Tag Archives: status

Status – or Grace?

There is a comment on the gospel for Lent 5c here.

What is your standing? Or I might ask, What is your status? Are you important? Are you good? Should people take notice of you? Perhaps its not the sort of question we ask very often – at least, not as bluntly as that. Yet some people do seem to be more important than others, and we all have some idea why we might matter.

It’s significant when we look at our 2nd lesson (Philippians 3:4-14), part of Paul’s letter to a church he was fond of, at Philippi in Greece. While he was on good terms with the church and its leaders, it seems there were other teachers – perhaps travelling ones – wanting to insist that Christians lived fully as Jews, and kept the Old Testament law.

Paul gets quite worked up about it. He, of all people, could claim importance in traditional Jewish terms:
no adult convert, he had been born into Jewish faith, a member of a significant family. More than that, he had kept the tradition in its strictest form, as a Pharisee, and even worked against the Church in his enthusiasm.

But see what he says “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ”.

What makes Paul important? Why should people take notice? Nothing about his background, nor his life achievements. He uses that phrase “confidence in the flesh” – not literally his medical status, but the human point of view, the one which rates people as “important” or “not worth the time of day”. He will have no compromise with these “teachers” who want to boast of their lifelong achievement in Jewish good behaviour. Nor will he let the Christians in Philippi adopt this way of thinking.

What does he say? “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” Paul knows that his hope of heaven does not rest on his record of good behaviour, but on forgiveness won by Christ, and on grace – God’s gift. That is so important he will not compromise, or let any forget it.

He goes on to talk about persistence. “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me”. There should be changes in our lives for the better – but the transformation we have to allow, and continue to allow, is by God’s power through the Holy Spirit. It is not an achievement we can boast of.

I don’t know how you think about yourself, or other members of your community. I do know that Christian faith offers a big challenge to the way most people think. For Christians, lots of achievements others rank highly are really not that important, while faith, and a life of obedient service are vital. The Holy Spirit should be seen working on improving us, but that’s God’s achievement, not ours to boast about.
I wonder what the Philippians made of it all. I wonder if it makes sense to you, and whether you will be able to keep it in mind.

Wealth

“What must I do to receive eternal life?” It’s not a common question – I can’t remember being asked it. But that’s odd, for there is much interest in the spiritual, even in God. Obviously Christians are not expected to know the answers! You might want to think about whether that is good or bad.

Jesus is asked the question. (Mark 10:17-31). He refers to the ten commandments. (Exodus 20:1-17 though remember this is the Old Covenant). Commandments can be a problem for many now, who don’t want to be told, but to discover, who don’t want discipline and a consistent life. It is easier to collect religious objects (in your own time) or investigate the oddities of human behaviour (without relationship or commitment) than to live by a Covenant. But this young man at least has some understanding; he has done this, and wants more. Is there an advanced course, a way of proving himself?

Jesus sees the problem, and offers a solution. Sell everything and become a disciple! – but it is too much, and for 2 reasons.

  • The young man is rich; he can’t imagine life without his wealth, and the security, the comfort, the status it offers. Apparently even eternal life is not worth all that.
  • There’s more to it. He wanted to prove himself worthy – and that is not possible. Eternal life or salvation is God’s gift, not an earned reward. His wealth was a barrier getting in the way of his relationships.

When the young man has gone, Jesus warns his disciples about riches. He doesn’t say Christians must be poor, but he says that no-one who relies on wealth can receive salvation. For some of today’s “spiritual” people, that will be a barrier to following Jesus. Wanting their own way, a “designer spirituality”, they will not “follow”.

For some in today’s Churches, that will be a barrier to following Jesus. They want respectability, an endorsement of their social place and status. They would be offended to be told that Christians are sinners who recognise their need for help, and are united in failure, repentance, and salvation – which is a gift that cannot be earned.

Christianity is not flattering. It is not all about what a wonderful and unusually gifted person you are. It is about a God, who is truly awesome, who made us good and gifted – and will get us out of the mess we have made for ourselves.

Christianity is demanding. You can treat it like a hobby, and play with it when you have time or are in the mood. But that won’t do you much good. Christian faith is relationship based. It is not measured by emotion, but by committed action. You love God? Don’t tell me how much; let everybody see how you allow nothing to get in the way of that.

Nothing.

At all.

But first . .

Procrastination – displacement activity. It’s a wonderful way of avoiding doing what is necessary or important by – doing something else. I suspect most of us have done it, and know a good deal about how it feels. Mark (Mark 9:30-37) tells us that Jesus is trying to teach the disciples about (9.31) his betrayal, death and resurrection.  But it is not going in. Instead, they talk about who is most important. Actually, they argue. I suppose it did have some importance – in a difficult situation, who would be the leader? (But the answer is Jesus).

Instead, this is surely what James was talking about. (You may read James 3:13-4:8 as an additional reading.  This is 3.16: “Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil.” It is a case of fights and quarrels rather than good lives showing good deeds, humility and wisdom.

Jesus needs to make a point, and takes a child. Remember that in New Testament times children were not idolised, spoiled and pampered. They were unimportant. So Jesus teaches that the concern for status, rank and recognition has to go in those who would be his disciples. Their reaction is not recorded. Did they understand? Did they agree? It would be fascinating to know – and would distract us nicely from asking if we have understood, and agreed.

I wonder what you think is the greatest single problem faced by Christians today? Militant atheism, political marginalisation, too little money, too few clergy or too many buildings? I don’t think it is any of these things. I suggest that the greatest problem for Christians today is exactly what the disciples had difficulty with in that reading. Jesus was trying to teach them something important, but they couldn’t hear that, and found other things to argue about. We find it difficult to learn, we easily get distracted and make too much of personalities.

The Church has plenty of people, leaders, money, resources – it is the problem of using them to meet the needs (as God sees them, now). You may find it easier to hear from James, whose first readers may have been tempted to revolution as a means of being most important. James is clear that conflict driven by jealousy or a desire for “position” is out; good deeds and humility are the wise – and Godly – way. Or look again at Jesus, becoming a rather lonely figure as the gospel moves on. He will not be distracted from the road to Jerusalem and the Cross. Of course there are thousands of other things he could do – sort out the discples for a start. But he is clear what is important, he has heard, and will go humbly to do what is needed.

I’d like to do the same, but first . .