Can you be baptised with my baptism?: A sermon

Mark 10.35-45
Palm Sunday 29th March 2015
Belle Vue Baptist


Can you drink the cup I drink

or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?

A question appropriate at the beginning of holy week

where we will remember Jesus in the upper room, in the garden,

in the courtroom, on the cross and then in the tomb.

Can you drink the cup I drink

or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?

Throughout Lent we have been faced with the challenge of following Jesus

and none more so when he asks us this question.


What makes a mature Christian?

Sometimes we like to talk about so and so being a mature Christian

and often this can mean they’ve been following Jesus a long time.

Well in Mark’s gospel that doesn’t mean much.

James and John have been following Jesus from near day one.

Three years in the company of Jesus.

Three years of hearing Jesus teach and watching him work.

We might think they are ready for graduation,

they must be reaching the advance levels of the stages of faith,

they are surely ready to be called ‘mature’?

James and John approach Jesus,

they want to speak to him,

a moment to demonstrate their understanding,

their maturity as his disciples.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask.”

Ok, not a good start, a bit presumptive,

but there’s still time to show themselves as exemplar disciples.

“Let one of us sit at your right and other at your left in glory.”

If this was twitter the response might be #discipleshipfail

You can imagine Jesus’ face marked with disappointment as he says,

“You don’t know what you’re asking.”


Beware of mature disciples!

They’re probably just as deaf and blind as the rest of us.

Back in chapter 8, Jesus spoke about the ‘Son of Man coming in glory’,

but James and John demonstrate selective hearing,

as they seem to have not heard that the glory of the Son of Man

was framed by suffering, cross and death.

Two people do find themselves on Jesus’ left and his right,

they are the two robbers he is crucified with (Mk 15.27).

The moment of Jesus’ glory, his triumph,

his being named king,

is the moment of his crucifixion.

Jesus asks James and John:

Can you drink the cup I drink

or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?

Jesus asks us:

Can you drink the cup I drink

or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?


We hear the words cup and baptism in several ways.

We hear them as words from the beginning and end of Jesus’ ministry.

Jesus begin his ministry with baptism, it will near its completion when he shares the cup at the last supper.

Jesus is one who embraces baptism and the shares the cup.

Baptism marks the acceptance of his mission from God.

The cup he shares with his disciples and then he cup he asks to be removed from him in the garden at Gethsemane, mark the climax of his mission.

To understand Jesus, is to understand him through his baptism:

“You are my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”

and to understand him through his cup:

He took the cup … “This is the blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many.”

Jesus is the anointed Son of God,

and as such his blood will be shed for many.

Can you drink the cup I drink

or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?


We hear these words – baptism and cup – as sacraments of the church,

the call to be baptised and to gather round the Lord’s table.

We are those baptised into Christ: as the apostle Paul puts it:

“Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom 5.3).

We are those who share the cup of Christ: as the apostle Paul puts it:

“Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ” (1 Cor. 10.16).

If baptism and the cup mark the life of Jesus, they also mark our lives,

his baptism is our baptism,

his cup is our cup,

his mission is our mission,

his cross is our cross: as the apostle Paul puts it:

“I have been crucified with Christ” (Gal 2.20).

Can you drink the cup I drink

or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?

asks Jesus.

Our baptism says yes, and every time we come to this table and drink from the cup, we say yes Jesus.


Baptism and the cup are visual reminders

that the one we worship, the one we follow,

is the one who dies on a cross.

The way to glory, the way to life,

is the way of the cross.

James and John want glory, reward and hallelujah,

Jesus promises that if they will follow him,

they shall share with him in his sufferings and challenges.

How often have you passed a church with some kind of amusing, appealing,

warm, friendly poster that says something like ‘Jesus will meet your needs.’

How often have you passed a church with a sign that says ‘Come! Be crucified! We’ve got a cross that fits your back too!’*

The gospel is not just Jesus died for me and you,

the gospel is also Jesus calls us to die with him.


Earlier this week the Church celebrated Oscar Romero,

who 25 years ago, as the then Roman Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador, was gunned down as he celebrated mass.

Pope Francis has declared him a martyr of the Christian faith.

Romero was one who knew the way of the cross.

In a few weeks time it will be the 70th anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonheoffer, a Christian pastor who stood against the evils of Nazism,

and was executed.

Bonheoffer was one who knew the way of the cross.

Likewise in a few weeks time it will be the anniversary of the death of the Baptist pastor Martin Luther King,

who led the civil rights movement in the United States and was assassinated.

Luther King was one who knew the way of the cross.

The history of the church is full of other examples.

I name them not because martyrdom is somehow necessary to being a Christian,**

as if you’re only a Christian if you’re killed for your faith,

but to say that as those who are baptised and those who share the cup of Jesus,

we are saying that martyrdom is now a possibility.

We do not seek death, martyrdom is not a kind of evangelistic strategy,

but the message of Jesus is one that produces hostility,

for to follow Jesus is to live in such a way that proclaims the crucified and risen Jesus as Lord.

What does this look like? It looks like this:

            whoever would come after me, must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me

            whoever loses his life for me and the gospel will save it

            whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant;

            whoever wants to be first must be slave of all

We might ask that in the Western world, the lack of persecution towards Christians, the lack of martyrs, is because

            ‘the church has often given the world too little to reject, too little witness,

too few challenges, too small a God and a harmless Jesus?’***


Too briefly return to my comments earlier about mature Christians,

what perhaps is important is not the amount of years that you have attended church,

although that hopefully does help,

but what really matters is are you still allowing yourself to hear and see Jesus?

Are you allowing the gospel to bring you to your knees,

and lift you to your feet?

Are you following Jesus in the way that confronts the evils of the world,

with a love that leads to the cross?


Can you drink the cup I drink

or be baptized with baptism I am baptized with?

As we come to share in the Lord’s Supper,

we are saying yes we want to Jesus.


 * William Willimon

** I owe these thoughts in this section to Stanley Hauerwas (Approaching the End, Eerdmans, 2013) and Craig Hovey (To Share in the Body (Brazos, 2008).

*** Craig Hovey, To Share in the Body, p.39.

Good Friday Reflections

P1530653First Word: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”

We gather on this day

to be confronted by


hanging on the cross.


whom we believe

is the Son of God,

suffering the pain of crucifixion.


A voice from heaven had declared

‘This is my Son, whom I love.

Listen to him!’ (Matt 17.5)


Here we are faced

by Jesus

and we listen to his words.

Seven in number.

We come to give our attention

to Jesus

and his voice from the cross.

We come to be silent

because coming to the cross

on this day

is not a day for lots of words.


“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The first word speaks of forgiveness.

It is addressed to the Father,

and so we are over-hearers,

those who listen to a conversation,

deep in the heart of God.

Jesus prays ‘Father forgive.’

Forgiveness belongs to God

Reconciliation belongs to God.

We do not reconcile ourselves to God,

but God reconciles himself to us.

Jesus had said “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”

and we see now that this was no metaphor,

no idealistic dream,

for he prays for his enemies, the main foes of his good news, us.

In this new world that the cross begins,

the first words are,

“Let there be forgiveness.” [i]

There is no confession of sin, there is no cry, “Lord forgive us.”

God determines that we are forgiven,

even whilst we don’t know what we are doing,

in our ignorance, in our hostility,

in our sinfulness,

Jesus prays, “Father forgive”

The forgiveness of God precedes our repentance.

God forgives before we even realise we are in need of forgiveness.

We live as those in whom God has already made his own.


Jesus names us as those who “don’t know what we are doing.”

He unmasks our pretence to think we do know what we are doing.

We go from childhood to adulthood,

we go from instinct and reaction, to rationality and intentionality;

we become self-aware;

those who know and shape our world,

or that is what we’re told.

But Jesus says “we don’t know what we’re doing”

that we are not

as knowing or seeing,

as good or just

as we think or believe.

So Jesus prays, ‘Father forgive them.’


That the first word is about forgiveness,

reminds us that we are sinners.

To gather here today with Jesus on the cross

is to acknowledge the sinfulness of humanity

    to confess that we are not different,

    we are not immune

                            we are not otherwise

                                    to the crowd that cried ‘crucify him’

‘Father forgive them’

            is to know God has the power to really forgive

               to free us from that which we cannot change [ii]

                                    whether it be our folly, our failure or fecklessness

                                                   or our deception, our denial or destruction

            the forgiveness of God doesn’t change the past,

                        but it does release us from the power of the past

            the forgiveness of God doesn’t rewrite history,

                        but it does prevent our histories from suffocating our present and


            the forgiveness of God made possible through the passion of Jesus

            is the healing of a wound

                        that says we are no longer a victim of our the sins done by us and done

to us

                        we are those in whom Christ has made survivors,

                                    who have discovered in Christ a way of being embraced

                                    in a story and a history bigger than us

                                                which we call grace.


Second Word: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”

Two criminals are crucified alongside Jesus

and as we overhear their conversation, we perhaps

glimpse ourselves.

One criminal says “if you are the Christ,

save yourself and us.”

In this, we see how we believe,

but that our belief struggles to see the cross

as salvation.

We are those who keep the cross smooth and empty,

we do not want a suffering saviour.

And yet it is because Jesus does not save himself from death

that he is the Christ

and not the other way round.

The other criminal sees something else in Jesus.

He sees that he has acted wrongly

but that Jesus is innocent,

and more than innocent, that Jesus

is a king with a kingdom.

He says

“remember me” – meaning don’t just

recall my face, but save me.

He does not ask something different

from the other criminal,

but whilst the other criminal believed salvation was getting out of life alive,

this criminal understands that salvation will come out of death,

that there is a kingdom

beyond Rome or Jerusalem

and Jesus has the power to re-member him in it.


Jesus responds with “today”

not tomorrow, not at the end of all things,

but “Today, you will be with me in paradise.”

This word ‘paradise’ appears only here in the entire New Testament,

and we have invested it with particular meaning,

but more than a place, I suggest, we should

understand it as meaning “whenever, wherever you

are with Jesus” … paradise is relational not geographical,

to be with Jesus is to experience grace …

Today … not when you draw you’re final breath … not tomorrow …

but today.


The gospel is good news for today.

Three times in Luke’s gospel Jesus says


            He preaches in the synagogue,

            reading from the prophet Isaiah:

                        “The Spirit of the Lord upon me

                        to preach good news to the poor

                        to proclaim freedom for the prisoners

                        the recovery of sight for the blind

                        to release the oppressed

                        to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”

            “Today this scripture is fulfilled.” (Luke 4.16-21)


            He finds Zacchaeus hiding in a tree

            and invites himself round for tea and talk

                        Zacchaeus repents – literally turns his life around

            “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19.5-9)

            The third time is to the criminal on a cross

            “Today you will be with me in paradise”


If the first word was healing our past, our histories

This second word speaks to

our tendency to delay, to postpone

            or to focus always on the day ahead

The cross is about transforming our lives today

You don’t have to wait for salvation, for good news,

            the grace of Christ is a gift for today.


Third Word: “Women, here is your son!” … “Here is your mother!”

The third word from the cross

now invites us to over-hear a conversation

between mother and son.

There is something enigmatic about this third word.

we are given no commentary to any of what Jesus says from the cross

and so there is a temptation to fill the meaning in ourselves.

As Jesus suffers he address his mother,

he says to her ‘woman’,

the same way he did at the wedding at Cana (John 2.4).

This at the very least protects us from seeing this exchange as

a sentimentalism about family:

            “Good Friday is not the first Mother’s Day” [iii]

Are these words to his mother an expression of his care and concern?

Are they a signal that we should see Mary as the new Eve?

Or are they part of Jesus letting go of his earthly existence

– severing ties of family and friendship?


Here at the cross,

a new family is created

one which as John said at the beginning of his gospel

is ‘not born from natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will,

but born of God’ (John 1.13).

Jesus here,

from the cross,

creates the church as the new family of God.

Disciples are bound together in new familial relationships

through the blood of Jesus.

The church is born in the midst of death,

as the Apostle Paul puts it:

“we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus,

so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Cor. 4.10).

If the first word was about yesterday,

and the second word was about today,

we could see this third word speaking about tomorrow:

How can we live when death comes to our door?

When tomorrow, when the future,

seems to be one of increasing loss,

                                      of increasing isolation and separation

Jesus speaks of the continuing friendship that is in his body,

            in the church.

The church speaks of an ongoing community

a people bound together

            like a vine and its branches (John 15,)

where no one is alone,           

where the future is made possible,

because of the love created through the cross.



Fourth Word: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”           

The fourth word marks the half-way point.

The divine conversation ended

             or at least the Father appears absent.

These words ring out in the darkness

in the silence.

They echo in our lives,

                 in our feelings of abandonment and forsakenness.

‘Yes Jesus,’ we say, ‘we recognise this cry,

we have claimed it as our own.’

We are comforted by our saviour having

known the despair of the human condition.

We are, perhaps, relieved, that in these words from the cross

we hear this word.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

It is this word that jars with our calling of this Friday ‘Good.’

It is this word that questions seeing the cross as triumphant.


The word comes from the Psalms,

it is the cry of David,

it is the cry of Israel,

and it is the cry of Jesus.

Psalm 22 is full of imagery

that finds echoes in the passion:

the Psalmist speaks of being mocked and insulted

of his hands and feet being pierced;

of his garments being divided.

We cannot help but read this Psalm

as ‘language prepared for Jesus to walk in’ [iv]

as the ‘cry of the long-expected Messiah’ [v]

as the prophetic word of God now fulfilled.


With all this in view,

what does it mean for Jesus, the Son of God,

to say these words.

It is to say that what makes the cross unique,

what makes it not just another horrific painful death

is that on the cross Jesus is forsaken.

Matthew begins his gospel by saying that the one born to Mary

is Emmanuel – God with us (Matt. 1.23)

and here at the cross Jesus is forsaken.

The one who came to be with us,

is faced with a ‘litany of desertion,’

and ultimately he is God-forsaken:

            “Like the clouds coming across the sun,

shrouding the earth in shadow, the essence of God,

always three persons in perfect relationship,

always God's life shaped to be with us –

that essence is for a moment lost.” [vi]

The deepest horror of the cross is this.

To face Good Friday,

to enter it,

to dwell in this day,

is to ask, is all lost?

is Christ,

and all of humanity,            


This cry, this word from the cross

            is both the demonstration of our extreme alienation from God

                        the deep rupture in the relationship between Creator and creation

            and it is the extent that God in Christ must go to reverse and heal it

                        it is what one theologian called

‘the way of the Son into the far country’ (Karl Barth)

This is suffering at its most deep,

this is love at its most profound:

Jesus is the God-forsaken in order that we might be reconciled. 


Fifth Word: “I thirst”

This fifth word reminds us,

if we had somehow forgotten,

that the one who speaks these words

is hanging on a cross;

whose every word

comes amidst gasps for breath

and the pain of crucifixion.

‘I thirst.’

The physicality of crucifixion

rudely awakens our spiritual ponderings

and confronts us once again

with the reality that Jesus is suffering,

he is dying,

he thirsts.


Those of us familiar with John’s gospel

in which this particular word is recorded,

will recall that Jesus is one who has previously

promised to quench humanity’s thirst

with the gift of living water (John 4.13-14)

Jesus quenches our thirst by becoming thirsty himself

The gift of life that Jesus offers

comes only through the giving of his own life.


The Psalmist speaks of

            being one who thirsts for God (Ps 42, 63)

Is Jesus then the one who embodies our thirst for God?

Jesus not only stands in our place,

            he is not just our substitute

            he is our representative.

Jesus is the one who cries ‘I thirst’

            on behalf of all humanity:

“My soul thirsts for you” (Ps 63.1)

“My soul thirsts for the living God” (Ps 42.2)

Jesus reveals that we were made to be those who are thirsty for God:

            “We are restless until we find our rest in you” (Augustine).


More than that, Jesus thirsts for the kingdom and for God:

            “Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness

                        for they will be filled” (Matt 5.6)

he desires that all will be fulfilled,

                        all we be complete

                        all we be satisfied

                                    in God.


Sixth Word: “It is finished”                                   

The way that John’s gospel presents the story,

Jesus sees the cross as the work he has been sent to do.

He speaks of ‘laying down his life’ of his own accord (John 10.17-18)

Jesus refers to the coming ‘hour’ meaning the cross

and that this hour will be for God’s glory (John 12.23, 27)

He speaks of being lifted up from the earth

and drawing all people to himself (John 12.32)

So when Jesus says ‘It is finished’

he means his mission is complete,

it is accomplished.

His death is his victory.


John the Baptist had said

“Behold the Lamb of God

            who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1.29)

and for John, Jesus is the Passover lamb,

            whose sacrificial mission is now completed.


Pilate had placed above Jesus’ head

the title “King of the Jews” (John 19.19)

and for John, Jesus is not misnamed.

Jesus is king and this king rules from a cross.

This language, ‘it is finished’,

may well remind us that the gospel of John is a new creation narrative.

This is the seventh sign.

In the creation narrative at the beginning of Genesis

we find that “by the seventh day

God had finished the work he had been doing” (Gen 2.2)

and so now has Jesus.

This is a new creation story

accomplished in death.


This language, ‘it is finished’,

also points us to the end,

that Christ is one in whom

both the beginning and the end

of all things,

are finished, perfected and transformed (Col. 1-15-16).

The cross stands

in the middle,

revealing Christ to be

the author and perfecter

of our faith (Heb. 12.2).

God’s great cosmic drama

which began in love

and ends in love

is finished

in what happens over these three Great Days.


And what is finished in Christ

is now being finished,


                     transformed in us.

We are now those in whom God is at work,

whom God is finishing:

            ‘God who began a good work in you

            will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus’ (Phil. 1.6)

We are made witnesses

to the wonderful news of Jesus.


Seventh Word: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”

With this seventh and final word

Jesus dies.

The Son of God is dead.

It is to the Father again

that this final word is spoken,

and as before, we overhear this conversation,

we are those who are invited to listen in.

This word is familiar to us because

we hear it said at a funeral,

where we commend the one who has died

into God’s hands.

But it begins first with Jesus,

we imitate him,

not he us.

Jesus is not a Christ-figure,

but the Christ.

Jesus is not a Christ-figure

in that his death is just an example of a good man dying for others,

some kind of universal pattern of self-sacrifice.

Jesus is not a Christ-figure

in that his death is an example of how we should all die, that is,

as those who have nothing to fear from death. [vii]

This is the death of Jesus the Christ.


At his death,

Jesus trusts God with utter confidence.

He had trusted God,

when “he resolutely set out for Jerusalem” (Lk 9.51)

He had trusted God,

on the journey to Jerusalem,

when he was informed that Herod wanted to kill him,

    “I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day –

    for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem” (Lk 13.33)

He had trusted God,

when he entered the city riding on a donkey

and then entered the temple.

He had trusted God,

on the Mount of Olives,

as he prayed,

    “yet not my will, but yours be done” (Lk 22.42).

Here at his death,

in this final word,

we see that Jesus’ death

was not an unfortunate accident,

 a miscalculation on his part,

 but in full accordance with the scriptures

                         and the will of God:

            “He was despised and rejected by mankind,

               a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.           

            He was pierced for our transgressions,

            he was crushed for our iniquities

               and by his wounds we are healed.

            He was oppressed and afflicted,

            he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,

            he was cut off from the land of the living,

            he was assigned a grave with the wicked.

    Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him

                    and cause him to suffer

            For he bore the sin of many,

               and made intercession for the transgressors” (Is. 53.3, 5, 7-10, 12)

(picture above by Rick Beerhorst, found in Stanley Hauerwas, Cross Shattered Christ (Brazos, 2004)

[i] William Willimon, Thank God It’s Friday. Willimon is my guide for much of this first word reflections.

[ii] This last section was helped a lot by Sam Wells, ‘Set Me as a Seal upon Your Heart’, Oxford Diocese Imagine a Faith Renewed March 25, 2014.

[iii] Fleming Rutledge, Seven Last Words from the Cross

[iv] Christopher Seitz, Seven Lasting Words

[v] Stanley Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ

[vi] Sam Wells, ‘Why have you forsaken me?’,

[vii] Stanley Hauerwas, Cross-Shattered Christ

Seven Last Words

51X4H105WFLPeople have reflected, meditated, and preached on the seven words Jesus speaks from the cross for centuries. For the first time, I will be leading a service which will reflect on these words.

I am being helped by these five books:

Cross-Shattered Christ: Meditations on the Seven Last Words by Stanley Hauerwas (Brazos, 2004)

Seven Last Words by Timothy Radcliffe (Continuum, 2004)

Seven Lasting Words Jesus Speaks from the Cross by Christopher R. Seitz (Westminister John Knox, 2001)  41owvFopTdL

Thank God It's Friday: Encountering the Seven Last Words from the Cross by William H. Willimon (Abingdon, 2006)

515iBWs5I6LThe Seven Last Words from the Cross by Fleming Rutledge (Eerdmans, 2005)



Looking Through the Cross 3

Below is my summary of Graham Tomlin's fifth chapter in Looking Through the Cross on 'The Cross and Suffering.' As in other posts, a lot of the summary contains Tomlin's own words.


The existence of suffering today

names one of the biggest reasons

people struggle with Christianity:

"why does God not prevent suffering?

that he doesn’t surely is evidence he doesn’t exist."


This question of God and suffering

is actually a very modern one.

We – and by we I mean those of us

who live in the West –

are generally used to a comfortable existence

where it is possible to keep suffering at a distance,

which means when it does intrude

it is a shock

disturbing the basic balance of our lives.


Look at the cross.

Look at the cross,

for the Apostle Peter

says ‘Christ suffered’ (1 Peter 2.21. 3.18. 4.1).

At the heart of Christian faith:

is the suffering of Christ,

God’s Son.

The cross says that we are not naïve about suffering

we are not ignorant or indifferent

but when faced with evil

the Christian faith declares

God still to be good and loving.


Look at the cross.

Look at the cross,

for the Apostle Peter

says ‘Christ suffered.’

God knows suffering all to well.

God, in the person of the Son,

knows what it is to suffer abandonment, agony, and death.

God is not a stranger to suffering.

But we must say more than ‘God suffers too’.

God is not just a fellow-suffer,

if this all, then suffering overcomes God.

So the early church said

that Jesus suffers, but the Father doesn’t.

Suffering and pain are not eternal,

they are temporary.

Suffering is not an attribute of God,

not part of his being,

this would be to make suffering eternal.

In the end, there will be no more suffering

say the scriptures.

So in the face of suffering,

Christian faith says we are not alone

and it is only temporary.

This makes it bearable.


Suffering is real and strong,

but God is stronger:

the crucified one is the risen one.

The empty cross announces

that suffering will one day come to an end

that death has been and is a defeated enemy.


If suffering is not the end,

and in its midst

there is comfort 

(literally the giving of strength) 

suffering is also part and parcel

of following Jesus,

it is to be people of the cross.

The history of the church

has been one marked by suffering

from early Christian martyrs

to around 100,000 Christians every year

between 1990 and 2000.

And whilst suffering in terms of persecution

is generally not what we face,

it does not leave us free from suffering:

once you try to love people it will hurt.


Look at the cross

Look at the cross

and see how much God loves us.

To see Jesus suffer for us

softens our hearts towards those

who have wronged us, hurt us,

wounded us.

The way to life says Jesus

is not around the cross

but through it

the way of the cross is

the way of love

and it is a way of suffering

and sacrifice.


The Christian answer to suffering

is not to avoid it

either intellectually or experientially

It is to point to the cross

suffering at its most intense

it is to accept the invitation to ‘take up your cross’

with Jesus

in the sure and certain knowledge of the resurrection

that God ultimately is beyond suffering

and so will we be,

as we continue our journey with him.

Looking Through the Cross 2

Week 2 reading Graham Tomlin's Looking Through the Cross and chapter 4 'The Cross and Identity'. Again a large amount of the phrasing below belongs to Tomlin.

Who are you?
sometimes an easy question to answer,
sometimes an unsettling question to answer.
Who are you?
     when moving to a new town or city
     when getting married or becoming a parent
     when changing a job or losing a job or entering retirement
     when a parent, a spouse or a child dies
Who are you?
and where do you fit in the world?
We might look to
but many of these identity markers
are not as straightforward as they once may have been.
Who are you?
has become more fluid, more open to change
and so we are encouraged to look within,
to discover our true selves,
and so who are you?
becomes associated
            with your viewing habits,
            with your style of fashion,
            with your likes and dislikes.
Who are you? becomes something we are told we can choose.

Look at the cross.
Look at the cross,
for the apostle Paul says,
    ‘I have been crucified with Christ
    and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. 
    The life I know live in the body
    I live through the faithfulness of the Son of God
who loved me and gave himself up for me.’ (Gal 2.19-20)

For Paul the cross is no longer just a historical event,
distant from him in time and space.
The cross is where he finds himself
in a very profound way partnered with Christ.
The cross of Christ
is not just where Jesus dies, but we die.
    ‘We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’
says Paul,
    ‘if indeed we share in his sufferings’ (Rom 8.17)
and elsewhere he says
    ‘I want to know Christ …
    to know the power of his resurrection and
    the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in death’ (Phil 3.10-11)
and so he says
    we are ‘to offer our bodies as living sacrifices,
    holy and pleasing to God’ (Rom 12.1).

As we look through the cross
and ask who are we,
we are those who have been baptized,
    baptized into the death of Christ
    and raised with him to new life (Rom 6.4).
We die that we might live.
We are give a new identity:
Paul leaves behind the name Saul (Acts 13.9).

Who are we?
We are those who are in Christ.
We are Christian.
This is our primary identity,
more than a badge we wear,
or a choice we might make,
    it is our name
          our citizenship,
          our family,
          our vocation.
Who are we is not a matter of looking inside,
but a matter of looking to Christ.

We live as those who have left behind one identity
and have been given a new identity
that is baptism.
But whilst baptism is a one time event,
it is also a daily cleaving and embracing,
a continual turning to Christ.
Who are we is in Christ
but who we were is difficult to shake off.
We are caught between two identities –
     between Adam and Christ (Rom 5.12-21)
     old and new (Eph. 4.22-24, Col. 3.9-10)
     sin and grace (Rom 5.1-6.14)
     flesh and Spirit (Gal 5.16-17, 24-25).

We are those who look at the cross
and see we have been clothed with Christ (Gal 3.27),
we have put on a new self (Col 3.10),
one in which we are
     redeemed, forgiven, loved, blessed and called
     to give ourselves for the sake of those God
     placed around us in often small and mundane,
     but occasionally large and painful ways.

Reading for Lent

Still time to pick up a book for Lent. Here's three recommendations - all available I think on kindle.

1. The Shape of Living by David Ford. This was the Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent book way back in 1997, but has been recently reprinted by SCM with a new preface. (In the Preface, Ford says he writing a sequel of sorts called The Drama of Living). This is the book I am using for our Lent series at church. Ford explores our we cope with being overwhelmed - whether it is by people, desire, goodness, secrets, work, suffering or joy. He writes well, interacting all the way through with the poetry of his friend Michael O'Siadhail and scripture. He is trained as a theologian (Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge), but a theologian interested in how life is shaped by faith. My favourite bit in the book is his discussion of vocation - fantastic!

2. Barefoot Disciple by Stephen Cherry. This was the Archbishop of Canterbury' Lent book in 2011. These Lent books are sometimes hit and miss, but this is one of the hits. The whole book is an exploration of humility as a central virtue of the Christian life. Each chapter is shaped by narrative and reflection covering pride, grumbling, being childlike, becoming a stranger, generous living, a bodily spirituality.

3. Abiding by Ben Quash. This is this year's Archbishop of Canterbury' Lent book (the last chosen by Rowan Williams). It may not get the attention it deserves, because things like the Big Read (which are reading Rowan Williams' book on Narnia) and LoveLifeLiveLent, seem to have a higher profile. Taking the image of 'abiding' found in the Bible, and especially John's gospel, Quash, in conversation with culture (art, music, film, novel) and St. Benedict (amongst others), looks at what it means to abide in the body, in the mind, through care, in relationships, in exile, through wounds and the peace of God. It is a more demanding read than the other books above, but well worth the effort.

Of course other books would include Maggi Dawn's Giving It Up, Sam Wells, Power and Passion, and Rowan Williams' Christ on Trial.

Living Lent: 30 ways to love life and live lent

Right confession time. First, the phrase 'love life, live lent' is something the Church of England are using and which I'm borrowing. Second, lent of course is 40 days, but I got stuck on 30 (happy to recieve other ways to get me to 40). This is something I've put together for the church where I'm minister.

Lent begins this Wednesday.

1. Turn off phone, computer, tablet, tv for deliberate time slots – How did you use this unused time?

2. Walk the streets of your area – What and who do you notice?

3. Take a church certificate of excellence to a local public service/business you are grateful for (available from 17th Feb)

4. Create a faith family tree, with all the different people who have encouraged, nurtured, helped you trust in God – Who are you encouraging and helping?

5. If you talk too much, try shutting up and listening – What did you hear?

6. Spend a week (or the whole of Lent), only buying food in walking distance from your home – What difference does this make?

7. Make time to make a note of where your food comes from during one week – How many miles does it have to travel?

8. Visit a church from a different tradition to your own – What did you enjoy?

9. Invite someone round for meal

10. Bake a Fairtrade™ cake to share with a group you belong to (recipes available from 17th Feb or from here)

11. Make, send a thank you card to five people in your life you are grateful for – How often do we express gratitude for the everyday ways people are there for us?

12.  Make a donation to a charity that works in another part of the world – What makes you angry about poverty?

13.  Write a (polite) letter to your MP about something you care about

14.  Spend an evening exploring the website – What did you learn, enjoy?

15.  Watch a film about the life of Jesus (the Miracle Maker is great or the BBC drama serial The Passion – both can be borrowed from the Goodliffs)

16.  Each day in Lent take time and make space to be quiet – start at 1 minute and try and get to 40 minutes by the end – How hard is it to do?

17.  Read a novel

18.  Do something you enjoyed as a child – go swimming, ride a bike, buy some sweets, climb a tree(!)

19.  Ask yourself what are you and God working on

20.  Read to a child, a parent, a friend your favourite stories from the gospels

21.  Take time to talk to someone who is homeless – find out their name, listen to their story – What surprised you?

22.  Spend time with someone who is at least thirty years young or older than you – How do they see the world?

23. Look back at your life where you took one road and not another – What helped you make your choice?

24. Plant something, watch it grow and ask yourself what do I need to grow in body, mind, spirit?

25. Learn a bible verse (some suggestions might be: Proverbs 3.5; Psalm 27.1; 1 John 4.16; 2 Corinthians 13.14; Galatians 5.22-23; Colossians 3.17)

26.  View (either by a trip to London or online) the National Galley’s Life of Christ tour: - Do these pictures help you see Jesus in a new light

27. Listen to and enjoy your favourite piece of music

28. Following the book Ten Letters: to be delivered in the event of my death by Chris Russell, write a letter to someone you love or know to be read in the event of your death – Was it easy or hard to write?

29. Have a go at some guerrilla gardening 

30. Take part in Christian Aid’s Count Your Blessings

Between Cross and Resurrection

Between cross and resurrection*
There is only silence
A body dead in a closed tomb

Between cross and resurrection
There is only sorrow
Grief caught in the horror and the loss

Between cross and resurrection
There is only looking
For a sign of hope, a sign of life

Between cross and resurrection
Is where we find our lives
Trapped in the space between death and living
Struggling to believe another world is possible
Seeking to make sense of the whys and the wheres

Between cross and resurrection
Is where we wait
Wedged in the space between despair and hope
Where time stands still
Where reality plays games with our senses
Where a chapter is ended
And no possibility of a new one beginning

Between cross and resurrection
In silence, in sorrow, looking
Struggling, seeking, waiting

*This phrase is borrowed from Alan Lewis' brilliant book of the same name: Between Cross and Resurrection: A Theology of Holy saturday

Lent what are we doing ...

Like Jesus in the wilderness
Like the Israelites in the wilderness

We are learning again to be God's people, to hear the call of God to obedience

So we spend more time in prayer, in reflection, in fasting (giving up distractions), in study (it is one of the few times of the year that people are up for a 'course' of some kind, to come to something extra - the problem these days is there is so much to do in lent, lent ends up being the opposite of what it intends)

We seek to discipline our lives to have more of God and less of everything else

So that we can formed as God's people ... This is an inward-looking season ... If epiphany is a reminder that God's reveals himself to the world and we are part of those who are to witness to that; if easter is about the good news that the God who is revealed is alive and kicking and free of sin and death, then lent is the inbetween season that seeks to ensure that our witness is faithful to a way that is cross-shaped ... To get easter, to which we see glimpses (trailers) in Jesus baptism and transfiguration, we have to go the way of the cross ... In lent we remember that life comes out of death, that disciplining our "freedom" makes us more free ...

Hopefulimagination hosting Lent Book Blog

I'm organizing a slightly different Lent group blog at hopefulimagination to start next week. If you're interested in joining in, let me know. This is the plan:

Choose a book (apart from the bible) that has made an impact on your life and thinking - could be from a long time ago or very recently. The hope is to have at least one or two books over the six weeks. Tell us a little of something about the book (and perhaps the author), why it made an impact and perhaps a short extract. Via comments let me know the date and if you can the book's title.

Readers are then are encouraged to post comments either with their thoughts on the book or with some questions if they've not read it.