Skip to main content

Standing firm in the faith

Acts 1.6-14
1 Peter 4.12-14, 5.6-11
John 17.1-11

Luke's rather sterile account of the ascension of Jesus, which creates an artificial divide between Jesus' earthly ministry and the new age of the Holy Spirit, is given a different kind of treatment in today's passage from 1 Peter. The writer doesn't think in terms of Jesus ascending to heaven, to leave the field clear for the Holy Spirit to manifest itself through the words and actions of Jesus' followers. Instead he thinks in terms of Jesus being vindicated or glorified.

He has already said that Christians shouldn't be made to suffer for their faith, so long as we are doing what is right. Now he acknowledges that, for whatever reason, believers are going through a fiery ordeal. However, if we are suffering for the sake of Jesus then - just as Jesus was vindicated by God through his resurrection, after he had suffered and died on the Cross - so we can expect to be vindicated if we remain steadfast in the faith.

The language that 1 Peter uses is 'ascension' language. The writer talks about being exalted or lifted up. But he isn't thinking about being lifted up like a rocket lifting off from a launch pad, or even like Jesus ascending through the clouds in the Acts of the Apostles. Nor is he just thinking about something that is going to happen in another time or dimension, such as heaven or eternity, although that is certainly part of what he means by being exalted or glorified. However, he also expects God to vindicate or exalt us right here and right now, by restoring, strengthening supporting and encouraging us in our mission.

Sometimes that sort of affirmation seems in short supply. In our post-modern Western society the Church is being assailed on all sides and over-arching narratives which seek to explain our existence, the universe and everything in it are out of fashion, but if we take 1 Peter at face value we shall continue to believe that - in God - we can overcome our trials and anxieties.

I work in the voluntary sector and these are lean times for voluntary, community and faith organisations which rely on external funding from grants and contracts in order to survive. The law of the jungle applies. Only the fittest will make it into the next funding round. But fitness for the future is not just about strength and good fortune. It is also a question of resilience to misfortune, of hope that is able to triumph over anxiety and of faith in your own organisation's vision and mission. If the staff or trustees of an organisation falter on any of these levels then there are plenty of other, stronger, meaner or fiercer organisations prowling around looking for someone to devour in order to strengthen their own chances of survival.

This is a very close parallel to the situation which faced the churches to whom 1 Peter is addressed. And the remedy is the same. If we believe that God cares for us, and for what we are doing, we must be humble enough to put all of our trust in him, keeping alert for danger, resisting the pressures to give in and remaining steadfast.

John's position on the ascension or glorification of Jesus falls somewhere between that of Luke and 1 Peter. With Luke he shares the view that Jesus is no longer in the world except in Spirit, but for John this Spirit is not just a gift which God bestows on Jesus' followers, it is very much Jesus' own gift to them. And for John, the glorification or vindication which God gives to Jesus and his followers is very much a here and now phenomenon, beginning with the vindication of Jesus himself in true kingly glory on the Cross.

In part, the vindication or glorification of Jesus has an eternal quality. He has been vindicated in God's presence because he has identified himself completely with God's will. But another part of his vindication lies in the fact that he has been vindicated in the wholehearted response of those who believe in his mission and know - through faith - that it is true. Finally, Jesus and his mission are vindicated when his followers demonstrate their unity - not only with him but with one another. In so far as we let him down by our disunity or lack of wholeheartedness, his vindication is still incomplete.


Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…

True Love

Mark 12:28-34 In 1981 Prince Charles was put on the spot during a television interview with Lady Diana Spencer, his new fiancee. The interviewer asked them if they were in love. Lady Diana’s instant response was , ‘Of course!,’ but Prince Charles replied, ‘Whatever “in love” means.’ Now in case you think Prince Charles is just a bit of a cold fish, on National Poetry Day 2015 he read a poem on Radio 4, ‘My love is like a red, red rose’ by Robbie Burns. I thought, ‘This is going to be a bit wooden,’ but I was wrong. He read the poem so movingly that Clarence House has made it available on YouTube and Twitter. Listening to him it was impossible to escape the conclusion that he now knows what being “in love” means. O my Love is like a red, red rose, That's newly sprung in June: O my Love is like the melody, That's sweetly played in tune. As fair art thou, my bonnie lass, So deep in love am I; And I will love thee still, my dear, Till a' the seas gang dry. But what does being “in …