Sunday, September 28, 2014

God at work in us

Daylight saving started this morning and I think a lot of regulars were having a lie in

26th Ordinary Sunday (28.9.14)

Readings: Exodus 17: 1-7; Philippians 2: 1-13; Matthew 21: 23-32.

There is a phrase at the tail end of the reading from Philippians this morning that has stuck with me.  It is verse 13: “for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”  The more I think about what that may mean I keep coming back to two considerations: the first is that for the Christian ‘living in Christ’ means we do not live for ourselves, but for God; the second is that we are continually shaped by our life in Christ – God is at work in us, influencing, forming and re-forming our inner lives, the decisions we make in heart and mind, and how we act – what we do in the external world.  

We live our lives under ‘the influence’ of Christ, living, active, a shaping presence even if we don’t think we are aware of him.   That thought reminds me of another letter of Paul (Galatians 2.20) where he says something similar “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’.  That is an alarming, deeply disturbing thought: does it mean to be possessed by God! 'Possessed' ? The idea arouses all sorts of images of religious extremism – and Lord knows where that might lead!  We back away from such thoughts even though we know that the story of Christian faith is illuminated by stories of the saints, and freighted with extraordinary accounts of following Christ.  

Yet the more I think about this, even while busily erecting mental barricades, noting caveats and locking spiritual doors against any impending invasion, I keep returning to the simple and startling realisation that it is in you and me, in each one of us, that God works – pushing us to will and to work at whatever lies before us.

Think about that parable of the man with the two sons: in its context it is aimed at the religious establishment who say the right thing but don’t deliver; while it is the outsiders and undesirables, tax collectors and prostitutes, whose lives may seem to make them ineligible but whose deeds deliver what God requires.

But the truth is also something more. The truth is:  I recognise both sons in me.  So easy to say the right thing, even want the right thing but, for whatever reason, not do it, not follow through – there are always excuses to be made for that.  That’s the second son.  I recognise him.  Then there are those other moments where I feel the nudge of God, the subtle strings drawing me in a particular direction – and, heels digging in, I say, no thanks, not today – but, hours wasted arguing, procrastinating, doubting, obstructing, I rally and do it.  That’s the first son.  I recognise him too.

My hunch is that we all have both sons in us and as Christians we continually try to so live in Christ that we keep clear the way for God to work freely in us, and so form our wills and direct our actions.

That is of course to be prepared to live dangerously.  If we are going to respond to the nudge of God – who knows where it may lead us?  We are close to the Feast of St Francis – that crazy, extreme, lovely, holy man – now there’s an example of someone who let Christ take charge and act and work through him.  The consequences were astounding.  You could say the church has never quite recovered from Francis!

As I said, I keep returning to the simple and startling realisation that it is in you and me, in each one of us that God works – pushing us to will and to work at whatever lies before us.  That means how we respond in the here and the now with the real and difficult issues or ordinary raw needs that present themselves. Nothing abstract.  Just dealing with the real stuff of life.

To illustrate what I mean, I’ll leave you with these words of the martyred Archbishop Oscar Romero:

“It is very easy to be servants of the word without disturbing the world: a very spiritualized word, a word without any commitment to history, a word that can sound in any part of the world because it belongs to no part of the world. A word like that creates no problems, starts no conflicts. What starts conflicts and persecutions, what marks the genuine Church, is the word that, burning like the word of the prophets, proclaims and accuses: proclaims to the people God's wonders to be believed and venerated, and accuses of sin those who oppose God's reign, so that they may tear that sin out of their hearts, out of their societies, out of their laws - out of the structures that oppress, that imprison, that violate the rights of God and of humanity.”  (Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love)
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