a new kind of human world
2 Sam 7: 1-14a Eph 2: 11-22
Imagine a country where 90% of the population claimed allegiance to Christianity. Which country do you think I am referring to…?
Rwanda was famous as the most Christian country in Africa… and then in 1994 over a period of about 100 days 800,000 people, men women and children were slaughtered by their neighbours with machetes, mostly. Lee Camp writes:
“The genocide demonstrated – in a graphic and horrific way – that the western Christianity imported into the heart of Africa had apparently failed to create communities of disciples. In actuality the triumph of Christian missions preceded the triumph of ethnic hatred. When push came to shove, the Jesus who taught his disciples to love your neighbor went missing when young men were hacking old men, women and children to death simply because these neighbors were ethnically different. Numerous Christian martyrs – both Hutu and Tutsi died resisting the massacres. But that these faithful martyrs were a minority among the fold of Christians has led critics to suggest that the “gospel” imported into Rwanda failed to ever challenge the ethnic identity of its converts – they became Christian, but many remained first and foremost either Hutu or Tutsi.”
They believed in God. They believed in Jesus at some level… but they hadn’t really become a community of disciples. They were first of all Hutu or Tutsi… Just as we might be first of all Kiwi, or Pakeha, or Maori, English, or Samoan, or female, or male, or St Clair resident or whatever… even a member of our own biological family.
The story of Rwanda is deeply challenging (especially if I don’t allow racial prejudice to whisper in my ear that it’s just Africa and we would be different). For some reason Christianity failed. Christianity did not form communities of disciples.
According to our text today Jesus is our peace… Paul is very clear. We belong to him… because he has made peace… not because he merely teaches us about peace, or preaches peace, or encourages peace, but because in his own body he has made peace and broken down the enmity… And the purpose of his life and death is to create a single new humanity in Christ – a humanity of peace… but a humanity which is peace in Christ.
And you know what I think is the biggest barrier to this humanity of peace… it is the thought that enmity must be killed by Christ … it is the thought that we need to have peace made for us first before we can make it ourselves. Most of us believe we can kill the enmity ourselves, if we think it exists at all. We are confident that we can make peace our self, even if it is only purifying our own attitude. In general we struggle to admit our need to have our old humanity killed, so that Christ can create us into a single new humanity. We find that demeaning! However, it is the beginning of the Christian life. Christianity begins with a death, (our death) or it doesn’t begin at all.
God became incarnate not to get us out of going to hell, but to get the hell out of us… When Jesus saw Jerusalem (the center of his world) and he wept I think he knew, “I’ve got to get the hell out of here!” And he didn’t mean clear out and get away. He meant in fact to go deeper into the hell… to go into the place of losing, curse, shame and death… but to do so in a way that wasn’t controlled by those things… in a way that wasn’t a reaction to them, to go in to these things without being run by them, to go there and yet remain free. And in so doing he was found and raised and vindicated by his Father as God-our-victim.
If God is found in the space of losing, of curse, of shame and of death… then the whole world is cast in question… and everything in us is cast in question… and we don’t like that… we can’t handle that.
Herbert McCabe wrote:
“Jesus is God’s word, God’s idea of God, how God understands himself. He is ‘how-God-understands-himself’ become a part of our human history, become human, become the first really thoroughly human part of our history – and therefore, of course, the one hated, despised and destroyed by the rest of us, who wouldn’t mind being divine but are very frightened of being human”
When God becomes the first human – the first fully human creature… all hell breaks loose. And when you are frightened of being human, when you are vulnerable human being, you need to group together against others for strength, you become who you are both with but also over against others… hostility is not just an option it is identity forming. Hell is part of the culture of being human.
Paul says it was God’s purpose to make a single new humanity, in a single body, without enmity and in that reconciliation of human beings with other human beings to reconcile human beings to God… that was why he went to the cross… to the place of death, into nothingness, to be cast out of the world….So that God’s screwed up creatures might have what he calls ‘access to the Father’ … how? In the one Spirit, the same Spirit that animated Jesus to be God’s word in the world …
The Spirit that animated Jesus as he exposed and overcame the forces of death… is the Spirit that forms a new humanity… a humanity which is ‘one body’ – not one body united against its enemies, but one body without enmity.
“Jesus is God’s word” means that God has given us his life in our history… in such a way that we can also live in God’s life. The Spirit of Jesus is the Spirit of God, is the Spirit who creates a new kind of human world in the midst of the violence and fears of the old world…
What it all comes down to is simply this: to be the church is to be ‘a new kind of human world’. It is to be a new creation.
If we really want to be the body of Christ… if we are not just people who happen to ‘go to church’ or have put our name on a membership list, then it means becoming the body of Christ, the body of God’s word in the world, it means so much more than being a club of people with common beliefs, it means so much more than being ethnically similar, it means more even than being biologically part of the same family. We can pretend there’s no Hutu or Tutsi in us, but the gospel tells us there is. And the alternative is ‘a new kind of human world’… gradually emerging in the world, as we slowly undergo God, as the Spirit that animated Jesus animates us. But regardless how gradual and slow, we need to be very clear, anything less than this is not really church – just religious club, and because its religious its dangerous.
This powerful claim about God’s peacemaking has immediate social implications. Paul has three ways of talking about this new world – the city, the household and the temple – because that was how the world was divided up in those days. The main division was between the public and the private. Men were members of the city, the public world. Enclosed within this public world was the subordinate and private world of the household. Women’s lives were largely restricted to the private world of the household. Women were not citizens. Neither were children or slaves, they were property of the male citizens
Paul says all of you are fellow-citizens with Israel as God’s new city. God’s new public space… but in the same breath he says. You are members of God’s household. The first Christians met together, men and women, to form God’s new city (a new public) in the context of the household. The division between public and private was breaking down….It had to… a new humanity was being formed… not instantly. It took time…
It’s a building process… Paul says you are being built upon a foundation which is Christ… Christ is the source of this new humanity… and you are being built into a temple – a house for God. In our OT reading God responded to the prophet by initially poo pooing the idea of building a ‘house for God’. And of course if a temple is thought of as a kind of shelter for God or a container for God then it is a stupid idea. But there’s another idea… the idea of a meeting place between God and the world… an interface between God’s new creation and the distorted creation. You… says Paul, are being built into that kind of dwelling place for God. In you God will interface with the old creation. You will be the cutting edge of God’s mission to the world. God will dwell spiritually in the world in your life… as the new kind of human world.
You… but only inasmuch as you are in Christ our peacemaker, only in us inasmuch as we depend on and are formed by the peacemaking of Christ will we be the temple of God (the interface between God’s mission and the world)
Do you see the process at work here – we become the church, we become a new form of humanity through, and only through, a process of spiritual transformation in worship of the crucified Christ.
This week Session and Resourcing for Mission met together to decide on a draft budget to put to the congregation and we noticed that close to 50% of our resources for the mission of God go to funding Ministers. What does that say about us? If we are a missional community, why do we spend so much money on Ministers. It’s a lot, and we should ask ourselves whether it’s the right amount… but the only reason we take it so seriously, I would suggest, is that we believe that for us to become church at all and be ‘the new form of humanity’ and participate at the interface between God’s life and that of the world we need to have our life centred in worship of Jesus Christ – God’s word in the world. So we appoint servants of that Word and Sacrament. Without that worshipping center we are lost and so is the world… If we don’t believe that… I don’t think we should put 50% of our mission budget into it. Whether the ministers actually do a good job of centering our life on worship of Jesus Christ is another matter.
Let us go into the darkness to die with Christ… so that we will live in Christ… For in this way… only in this way… will we have access to the Father… through the understanding which is the Word made flesh, in the joy which is the Holy Spirit, for eternity.
Bruce Hamill (St Clair 17.7.09)