and resurrection to new life; the Season of Easter helps us to explore the implications of this for us in our time and context. I have preached in the last few weeks on revolutionary resurrection, hope beyond miracle and inclusive love (these can be listened to or downloaded from http://www.4shared.com/folder/Oj-giFNO/2013_Sermons.html ). Romans 12:2 NRSV encourages us to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” What is the will of God in terms of death and resurrection? We may think that we know the answers as we have walked this same seasonal journey over many years, even decades; but what are the implications for today? We live in a very different world from the last century in whose thinking and understanding many of us were formed. We are entrusted with a Gospel that requires us to be transformed, not just spiritually, but to the realities of the world in which we now find ourselves, a 21st century world that is discontinuous from the last, a space where what made sense no longer is sensible, and where sacrifice and sin are outdated concepts carrying little meaning for many.
We are entrusted to make the Gospel known to this generation, in this century, in this space.
What is “this space”? It is multi-dimensional, multi-Faith, and technologically super-innovative. What are the challenges and implications of Scripture for us in this environment? For example, Jesus’ commandment to love as he has loved us after washing the feet of the Twelve, a group Jesus knew included one who would betray him, another that would deny him that very night? Washing their feet, and then sharing sustenance with them; what is more radical than that? How do we live out that type of extreme acceptance of human fallibility in our own relationships? And the cross, where does that fit in? David Lose, of www.workingpreacher.org says, “Jesus did not go to the cross to make God loving, or to satisfy God’s justice, or to take on our punishment.” If the cross is not about Jesus taking on our punishment, what is it about? David goes on to say, “Jesus went to the cross to show in word and deed that God is love and that we, as God’s children, are loved.” In today’s space we need to unpack how crucifixion (one of the most brutal innovations of human torture ever conceived) makes God’s love manifest in our world. Implicit in David’s comment is that Jesus' death was not a sacrifice, but a loving gift given to humanity by a loving God; a gift given under the most horrendous of experiences. I struggle to get my mind around the concept of love that embraces the betrayer, the denier, and the cross. In a world that increasingly places emphasis on the rights of the individual, proclaims happiness as the goal of life, where does such love fit? And how do we proclaim it? And what are the implications of resurrection, of death outmanoeuvred, out-flanked by life beyond our own experience? That is a part of challenge of “this space”.
We need to re-member, re-create, the Gospel message. Tweaking, re-stating the Gospel of a previous generation is insufficient. We require a discontinuous Gospel of hope for the discontinuous world in which we live.