Ezekiel 17:22-24; 2 Corinthians 5: 6-17; Mark 4: 26-34.
The central theme of our readings today is the contrast between outward appearances and God’s strange hidden design.
It is the theme of the mustard seed and more pertinently for us as Christians it forms the basis of what Paul was telling the Corinthians that there is a difference between how things appear to Christians and how they appear to non-Christians.
Paul himself initially saw the death of Jesus from a merely human perspective – perhaps as a common criminal or a fool. It was only later, after the dramatic road to Damascus encounter with the risen Christ that Paul learned to see Jesus and his death through the eyes of faith and hope….through God’s eyes.
Paul explains the change in perception of Jesus’ death with the phrase “one has died for all”.
However one unpacks that short statement, it certainly means that we are all, as believers, bound up in Jesus’ death, not just as a historical fact but a living present reality.
As believers, our lives are bound to Jesus Christ.
We say in our liturgies don’t we….”We have died with Christ” because we share in that death; but dying with Christ is only half the story of course.
Because we died with Christ we will also share in his resurrection, not just as a future hope – pie in the sky when you die – but as a present reality.
That is how Paul can write that” if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation, everything old has passed away, see everything is new”
This is part of the joy of the gospel : knowing our personal connection to Christ : which we describe using words and phrases, like being saved; healed; or as Jesus described it - “born again of the Spirit”.
This is the good news, the gospel – the only reason that this church or any other church is here. We are bearers and purveyors of that life changing gospel. As this is my first sermon in the Raleigh Mission Community there may be people wanting to know what kind of Christian I am.
So I ‘m going to tell you. The terms I am going to use to describe myself have been appropriated and emphasised by various groups and parties within the church and turned into nouns as in I am an evangelical, or I am a Catholic or I am a charismatic but what I want to say is that these terms are not nouns but adjectives and they are normative for all Christians; We have taken purely normative descriptive terms for all Christians and perversely use them to divide us into warring factions.
So I am not “an evangelical”, I am an evangelical Christian. What does that mean? That means that I believe in the truth of the gospel “the good news” that Jesus lived, died and rose again for us all as Paul states in our reading today. I believe in salvation by faith in God’s grace. It is fundamental and normative to being a Christian. You cannot call yourself a Christian unless you believe in the gospel, so all Christians have to be Evangelical.
I am not “a charismatic” (noun) I am a Charismatic (adjective) Christian. What does that mean? That means that you believe that Jesus asked the Father to pour out his Spirit on all who believe and that the point of that is as Jesus said “To go and bear fruit in accordance with the Spirit”. To seek the guidance of the Spirit in all things, in our lives, through other people, in the Bible and to open oneself to growing the fruits and gifts (the charisms) of the Spirit because Christianity is a transformative, distinctive force and again is normative for being a Christian. You are a charismatic Christian if you believe you have access to God’s Holy Spirit. Christians believe that God is with us now, that we have access to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is normative for being a Christian to be charismatic.
I am a born again Christian. Jesus said that you can’t see the kingdom of God unless you are born again. You are born again as John’s gospel says in his gospel when you acknowledge God as Father. Everyone who prays “Our Father who art in heaven” and means it in their heart is born again.
I am a catholic Christian. I believe that the worldwide church in all its various denominations is one! Why? Because we are bound together by one God and one Spirit and in John 17 Jesus prays that we would be one. He wasn’t taking about ecumenism because there wasn’t even a church then let alone the thousands of different sub-sections of it we have today. He was talking about something far more fundamental – the Unity between God and his children bound together by the Spirit. This again is normative. This describes you if you believe in one God, one church, one baptism. You are a catholic Christian.
I am Orthodox. I believe in having right beliefs or right opinions when it comes to faith. In religious terms it means conforming to the truths declared especially in the creed of the ecumenical council at Nicaea. Yes it has been adulterated by Rome since then and has thus split the Western church off from the East (and we can argue about that) but apart from that clause we accept the Nicene creed as a fundamental statement of belief.
A Christian is necessarily a born again, evangelical, charismatic, catholic, Orthodox Christian. This is me and this is you. This is us. This is the substance of our faith.
Things like high church or low church, kneeling or waving your hands in the air, robes or casual, incense, bells, are all just man-made traditions. They are just human forms, not the substance of our faith I have been describing.
Those forms are simply means to an end – the end is the substance of our faith. Manmade forms divide the churches. We have three slightly different traditions within the Raleigh Mission Community itself but I have never heard it said that the others aren’t Christians because they don’t do things like we have always done it.
Let’s not fall into the trap laid bare for us in the Bible today. Don’t discern just by outward appearances. Look at the heart. Look at the substance, not at the outward form. That’s what Jesus did.