Readings 2 Corinthians 4:7-12 and Luke 7:18-23
Fundamental to the Christian faith is the idea that we are meant to imitate Christ. Being a Christian is about following after Jesus, about living in the way of Christ, about seeking first the kingdom of God. After all, being the church is about being the body of Christ. Later in this service we’ll make this explicit when, during communion, we will exchange a refrain that comes from the earliest centuries of Christian practice: receive what you are, become what you receive: the body of Christ.
That’s simple enough, right? The tougher part is asking: what does that look like?
In the gospel reading John the Baptist’s disciples come to Jesus to ask: are you the one we have been waiting for, or should we wait for another? Jesus tells them to witness to what they see and hear. Jesus points to the work, to the way, to the actions of his ministry in the world, far more than he points to his lineage, his identity, his titles. Jesus says, ‘Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them.’
The question for us then, is if this is what Jesus feels is sufficient enough to point to as an answer as to whether he is the Christ… then should this be not also what we point to if someone asks if we are Christians? If someone came and asked, my friend wants to know are you the Christians we have been waiting for or should we wait for another, should we not too say: go and tell them what you have seen and heard… what would we point to in that moment, what can we point as sign and testament of our following after Jesus, our continuing his work, our fidelity to his way, our presence in the world as his body?
Now don’t quake in fear, we don’t have to be able to point to miraculous reversals of ocular degeneration, nor bodies popping out of coffins, but when we look at what lies beneath the miracles and signs Christ points to, we see that it is about actions that restore people to life, restore them to community, restore to them a future in which they can fully participate in society and flourish in abundant life, it is about beating back the forces of death. What are we doing and what can we be doing that performs this same restoration?
How might we, as disciples and a church, create a community in which people find a place to exercise their gifts, feel their worth, and grow into themselves as those called into life by Christ?
How might we, as disciples and a church, walk with and resource those who society has excluded, diminished, or degraded?
How might we, as disciples and a church, be present and open to our neighbours so we may know how to best share of what we have so that new futures may be open to them, so that old fears may pass away?
And how might we, as disciples and a church, proclaim good news to the poor. Jesus highlights this specifically when sending John’s disciples on their way. In many ways it departs from the other items in his list. To say he proclaims good news to the poor, is not to say he preached to the poor… it is to say, that what he had to say was good news to the poor –he concerned himself with their plight, he addressed their needs, and he proclaimed a present and future change, hope, and transformation that was a joy to their ears. Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor: the forgiveness of debts, the coming of jubilee, the reversal of fortunes in which those who were rich would find it nigh impossible to enter the kingdom of God while those wasting away on the streets would be invited into the great banquet. Jesus proclaimed good news to the poor and went and found Zacchaeus and through ministering to him provoked him to return what he had taken from the poor. What might we already be saying, and what might we have to say and do, in order proclaim good news to the poor?
As the rhetoric of church decline has increased in prominence these past decades, so too has rhetoric of growth. Yet too often the picture painted of growth is far too narrow, too disconnected from what Jesus himself pointed to and demonstrated as a sign of the vibrancy and vitality of his ministry. As we, like many churches, wrestle with our past, present, and future, as we too yearn to be vibrant and vital, as we seek to be the body of Christ, we need to ask ourselves how we would answer the question posed by John’s disciples… they ask Jesus: are you the one… are you the Christ? And we have seen what Jesus points to… when we are asked (or ask ourselves) are you Christ’s? Are you his ones? What will we point to, what could we point to, what have people seen and heard? This question is always posed as an opportunity and invitation, never a condemnation or guilt-trip.
As we consider and reconsider our response – if we should ever feel daunted or insufficient for the task - we do well to remind ourselves, as Paul reminded the church in Corinth: we have a treasure! We have the gospel, the good news of God’s live and Christ’s victory! – and in this treasure we have a great power from God. And this power exists in the clay jars of people… in normal, ordinary, every day, still figuring it out people you and me… That is where the treasure of Christ’s gospel is housed, that is where God’s extraordinary power rests. Our body carries Christ’s death, so that his life may be made visible in it as well. While death is upon our mortal flesh (and while decline is upon our churches) that is not all that is there, no! we may be afflicted but we are not crushed. For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our body. Christ’s life is in you – and so we follow after, and so we imitate, so that when people see and hear what it is we are doing … and see that we are but clay jars, they will know that the power to do what we do comes from the One who sent us, the One who redeemed us, the One who sustains us. Because of him, we are and will… so let us receive what we are, and become what we receive: the body of Christ.
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