I need to write a review of Ascension over the last 5 years or so for The British Lutheran. My guess at the moment is that it will be largely a story of the same activities each year but with different people. Ascension’s congregational ‘turnover’ is much quicker than most congregations. It got me thinking about these writings – which I affectionately call ‘blurbs’ and what I’d written over the last 5 years. So choosing the third Sunday in July I went and looked.
In 2010 I wrote about superheroes and how today those in Christ beat death. 2011 heard me ranting against the word ‘passionate’ (everything and everyone is supposed to be ‘passionate’ and presented as somehow sacrificial or genuine or ‘not in it for the money’) when instead I sug-gested that Jesus’ passion is the best counter point for this word. In 2012 I let someone else do the talking quot-ing Martin Luther on Galatians 1:3 and some of this com-ments about grace. In 2013 I reacted to indulgences today – not as critically perhaps as I might be expected to be – but still pointing out that a Lutheran response solely on the Gospel bypasses indulgences all together. And last year could have been this year as I reflected that humour, fashion, morality and law are changing along with much of our world – except possibly our de-sire to love and be loved – hence the gospel is such good news all the time!
And now …? Well, I wouldn’t change much of what I wrote. I might edit it a little differently. But there wasn’t anything I’d written that I simply said, ‘Well, I don’t agree with that!’. I had forgotten some of them and had to read almost to the end to recall what I had written. I remembered the superhero blurb (Sea Urchin Man) because I was stung by them holidaying on the island of Vis (Croatia). But the themes were there implicitly if not explicitly – that God’s love and grace is best declared by Jesus and his cross – that the world is changing (it always has) and we are aliens on it but here to live and serve those around us to the best of our ability all the time – that words are so important for shaping perceptions and realities – and that even (especially?) in the church our words, while opinionated and declaratory, need always to be under The Word Made Flesh and communicated with compassion.
I don’t remember all the sermons I’ve preached, nor all the lessons I’ve taught or Bible Studies. But I do recognise a landscape of reality as I understand it – not of economics or nationalities or occupations – but of sin and grace. This means that I have an orientation to what I think I would have written or said. We can understand people growing up where words are used to love and enrich them and their identity so that they see the world and themselves in a certain way whereas those who have been surrounded by critical or controlling or demeaning words see the world differently. The Bible presents a reality of this world – and of individual lives – a story which includes us – and it is increasingly a battle ground for people because of how they read it – literally, typologically, allegorically, contemporaneously, liturgically, historically, and so on. Those who dispute the Bible still find themselves engaging with it – even if to ridicule it – rather than ignoring it.
I contend that it is the cross of Jesus that is the most central message and focus in all of Scrip-ture. It is the most scandalous, strange, horrific and barbaric moment recorded – and there are many other contenders for that description! But by staying at the cross and viewing everything from there, we are oriented to both the Bible and to living today. We ‘see’ – maybe ‘sense’ is a better word – that God is totally not like us and yet he has become one of us – and that my sin and the misery I cause – individually, socially, even globally (which I excuse or try to excuse) – is serious business. But so is God’s grace. Only the cross keeps both messages in the tension we need for life.