I was wondering this week whether anyone has a favourite phrase, stanza or verse from a hymn; something that really speaks to them, inspires them, challenges them or comforts them? For me the last verse of Love Divine which includes the words ‘ changed from glory into glory till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise,’ is pretty special. If that what heaven is to look and feel like, my deepest prayer would simply be this: ‘Lord, count me in.’
This week, as I thought about today’s readings I couldn’t help but think about some of the words in that great hymn At the Name of Jesus, in particular some of the words from verses five and six:
‘He is God the Saviour, he is Christ the Lord, ever to be worshipped, trusted and adored.’
‘In your hearts enthrone him; there let him subdue all that is not holy, all that is not true.’
Could it be that these sets of words provide us with two distinct Lent challenges?
In today’s epistle St. Paul informs that the first century Corinth was a highly sceptical place, a place in which true belief, or faith could only be offered on the basis of contingency: ‘for Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom.’ One group – the Jews- were looking only for the God of power and might: a game show God, whose efficacy was dependent on signs and miracles. The other group – the Gentiles – were interested only in the God of philosophy and ideas; hence the emphasis on wisdom. But, the paradox is that both groups had witnessed that for which they were still searching! The ‘sign’ that the Jews couldn’t accept was the cross, and the wisdom that the Greeks couldn’t accept were the very words of Jesus. Words which included the somewhat novel concepts of loving your neighbour and seeing the glory of God in the stranger and the outcast. The evidence was firmly there for Jew and Greek alike, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t see it. The evidence for God is still present but of course many will continue to refuse to see it. Why, we may wonder.
My suggestion is simply this: it is far easier to seek proof for a God that conforms to our existing world view than it is to accept the ‘foolishness’ of a Messiah worthy of being ‘worshipped, trusted and adored’ on the basis of the cross and resurrection. And, of course if we are to truly worship, trust and adore Jesus then the corollary is that we must cease self-worship, self-adoration, self-reliance. To worship, trust and adore Jesus is to reject the great heresies of our day: that only that which can be empirically proven is worth believing in and, that wisdom amounts to buying into a narrative that we are the only true authors of our own destiny. The greatest of all heresies is to measure or judge God by human, rather than divine, standards. The greatest of all heresies gives rise to two problems; either we see ourselves as all powerful or we see ourselves as incapable and somehow not up to scratch.
There is one other great heresy of our day that we need to confront and reject. That is the heresy which states that trade, commerce and economics can sort everything out. This heresy is dangerous because it denies the role and place of the sacred. The market becomes everything. In the gospel reading we are told that the Temple, that great icon of the Jewish faith, was full of people selling ‘cattle, sheep and doves’ and, that this was facilitated by the ‘money-changers.’ Its an unattractive image and it certainly got to Jesus. But, we need to be honest and accept that religion has always sought to collude with the worst aspects of commerce; just think of the pre-reformation sale of indulgences, or the grotesque appeals made by American televangelists, or the false promises made by those who preach a prosperity gospel. All of these sellers of religious rubbish seek to get in the way of an authentic, ‘true’ and ‘holy’ relationship with God, through Jesus. Their heresy is to deliberately, for their own ends, to seek to reduce God to the crudest laws of economics and commerce. The notion that God can be bought is a hideous notion. God did the buying, and the place from which he did it was the cross. You see the peddlers of false religion and secular ideology don’t want you to believe that God loves you without terms and conditions. They don’t want you to believe that God wants you to present yourself before him in all of your weakness and vulnerability. They don’t want you to make Jesus king of your hearts and let him, as the only one ‘ever to be worshipped, trusted and adored,’ ‘subdue all that is not holy, all that is not true,’ for if we do this there will simply be no room left for the shabby promises of pseudo science, popular philosophy, or the ‘because you are worth it’ school of economics.
The peddlers of false religion want you to, like the Jews and the Greeks of Jerusalem and ancient Corinth, to render your faith contingent on scientific data, a highly individualised account of wisdom or, the flimsy notion of economic success. They want you to prove yourself to God. The heresies of our age, it turns out, are the same heresies of the biblical age.
This Lent let us, through our devotion to Jesus, let him ‘subdue’ all within us that is simply neither ‘holy’ or ‘true,’ for only by doing so will be freed from the false ideologies, theologies and heresies that seek to hold us captive, Amen.