Give me again the joy of your salvation and sustain me with your gracious Spirit. Psalm 51:7
Last Sunday was a special celebration but also a sad one as our dear Bishop James starts his new phase of ‘retirement’. With him and around him one knew and captured something of the Joy of salvation which is ours – the Gospel treasure we share. I had the privilege of working closely with him just of a weekend on Mission on the streets of Darlington – you knew he was living what he preached – he has an energy about him yet he is quite an introvert. Despite years of ministry he was still upbeat – remarkable in itself! Being in his presence you knew you were with someone who took prayer seriously. A little mischievously I asked him to sign my Bible joking because of his celebrity status – what he wrote was no real surprise but struck me to the core none-the-less because I knew this was foundational to who he was and what he lived: Christ the Living Word be your all in all.
I had been thinking what it means for some time to know with St Paul that ‘in him (in Christ) we live and move and have our being.’ Acts 17:28
What does it mean to have Christ as our all in all?
How do we realise the reality that in Christ we live and move and have our being?
Paul draws us to remember – to recall – to draw to mind when we were outside of our inheritance , strangers to the promises of the covenant and without God and without hope.
This is contrasted with what we now have in Christ.
Remember you were at one time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near ..’ Eph 2:12 & 13
We have been brought near, for he is our Peace. Both Jews and Gentiles are brought together in Christ having access in one Spirit to the Father.
This changed status now means we are no longer strangers and aliens but citizens and saints, members of the household of God.
So how does this Truth change the way we think about God and how we regard ourselves and others?
What does it mean to be ‘in Christ.’ How do we become more ‘at one ‘ with Him who comes near?
Well we know that yes prayer is key – we need to pray as individuals and in community. Pray as if our whole life depends on it – pray our socks off!
Don’t we need some grand scheme? Some strategy? Is it really that simple?
To be in Christ is to pray and pray most earnestly and urgently. To spend time in His Presence, to be, to receive, to rest, to listen, to act..
But to get to this point of praying allowing Christ to be our all in all often includes a few times when we are thrown off course, our plans ‘go west’ and our agenda gets amended and we have to allow God to come near and speak into our situations.
Let us consider for a moment the Apostle Paul and his own walk to allowing Christ to be his all in all. I thought of his previous life, the devotion and zeal for God that led to him slaughtering Christians for heresy.
- Artists often depict the scene as does the painting 16th Cent by Francesco Parmigianino with Saul thrown off his horse, the animal towering above him prancing around in a frenzied state as Saul/Paul blinded on the roadside is shown listening to the voice of Jesus. Yet actually the text only refers to Saul falling to the ground; As Sister Wendy Beckett points out it was unlikely that Saul could have afforded a horse as it was the steed of the wealthy.
Sometimes like Saul/Paul we are stopped in our tracks and although painful and confusion can lead to an amazing discovery of self and moving towards greater freedom.
- Saul/Paul seems to instantly accept the voice of Christ and the need to be transformed but maybe this was only part of the long journey of realisation – maybe the witnesses of the Saints also ‘spoke’ of the need ‘see’ the realities of God at work.
- Sometimes ‘our way’ has to be overthrown, our solutions, our way of going on and we have to fall off the horse of our own making; to see again a new way of being. A refusal to be distracted and scattered, the need to be attentive and obedient to our calling to make Christ our all in all.
So it is this experience of God that is foundational for Paul to say ‘in him we live and move and have our being’.
Seeing and Hearing
- It seems there is always this need for re-adjustment and alignment with God as we face each new situation on a daily basis.
- For Ezra and Nehemiah the challenge was getting God’s people to recommit themselves to what it meant to be a people of faith in their own day. They were without a Temple so worship had to be resumed even before the building of the new Temple was complete. The new community returning from exile had to forge its own spiritual legacy; to learn again the discipline of the faith and what it meant to be a ‘holy people.’
- Walls came down – but out of the rubble walls were rebuilt. Priest and Governor, Ezra and Nehemiah realised the community of faith could implode and as well as physical rebuilding of the new Temple foundational practices of worship, prayer, fasting, social justice and sensitivity to the Spirit had to be reinstated. Not despairing at the aftermath of exile but looking to build on foundations of past with a new dynamic for the future.
- In first century Ephesus Paul chose to focus too on ways to live out faith in a pluralistic culture – to live out a new creative life with an allegiance not to Rome and Caesar but to the kingdom of heaven and its God.
- He talks of walls flattened that divide and of the coming together of previously diverse peoples.
- Paul gives us a vision of being built into a growing and flowing living Temple with Christ as the cornerstone and the dwelling of God within
- If the Gospel had to mean anything it had to make sense in Ephesus. His whole letter is not about retreat but to live a life worthy of our calling – a sort of rallying cry for spiritual athleticism.
Allowing Christ to be our all in all. Allowing Christ to come near, to live in Christ and be equipped for challenges that come our way.
I notice the trend in North Yorkshire for triathlons probably influenced by the Brownlow brothers- on our way here the other Sun I noticed a Warrior event at Ripley Castle for all aspiring athletes to test out their strength and stamina with everything thrown at them including plenty of mud, fire, obstacles and water to transverse across and through. How set are we to fully engage and be in Christ: letting our lives be gathered up with Christ (ch 2), taking up access to grace (ch 3), allowing our gifts of ministry to flow from the ascension of Christ (ch 4), seeking to transform social situations through imitating Christ (ch 5) and drawing all that is needed to accomplish this from Christ (ch 6).
Our challenge from a Carmelite Nun I like to think of as a Spiritual Warrior of our time:
‘we must gather sticks and build the pile which only God can set on fire.’ Sister Ruth Burrows ‘To Believe in Jesus’
- Sister Ruth Burrows was commissioned by Rowan Williams to write a book on how to know God for his own life was changed by reading her earlier book 40 years ago. She stresses that Prayer is essentially God’s work. Our part is to give time, do our best to keep attention, surrender ourselves as best we can. Then we can be sure that God works….when we really grasp that prayer is God’s business not ours we will never talk of failure.
- In Love Unknown she simple reasserts that if we believe God is utterly self- communicating , burning with desire to love us into perfect fulfilment and happiness surely our fundamental attitude must be to let him do it, be receptive and not try to control the situation ourselves.
- In To Believe in Jesus she laments a bit that people do not draw enough on Prayer at how little the power of prayer is taken seriously and just what is available to us, she explains how we avoid really listening and wholeheartedly seeking after the things of God – she like Paul challenges us to develop our skills of spiritual athleticism:
- Yet if we choose to step out in Christ realising faith is pure gift and stake our lives on it, this instinct will grow in us, this freedom of acting be a measure of closeness to Christ.
- Prayer is the way we grasp the mediator ship of Christ and know what faith IN Jesus means, and when acquired how this grows and flows.
‘Prayer is not just one function in life, not even the most important, it is life itself.’
Ruth Burrows To Believe in Jesus
Or put another way :We are truly living and truly human when our whole life is prayer. Ruth Burrows
Let us encourage one another to build on these disciplines we have inherited, what is happening here is to be truly celebrated as worship and community life is indeed life-giving and authentic. but we can still seek to build on these foundations, rally around one another in loving, prayerful support, share our joys and sorrows, hold each other up In Christ so that in Ripon and beyond it will be seen and heard, known and felt that the Gospel dynamic is being lived out in lives transformed because Christ the Living Word is indeed our all in all.