“Truly you are to me like a deceitful brook, like waters that fail.”
“Do not claim to be wiser than you are.”
“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”
According to Cardinal Newman, Incarnation (God in human flesh) is the most unique of all Christian teachings, and today we see why: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands off the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Incarnation (and for that matter resurrection!) inescapably involves suffering and death.
Matthew introduces the prediction of Jesus’ death with these word: “From that time on….” But, from what time? In the previous verse, Jesus sternly commands his disciples to keep his identity secret. He didn’t want his identity as “the Christ” known.
We know from what Matthew says that the disclosure of Jesus’ impending death was unwelcomed. In fact Peter publically rebuked (dishonored?) Jesus for saying such things. In words rich with ironic tension, Peter admonishes Jesus and says, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But, of course, in speaking this way, Peter is addressing both God and Lord, demanding (in a sense) that God forbid God from doing what God must do.
As such, Peter speaks for us when we command God to damn this or that, as though the Lord of the universe were at our beck and call. Peter speaks for us when we swear an oath, use the Lord’s Name in careless fashion, and thereby imply that God serves us, and not the other way round.
Peter rebukes Jesus, and an argument ensues in which Jesus famously utters his ad hominem attack: “Get behind me Satan! You are not on the side of God, but of men.” Here more gently translated, “You are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.”
But who wouldn’t? I mean, what human being wouldn’t set their mind on things human? How could they do otherwise? Who wouldn’t try to prevent their friend from suffering and death? And especially if that friend had just been revealed as “the Messiah,” the Christ? It seems reasonable to assume that “Messiah” means privilege and protection from the kind of atrocity Jesus foretells. Why wouldn’t Peter and God protect the Messiah? Wouldn’t it be a “divine thing” to preserve the life of Christ? Why does Jesus attack Peter as “Satan” when Peter simply warns Jesus against suffering and death?
Satan, of course, is another name for “the Devil,” the Tempter, the fallen angel who at least biblically works to thwart the will of God. When Jesus says he must go to Jerusalem, suffer many things, be put to death, and be raised, it’s the must that troubles; it indicates divine volition—the will of God. In other words, Jesus foretells God’s intention and, from what little we know of God, at least we know that what God intends comes to pass. The creation is, therefore, no accident—but the direct consequence and manifestation of God’s will. So also, our own presence: we, too, may be viewed as direct manifestations of God’s mind, God’s will, God’s intention worked out in created stuff. The same may be said of the whole creation: the earth, seas, sky, planets, sun, moon, and stars in their orbits. This is all well and good.
And yet….Something’s not right. In fact, a lot seems wrong. And I don’t refer merely to public wrongs like Assad’s Syria and ISSIS, and murder by drone, and murder by beheading, and murder by inaction, and murder by starvation, and murder in Fitchburg. Why is it generally so much easier to see public wrongs than private ones? Why is it so much easier for me to see your wrongs than it is for me to see my own?
The problem seems more subtle than the obvious wrongs of murder, and rape, and violence in every shade of gray. Why, after all, did Jesus prohibit his friends from telling people he was the Christ? Then, too, why did there even need to be a Christ? And why must there be secrets? Never mind a messianic secret. More to the point, why do I have secrets? And, here things may begin to get a bit uncomfortable, why do you have secrets? And why do we feel the need to keep secret things about ourselves—certain uncomfortable things—things that are only too human and probably not divine? Or are they? Incarnation muddies the waters. Now that God has become human flesh, exactly what things are human and what things divine?
But, of course, at least in part Incarnation means God knows our secrets—all of them, and not only the things we do, but the things we don’t do; and the things we imagine and the things we refuse to imagine. Hence, Jeremiah’s laments—complaints to God. This is the surest sign of Jeremiah’s fidelity as a prophet: he complains to God, tells God off, accuses God of being fickle, and false, and untrue. When, all along, God is true, but hidden as false; revealed, but under opposites; merciful, but just; loving, but hard—the Rock, the Mighty Fortress, the Powerful weakness. The God who forbids murder yet saves the world by the murder of his Son. The God who rules the world in timeless order, yet enters the world in disorder. The God who is good, yet suffers our evil. The God who is powerful, but comes to us in the weakness of a child, a rejected and crucified Jew; comes to us not in condemnation only, but as the Condemned, as the Damned, and the Dead in order to deliver us from the very condemnation, damnation, and death we inflict upon him.
After all, the story does not end with “Get behind me Satan,” but with the crucified Christ raised on the third day; not with the resurrection of the condemned Christ only, but with the promise of our resurrection as well. Sermons end. Our sin ends. Our lives end. But resurrection is the end-beginning that has no end. Resurrection is where the story both ends and begins. Therefore, in light of Christ’s risen flesh, we are free to deny our flesh, take up the cross, and follow him. All that we might both die and live in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
1 Corinthians 12:27-21a
“Indeed the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”
“But strive for the greater gifts…..”
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Christ’s incarnation informed Last Sunday’s sermon—and especially some of incarnation’s more troubling dimensions: like, for instance, Nazareth. Today’s Gospel asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Well, yes: Jesus Nazareth, the crucified and risen Jew. But his goodness is not the whole story. A first century Jew, he bears some (if not all) the marks of racial, gender, and religious bias toward gentiles, women, and Pharisees. Last week, we heard that the incarnation of Christ involves everything human—even the ugly stuff. You may recall the Canaanite woman and Jesus referring to her and her people as “dogs” with whom it would be unfair to share the children (of Israel’s) bread; you may recall the woman’s subversive response to Christ’s offensive language; how she parries Jesus’ slur to reveal divine subversion in surprising terms: “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from their masters’ tables.” God’s grace abounds even in ugliness.
The readings for St. Bartholomew’s Day advance the incarnation argument: “Now you are the body of Christ, and individual members.” Not only has God entered history as a human person, a man, Jesus of Nazareth. Now, says St. Paul, the baptized assembly of believers is the incarnate body of Christ. In other words, Christ’s incarnation is not diminished by death, but by his resurrection, is now extended in the Eucharistic assembly: “You are the body of Christ, and individual members.”
What does this have to do with St. Bartholomew? Last Wednesday’s Bible Study observed that none of today’s readings mention Bartholomew. Though unmentioned in John’s Gospel, Bartholomew is listed among the apostles in the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts, and usually next to Philip. Why, then, not read from those citations? Moreover, in St. John’s Gospel, the person Philip found and told of Jesus is not named “Bartholomew,” but “Nathanael.” What gives?
Throughout the centuries, many have suspected that John’s Nathanael is Bartholomew in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Acts. Be that as it may, as Professor Barrett might have said, whether named Bartholomew or Nathanael, the person in question was known to Jesus and associated with him.
Moreover, at least in John’s Gospel (as “Nathanael”), he exhibits a kind of brash courage. As he approaches, Jesus says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” At this, (we shall call him “Bartholomew”) he inquires, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus tells him, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” In astonished reply, Bartholomew says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus apparently finds such assertions surprising. He asks, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree?” He then promises, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angles of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
At least since St. Augustine, commentators have noted parallels between this saying and Genesis 28.12, “the angels of God ascending and descending” on Jacob’s ladder. That is, Augustine and others have noted the parallel between angels ascending and descending both in Jesus’ promise to Bartholomew and in Jacob’s dream. But it’s also remarkable that the Genesis dream includes these words, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your descendants.” In addition to angels ascending and descending, both passages bear divine identity: in Genesis, the Lord (“I am” the God of your fathers) identifies himself to Jacob; and in John Bartholomew identifies Jesus as “Son of God” and “King of Israel,” that is, as “Messiah.” In other words, John seems to use the Genesis reference to confirm Bartholomew’s confession of Jesus as “Son of God” and “Messiah.” Moreover, the citation may argue that the God of all creation enters human life and history at precarious times, and by unlikely means: Jacob, fleeing his brother’s wrath; Jesus of Nazareth suffering rejection and crucifixion.
Bartholomew was apparently well acquainted with Christ’s precarious life. Some traditions hold that he was martyred in Armenia; flayed alive, and crucified upside down (some say he may have been beheaded). In any case, by his suffering, and death, Bartholomew bore witness to Jesus of Nazareth: “the Son of God,” and “Messiah of Israel.” Tradition also says that Bartholomew made it all the way to India and there preached Christ before suffering martyrdom. Over the centuries, various relics of Bartholomew’s mutilated body found their way into the faith and devotion of the medieval church. So that, whether in Canterbury (an arm), or in Frankfurt (fragments of skull), or Rome (remaining members) Christians have venerated Bartholomew as an example of faithful courage and witness to the crucified Jesus of (unlikely!) Nazareth: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Astonishingly, yes: the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, at length, the church.
What does it mean to be the church? What does it mean to be an apostle? What does it mean to be a Christian? If Jesus of Nazareth is both “Son of God,” “King of Israel” (Messiah), it means the church is the body of Christ enfleshed in us for the sake of the world. If Jesus of Nazareth is the crucified and risen “Son of God” and Messiah, Paul says the church is more than a club, more than a religious organization. If Jesus of Nazareth is “the Son of God” and the “Messiah of Israel,” then the Church is not only the collective body of Christ; the Apostle says we—you and I—are individual members of Christ—we—you and I—are members of Christ’s crucified and risen body. By means of our flesh, our witness, our action, our behavior, our prayers, our service, our song, our kneeling and receiving bread and wine that Jesus Christ is incarnate for the life of the whole inhabited world. Something good can come out of Nazareth! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Isaiah 56:1, 6-8
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28
“Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed.”
“God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew…For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
In reply to Jesus, the Canaanite woman speaks from below, and gives voice to the Word of God. To the Son of Mary-Son of God, the woman says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” In accepting the Lord’s dictum (“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”), the woman subverts him who is Subversion itself. He who “humbled himself taking the form of a servant and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross,” the One who is Humility himself, the Source of all service, finds himself both humbled and served by a woman more humble and servile than himself—a gentile woman with no claim to the treasury of God’s promises. The Rabbi demeans her, yet she devours his demeaning crumbs. She tastes in them her daughter’s health, the food of salvation, all the riches of heaven, Israel’s hope now extended to all the gentile world in the crucified arms of Christ.
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” We feel the bite in these vicious words. They attack with the violence of a rabid dog. Yet, the demeaning and dismissive words are true: it is not fair to give away Israel’s inheritance to non-Jews. God has promised gifts (here characterized as “food”) to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the people of Israel, the Jews—promised to Israel and none other. Of the Jews, his own people, the Apostle writes in Romans 9, “…to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh is the Christ.”
It’s shocking to hear Jesus speak as a first century Jew. He addresses the Canaanite woman as a Jewish man, according to the flesh. The woman pleads for mercy, but receives derision . She says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” In reply, Jesus sounds more like Benjamin Netanyahu than the merciful savior we take for granted. A first century Jew, Jesus sounds like a 21st century Israeli general overrunning Gaza: he juxtaposes “the children” with “the dogs.” He identifies with the figurative household, citizen-heirs over and against animals, domestic beasts, serving as first century floor-washers and garbage collectors.
We speak of “Incarnation” in abstracted, theoretical terms, as though Mary’s child, the Son of God, didn’t sweat, know the body’s stink, the stench of defecation, the confusion of puberty, the pain of loneliness, the ugliness of racial and ethnic slurs, the bitterness of human brutality, the morbid weariness of thirst, nausea, vomit, and loss—the sickness unto death. But it cannot be so.
When the Creed says “he became truly human,” it means all this and more. The enfleshment of Christ as Jesus of Nazareth completely involves everything it means to be human, including all the distasteful, painful, and ugly things associated with our alienation and death. That Christ was “without sin,” cannot mean that Jesus was always nice, or that he never stank, or that he didn’t enjoy a bit of cheap, distasteful, and inappropriate fun at the expense of someone else, someone different from himself—and especially at the expense of gentiles, women, and particularly religious people. If there’s anything clear about Jesus, he irritated religious people. It was necessary that he do so. Otherwise, the religious people wouldn’t have wanted him dead. It’s necessary for Jesus to offend us that he might save us. God puts us to death in order to raise us, makes us “dogs” in order to make us truly human. If Jesus doesn’t irritate us, if he doesn’t get under our skin, we cannot partake of his skin, his flesh and blood, the crumbs of his salvation falling from his table for us and for all the gentile world. There is, after all, a gentile world.
Last month, my wife and I took our daughter and her family—here husband, and their two children (Helena, and Cyrus) out to dinner at Halong Bay on Willy Street. Filled to capacity and overflowing with good food, the place was noisy: conversation filled the room as folks from across the ethic spectrum talked and exchanged views on all sorts of stuff. A table next to ours buzzed with argument about Israel/Palestine or, perhaps, I should say, about Palestine/Israel. In any case, interspersed between dissertations of heated opinion, we overheard phrases like “the Islamic world,” “the Jewish question,” “Zionist zealots,” and “Islamo-fascists.” Toward the end of the meal, our grandchildren grew restless and, while Marcia paid the bill, I took Helena for a walk. At three and a half, she’s fascinated by trees and flowers; she tries to name everything that catches her eye. Suddenly, while identifying a hosta, she turned and asked, “Grandpa, what is the Islamic world? Do you understand the Islamic world?” I told her I did not understand it, but that such words separate us from our neighbors. Disinterested in my speech, Helena turned back to her hostas even before I got completely lost failing to understand the Islamic world.
Before God there is only one world. But in our minds there are many, each bearing testimony to countless exclusive claims: the Lutheran Church, White Privilege, the Black Community, Gay Pride, the Jewish State, Sharia law, Male Dominance. These name but a few of our persistent means of separating ourselves from the others we are not. Yet, for the Church, only one distinction holds: the Jews, the original people of God. Here alone, primacy means first among equals, and all on account of Christ.
A first century Jew, the man, a human being of his own time, is the timeless Person for all people, all times, all communities. Even in error, prejudice, and pride, he bears God’s mercy for all. By him—even by his wrongness—we and all other non-Jews receive access to the irrevocable gifts God has promised to the Jews—and now to us gentiles. Christ is all for all, but always at his own expense. It’s true: even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. Therefore, we pray, “Lord, give us these crumbs; that all might receive them,” in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
1 Kings 19:9-18
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
1 Kings 3.5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
“Give your servant an understanding mind….”
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”
In her posthumously published Prayer Journal, Flannery O’Connor writes, “My dear God, how stupid we people are until You give us something. Even in praying it is You who have to pray in us.” Even as a young woman, O’Connor sensed that the Lord prays in and for us.
At a recent gathering of local pastors, one of my colleagues noted a disjunction between ways in which the national church records parish data and ways in which local congregations actually experience the church such data are meant to record. The pastor said, “We simply don’t have an appropriate metric for information we need to convey.” We don’t have an appropriate metric, an appropriate measure, an apt quantifier, a numeric means to express the church.
We clergy come late to parties. Just when the rest of western culture has begun to show signs of suspicion regarding omniscient claims for quantification, the numeric expression of meaning, clergy grow smitten with the idea of a metric to quantify the poetic, to measure metaphor by number. As Joseph Stalin apparently observed: “Quantity has a quality all its own;” quantity’s quality seduces. Bigger trumps smaller, a larger church outshines a smaller one. How much church do we need? One pound? Two meters? Four light-years? Perhaps 3, 7, 12, or, maybe, 666 ecclesial cubits? I suspect that at the heart of a tendency to quantify the church lurks a bias such as, well, God is, you know, “BIG.” “God is really BIG.” Therefore, the church must be big too, and the bigger the better.
Then cometh the mustard seed. Why does Jesus choose a mustard seed to illustrate the kingdom of heaven? Mustard seeds are small, unimpressive, and plain. Jesus says they’re the smallest of all seeds. How small? He doesn’t provide a botanic metric. Jesus is not a botanist; he intends more than science, more than quantified meaning. He means that, in eternity, small will trump big.
Mustard seeds are small—whether smallest of all is of no matter. What matters to Jesus is that, though small, a mustard seed, nonetheless, grows to become a large and useful shrub—a bush providing shelter for birds. Hence, the kingdom of heaven may be likened to a small thing which grows into something sufficient to provide protection for other small things, like birds, babies and all death-plagued creatures.
No matter how you cut it, Jesus likens the kingdom of heaven to a small thing helpful to other little things of apparently meager import. Even the largest bird is small compared to a fighter jet, a military transport, or even a Malaysian airliner. Oddly, at 33,000 feet, it may have been easier to bring down a Malaysian airliner with a surface to air missile, than, even the largest of birds. Smaller things generally have greater capacity to hide.
Be that as it tragically may be, the fact remains that Jesus does not offer impressive statistics to illustrate the kingdom of heaven, but rather something tiny: the homely little mustard seed. In a world of terrible power, amid cultures of imperial strength and clashing world views, the Lord’s reign is unimpressive, puny, and short-lived. Most of the empires of imperial history (the Roman, the British, the Vedic, the Ming, the Ottoman, the Ptolemaic, the Silla, the Ethiopian, the Incan) managed to survive several decades, and some for several centuries. Yet a mustard shrub lives but a brief time and is gone. As compared to a phenomenon like the Roman Empire, a mustard seed is weak—next to nothing—like the kingdom of heaven. Yet “next to nothing” may be more than all our earthly powers combined.
St. Paul says, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” The Spirit helps us not in our strength, but in our weakness. Paul’s little dictum is at home with tiny things, birds, and babies like Johanna; dismissed by the grand and glorious, Paul’s insight is treasured by the least, the little, and the last.
Of course, we can hardly expect the powers of earth to find solace in a spirit of weakness, a teaching that locates greatest hope in deepest weakness, an ethic that acts not on a wealth of strength, but on a poverty of weakness. That would be like asking the bank to loan us money according to our inability to pay it back; like the Packers drafting players based on their disability, inexperience, and lack of winning; it would be like hiring chief executives and generals not according to their superior knowledge, financial clout, and successful track record, but on account of their extensive and repeated failures. How long would Badger Nation praise Coach Anderson if instead of recruiting the biggest, the fastest, and the most decorated, he recruited the smallest, the slowest, and the unrecognized?
Badgers and Packers aside, the kingdom of heaven is alien not only to football, but to all other human endeavors as well. The Spirit helps us in our weakness precisely because in our weakness the Spirit can help us. In our strength, success, and power, we have no awareness of the Spirit, but only of our own spirits. We ourselves are the biggest impediment to God’s Spirit, not because we are stronger than the Spirit, but because we think we are. Unlike Solomon, we refuse to ask for understanding because we think we already possess it; and, clearly, if we think we understand God, we don’t.
“We do not know how to pray as we ought,” precisely because when we are powerful (or think we are), we have no need of proper prayer, no awareness of our need of God, no insight into our total dependence, no proper sense of limit, loss, and liability—liability not merely to civil and criminal courts, but liability to eternal judgment. Awareness of the Lord’s judgment gives desire for the Lord’s grace. Awareness of our weakness reveals our need of Christ. Christ is our strength in weakness before the very God who made us; the One who can erase us with a word; who, amid death and decay, gives us life and hope through the death and resurrection of Christ—the grace to confess and believe. And what is faith? Little more than a drop of water on a tiny child; a mustard seed—not even that—and yet more than enough; more than all, until the Lord gives us something—even something small. Thanks be to God.
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
“Thus says the Lord…I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”
“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
“‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has cone this.’”
On Ascension Day the college chapel was full and, as I was nearly late, I was self-conscious on entering. Except for soccer matches the English are seldom loud, and a college chapel at 7:30 in the morning is no exception. I found one of the few vacant places and sat down. Just opposite me sat a woman dressed as a priest: only this woman wore purple: the color of bishops—a sight I had never before seen in the Church of England. I recognized her as someone with whom I had exchanged e-mails years ago concerning John Henry Newman. In any case, she had become a bishop in New Zealand, and was in Oxford for meetings. A female bishop! I was astonished and, as I think her a fine church theologian, I was pleased—pleased for her and pleased for the church. Then, this past week, the Church of England voted to consecrate women as bishops. Most, but not all, were pleased.
“The church has left me forever.” So wrote a friend last Monday. His church, the Church of England, had made a decision with which he had publically and rather stridently disagreed, and (as a result) he felt abandoned. Never mind the substance of the decision (to ordain women as bishops), a decision with which I happen to agree. But never mind that. Think instead of the assertion that “The church has left me,” and worse still, “The church has left me forever.” Can the church leave us, leave us forever, and still be the church?
I do not find fault with my old friend. In the fullness of time, he may be revealed as correct in his rather subtle and strongly held views. He is a traditionalist in some of the best (and perhaps most fervent) senses of that word. And, it must be said, the one holy catholic and apostolic church must (in order to be itself) bear the burden of Tradition. After all, it’s by Tradition that the Apostle Paul hands on the Gospel, even as by Tradition Judaism handed on (and hands on) the Law and the Prophets, without which there can be neither Gospel nor Church. Thus, arguments over Tradition (whether large T or small) take on greater or lesser weight depending on whether or not one believes the issues at stake lay claim to capital T authority.
I, for one, do not believe that the question of women as bishops rises to the level of “capital T” authority—the non-negotiable elements of faith referenced, for instance, in the Creeds, the sacraments, the judgment and grace of Christ himself. But I could be wrong about this, as I have often been wrong about other things, both factual and intellectual. If there’s one thing about which I’m certain it’s my own uncertainty in relation to tradition beyond Christ himself, his sacramental presence within the life-work of the Holy Trinity. What this means in relation to a whole host of issues, I cannot with certainty say. But I hope and pray that such change is both good and holy, and those for whom such issues pose disaffection might be given the patience to endure them in hope.
Of course, I should like to speak with certainty concerning many questions, issues, and uncertainties beyond the elemental truths of the Trinitarian-Christ tradition. But the hard truth is I cannot. This, among other things, is what Paul struggles with in the 8th chapter of his Letter to the Romans. In today’s Second Lesson, Paul writes, “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” These hopeful assertions follow Paul’s distinction between “the flesh” and “the Spirit.” He exhorts us to live not “to the flesh,” but “by the Spirit.” Paul assures us that in Baptism we have been adopted as “children of God,” and that as God’s children we are “heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if in fact we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”
I’m not entirely clear what Paul means when he juxtaposes suffering with [Christ] and being “glorified with him,” but he seems to link suffering (or perhaps struggle) with hope. He goes on to speak of suffering in connection with the whole creation’s waiting “in eager longing” for the revealing of the children of God. He says the creation suffers in “futility” in the hope that it will be set free from bondage to decay, and then obtain the glorious freedom of God’s children—that is, I think, freedom from sin and death.
What’s all this have to do with Tradition, uncertainty, and hope? Just this: our struggles to make sense of life and faith, our yearning to have now what is not yet, our longing for the end of suffering and the fulfillment of joy—these struggles are elemental not only to Christians, but to creation itself. Such struggle is elemental to us and to all. Baptized, we’re joined to and reveal the struggle of Christ’s death and resurrection. We can’t have one without the other. Christ’s life bears no perfection apart from the perfect imperfection of his wounded life; no fulfillment without longing; no joy without sorrow, no life without struggle, pain, and death.
Death, of course, is certain. We know for certain we must die. We do not baptize Benjamin Lawrence because he thereby avoids death, but because the Christ who has died and been raised, promises to raise Benjamin and us from the futility of death and decay.
“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” We are impatient for fulfillment. We do not yet know Christ’s resurrection as certain. Without the certainty of sight, our hope remains uncertain. Our lives are fraught with the certainty of suffering and death. The whole creation writhes in pain. Yet the Spirit gives hope. By means of water, bread, wine, and the sight of struggling people like ourselves sharing in Christ by simple sacramental means, we have hope. In this hope we baptize Benjamin Lawrence. In this hope we eat bread and drink wine. In this hope we await the restoration of all things, the glorious freedom of the children of God—adoption, the redemption of our bodies, the sight and certainty for which we long. Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Neither he nor his church will leave us. Amen. Come Lord Jesus. We wait with patience.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30