Monday, March 26, 2012

Cash 4 Jesus?

Having followed the news of Peter Cruddas' implication that he could grant private individuals access to the Prime Minister, David Cameron for a substantial fee... and the subsequent furore surrounding that story, I found the reading set for yesterday's sermon both highly appropriate and ironic:
"Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honour the one who serves me.
“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”
Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.
Jesus said, “This voice was for your benefit, not mine. Now is the time for judgement on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die."
John 12:20-32
This passage is an important one for Christians because it marks a turning point. Jesus, realising that his message and teaching is at last reaching beyond the sphere of the Jews, commits himself to the path ahead... the path of the cross.

Jesus then goes on to talk with double meaning. He speaks in terms of a kernel of wheat falling to the ground and dying that a plentiful harvest can come from its sacrifice. At first it seems he is talking about his own sacrifice but he makes it clear that anyone serving him, must follow him. As a wise person once said... the trouble with Easter Sunday is that you have to go through Good Friday first.  In order for Jesus to be resurrected... he had to die first.

Similarly, the trouble with Christianity is that in order for us to be born into the kingdom of Heaven, we need to die to ourselves... and the aim of every Christian should be that we become more Christlike. In the modern world the expression "born again" (taken from Jesus words to Nicodemus in John 3), quickly rose to prominence... and for some has even become a cliché. Sadly, some wear it as a badge in a manner akin to a Marks and Spencer advert... "I'm not just a Christian, I'm a born again Christian".

We need to constantly remember that anybody who is a Christian is by definition, born again. For as the apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians: "if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new, has come!"

"Born again" isn't a badge that marks a better breed of Christian. It is our actions and attitudes that are our badge. Jesus used an analogy of a tree to illustrate this principle - good trees produce good fruit, bad trees produce bad fruit. We can give ourselves as many names and titles as we like... but if we aren't living in a manner that demonstrates Christ's attitudes to the watching world, then we aren't producing fruit in keeping with salvation.

Even then, what do non-Christians make of the concept of dying to oneself? Putting myself in the mind of an outsider for a moment... I can see how the idea might terrify some. Without proper explanation it might seem like dying to Christ or being born again is an experience akin to being assimilated by the Borg from the  Star Trek universe - having all trace of individuality and personality erased and becoming a mindless army of automatons... clones of an invisible God.

Is that really the Christian experience? Is it yours? Is it mine? I'd argue that this isn't the case at all. Yes we are all one body, we are all unified by one Spirit and we are all being called to walk in the footsteps of the same Jesus. Yet we are all called from different cultures, different places and different experiences. None of us shares the same walk with Christ and we actually have a diverse heritage albeit bound by a common belief. When you look at a great work of art, you see one painting but each brush stroke is different. Whether it is the colour, the breadth, depth or length of the stroke... no two parts of a single painting are the same. The artist is usually conveying only a small number of messages but they have expressed themselves in a manifold number of ways in order to achieve that goal.

In my opinion it is the same with Christianity. We are the embodiment of a single message - the Gospel, but we are different expressions on the canvas of how that message is portrayed.

So how much does a meeting with Jesus cost? How much do you need to put into the collection plate in order to guarantee an audience?

If the Sunday Times investigation is to be believed, if you want to meet David Cameron it will cost you a amoral and outrageous £250,000 as a donor to get into the "Premier League".

Indeed, the established church in medieval times seemed to operate a similar scheme - cough up for a monastery here and a chapel there... and if you were lucky, the prayers and chants of the monks and choirs who worshipped there would reach heaven and you *might* just have a shot at eventually meeting Jesus.

But if the passage above tells us anything... it is that just like the Greeks it will cost you absolutely  nothing at all to meet with Jesus and speak with him... NOTHING.
Conversations with Jesus won't cost you £250,000 in Church donations.
You cannot buy Jesus... and if you do decide you want to meet him, the cost has already been met by his death on the cross.

There is one caveat though. There is a paradox: A meeting with Jesus has the potential to alter and transform your life in an infinite number of ways (all of them beneficial), so in as much as it costs nothing, an encounter with Christ will cost you EVERYTHING.

So Jesus costs NOTHING and EVERYTHING but I promise every "penny" is worth it.

Some things for you to ponder:
  • Is the term "Born Again" helpful to you... or is it a cliché?
  • Is your experience of Christianity more "Borg" or "Federation" (Autonomous vs Diverse)?
  • How much has meeting Jesus cost you?

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