Monday, August 01, 2011

Being Exalted and Being Brought Low

Acts 1.6-14

John 17.1-11

The editor of a French news magazine said that very rarely in the history of a modern democracy has someone fallen so far so fast. In the matter of a few hours Professor Dominique Strauss-Kahn went from the being the director general of the International Monetary Fund, and a popular contestant for the French presidency, to being a prisoner in solitary confinement in the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York.

Let’s put to one side the question of whether he is innocent or guilty. Until now he seemed to belong to an untouchable elite of people destined to lead a wonderful life, but these contrasting pictures of him remind us that none of us is immune from things going wrong in our lives.

In our first service this morning we heard how the writer of 1 Peter says that people who do very bad things deserve to suffer, perhaps as Professor Strauss Kahn has been suffering. The writer includes in his list of bad people murderers, thieves and other criminals. But then he adds a surprising addition to the list - busybodies!

If there was a crime of being a busybody, would the authorities be entitled to arrest me or you? Can we imagine being put in gaol while they wait to decide our guilt? Certainly the writer of 1 Peter has ordinary people in his sights - not just super-villains or the rich and famous. So what about the 75,000 ordinary people who named Ryan Griggs as the international footballer linked with Big Brother celebrity and former Miss Wales Imogen Thomas? Without condoning his behaviour, is it not fair to see them as the sort of busybodies whom the writer of 1 Peter had in mind?

In our reading from the Acts of the Apostles we see Jesus making a journey in the opposite direction from Dominique Strauss Kahn. He goes from the shame of the cross, the cold and darkness of the tomb, the depths of hell, to the heights of heaven; he goes from being persona non grata to being Lord of all.

And yet Luke also believes that Jesus’ death on the cross is the highpoint of his ministry, the moment when God’s glory was most clearly shown to be at work in him, the moment when God’s love and forgiveness most clearly shone through him. And the writer of 1 Peter says that we must expect to share in Christ’s sufferings, and that if we humble ourselves God will - in due time - lift us up.

So the idea of Jesus ascending to heaven, and of us sharing in his glory, is something that is intimately linked to and results from being humbled and accepting suffering. It’s as if only by spending the equivalent of some time locked up in Rikers Island, rather than enjoying five star accommodation in a luxury hotel, can we hope to experience the best that life has to offer. This is the complete opposite of what people normally expect.

Be that as it may, John certainly reinforces the idea that the moment of Jesus’ exaltation and glorification is not his ascension to heaven on a cloud but his ascension heavenwards when he is lifted up on the cross. Jesus says to the crowd that the hour has come for God to glorify him and for him to give glory to God, but he’s thinking about the hour of his death. It is on the cross that Jesus becomes sovereign over all the human race and it is by finishing the work that he was put on earth to do that Jesus enters into God’s presence and is raised to new life.

Jesus prays that his disciples, and through their testimony we too, may continue to reveal his glory. Because we know that Jesus has died for us, to reveal God’s love for us, we can know with certainty that he is one with God and we belong to him. This knowledge, and the mission which springs from it, should be enough weld us into a unified body of dedicated followers, bent on doing his will.

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