St Bride's: A Point Of View

His state was divine


It's sometimes hard to understand why the letters in the New Testament ever achieved the status they have today.
The letters of Paul in particular were written to specific churches at a stage of their development when they needed encouragement or correction.
They no doubt strayed from the message that had brought them together in the first place, and Paul was at pains to point them in the right direction again.
His hectoring tone when picking up some point of behaviour or doctrine makes one wonder sometimes how these 'occasional' letters found their way into the canon of scripture.
But one has to respect the wisdom of the fourth century Church in including them.
But there are occasions, and we have one today, when the writer's eloquence takes on poetic and prophetic form and leads us back into the central mystery of our faith.
Paul is at pains to encourage the Philippian Christians in charity, humility and self-denial.
And to reinforce his message he launches into a hymn which extols the humility of Christ, who, though in the form of God ...emptied himself, taking the form of a slave... and humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross.
At that stage of the Church's history - and Paul may have taken the hymn from another source - people were already deeply convinced that in this man Jesus was the totality of God's self-emptying to become one of us, to become incarnate.
The promise of salvation - of divine love enfolding humanity - the promise uttered by God himself through the people he had chosen as his own, is brought to fulfilment in this man from Nazareth.
This one act of divine generosity was enough to convince Paul and our other ancestors in the faith that at last God had acted to bring humanity back to himself.
After all, there is no more effective way of expressing love than to be there oneself.
Letters, emails, text messages, even phone calls, are no substitute for the real thing, the presence of the one who declares love.
For Paul, that one single fact of history was enough to bring together a people whose Eucharistic life brought them closer and closer into communion and dialogue with the one who came to them as God's Word of love made flesh.
This, we believe, is still basic, the foundation of our faith, our worship and our common life.
We are still called to acknowledge, to confess Jesus Christ as the Word made flesh, and we shall do so in a few minutes as we recite the Nicene Creed.
Not only are we called to confess our belief in this mystery, but also to live its implications.
The first and most obvious implication for us is that we should be unfeignedly thankful for God's self-revelation and for his redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ.
To do this means to be a truly Eucharistic people, where this assembly stands humbly with Christ before our Father, who loves us so much.
To do this means to begin to return this love and to grow in love for God who has lavished so much on us.
To do this means to trust the God, who in history emptied himself and entered a life of risk and pain for our sake.
The second implication is that we should build community around this mystery of love.
This means recognising that the Church, gathered here and throughout the world, consists of people called together by God to proclaim and live love,
and so by the quality of its common life demonstrate that the love of God, which has brought us together is alive and active here and now.
Love, humility, self-denial, generosity, openness, affirmation, refusal to judge and condemn, willingness to forgive.
The list is endless.
We may have come here by many and devious routes, but it is this one mystery of love incarnate that holds us together in one body.
To work on the quality of our worship and common life is so important, not just for our own well-being but also for us to take seriously the third implication of our belief.
Christ was born in human likeness.
He did not come to love and save a particular nation or ethnic group or social class.
He became one of us.
A human being.
He came to express the love of the Father through him of everyone on earth.
The Church has often had trouble taking on board this universality: for a long time some people thought that Jesus only came to save his own people.
But gradually the universality of the mission was admitted and energised.
It still remains a priority.
The Church still needs, and will always need, a growing edge.
We will still be presented with opportunities to explain to others why we are Christians at all.
Still be invited to lead them to faith.
But how can we do this effectively?
The story Jesus tells in today's Gospel reading reminds the hearers that it is those who actually live and then go and implement the teaching who are doing the will of God.
He was taking issue with those of the religious establishment who said yes to the Law and all it contained and yet in no sense followed its spirit.
It was the ones at the bottom of the heap, the tax collectors and prostitutes who were most open to the message.
The self-righteous, on the other hand, did not believe that they were the recipients of the generosity of God as a free gift.
They believed that they deserved it because they kept the Law.
As missionaries we need to encourage those we meet to perceive in their own lives the closeness of God and his extended hand.
To recognise the love of the self-emptying God in ordinary lives.
It is the job of the Church to help people recognise that they are already close to God, who has drawn close to them.
To help them articulate and live out this divine love in a coherent and dynamic way.
We are not here to wave the Bible at people as if it were a maker's manual, nor to threaten them with hell if they don't turn from their wicked ways.
We are all sinners, all loved by the One who emptied himself for our sake.
And it is to him we gravitate as we move on in this pilgrimage of faith, hope and love.

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