Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflectionsInderjit Bhogal, 2020
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These words are written from the confinement of a prison. What is it to live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel?
There are four key ingredients and movements of the Gospel, namely the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.
First, Incarnation: God is revealed in, and is like Christ
God who is with us is revealed and reflected in the powerless dependence and vulnerability of a new born child born, not in the might of an almighty warrior. Humility is the first characteristic God.
Matthew and Luke record birth narratives. Written in the context of the fall of Jerusalem after AD70, at the height of the power of Caesar who was being proclaimed the Saviour, armed to the teeth, the Gospel writers assert that the Saviour is a helpless, dependent, vulnerable, weapon free refugee child.
A life lived in a manner worthy of the Gospel will be a life lived in the confidence that God is with us, and shares our fragility. It will be a life that is characterised by humility, not oppressive and intimidating behaviour. It will be a life that will make decisions from the perspective of the most vulnerable, and most in danger.
Discern the presence of God in people and places of humility.
Live humbly without being oppressive and intimidating, at home, in church, at work, in community, and you will reflect Christlikeness and the Gospel of Christ.
Secondly, Ministry: Reflecting the hospitable and healing ministry and practice of Christ
The ministry and practice of Christ was characterised by being a healing presence. Jesus had a ministry of healing, not harming or hurting. Jesus lived humbly, and was angry when confronted with hurt and exploitation. He modelled leadership as service.
Jesus’ ministry is revealed as a service of mending hurts, doing good, including the outsider, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, sharing food with the hungry and water with the thirsty. He sought justice for those who were most exposed to exploitation.
We never hear of Jesus carrying any weapons of war in his hands. This is relevant in our world characterised by hurting and harming, and by increased spending on instruments of war. We need medication, and instruments of healing. Turn the spears into pruning hooks. Invest in those things and practices that heal, not in things and practices that harm and hurt.
Our commitments and actions have to be consistent with the ministry and practice of Jesus.
A life lived in the manner worthy of the Gospel will be a healing life not a harmful or hurting life, and will call for this in others. Be a healing presence, not a hurtful one, at home, in church, at work, and in community.
Thirdly, Crucifixion: Reflecting the passion and cost of such a ministry
Marks Gospel was perhaps the first attempt at recording the life of Christ. It does not include the birth narratives, but interprets Christ from the perspective of his suffering and crucifixion. The message of these themes is the recognition that nothing worthwhile is without cost. A ministry of healing and hospitality is not cost free. It makes heavy demands, and is exhausting and painful.
There is a cost involved in exercising the ministry described above. Jesus was tortured and persecuted and rejected. He valued communion with a small community. But Jesus died denied, betrayed and abandoned even by his closest friends. What greater humiliation is there than that?
Living life in a manner worthy of the Gospel will be costly. Expect opposition. However, such a life will be lived in a spirit of service and humility, without seeking to hurt or humiliate others. It is Gospel wisdom that we bear the cross. It is the pathway to resurrection and hope.
Fourthly, Resurrection: Reflecting hope, always
The resurrection stories in the Gospels insist that there are no dead ends. The weightiest obstacles can roll away.
This is modelled in the life and ministry of Christ. He always looked for transformation and the fulness of life in all places and for all people.
Reflect on your life and all the situations in which you feel you are at your wits end, at a dead end, stuck, imprisoned, not sure of which way to turn next. It is perfectly legitimate to puzzle over obstacles (Mark 16:3). Living and serving humbly does not mean you turn away from them, or that you give up in fear and frustration.
According to John’s Gospel (21:1-13), the disciples had laboured hard and had nothing to show for all their efforts, they were ready to give up, but in the wisdom of Christ they were shown a way forward.
A life lived in the manner of the Gospel will embrace the cross and the cost of life, but will always be characterised by hope, even in the worst of circumstances. Do not despair. Live with hope. Help others to do so also.
The Letter to the Philippians insists that we are to live our life in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel, but also that we are to live “side by side” not by ourselves, that’s why we are part of the community of followers of Jesus, with the “mind that was in Christ”. This is the mind that Charles Wesley says is “emptied of all but love”. It will not be a life without difficulty, opposition or conflict, but it will be a life that is not intimidated by opponents [Philippians 1:27-30].
A life lived in the manner of the Gospel has confidence in God who is revealed in Christ’s birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.
It is a life that will not exercise oppression or intimidation. It is a life lived in the confidence that God is with us. It is a life that will give you breath, that will be healing, that will give you strength to bear the cost, and to remain hope full, always.
So live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel, and bring and encourage this lifestyle in all life and reality at local and wider level. You will help to build a better world governed by humility, service, hospitality, healing and hope as opposed to oppression, intimidation and humiliation. It is the pathway of a follower of Christ.
INDERJIT BHOGAL, 9 APRIL 2020
MAUNDY THURSDAY. ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTION OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER (1945)