We were standing on the top of a high dam wall outside Inverell. I was there as part of a large military training exercise, providing welfare support to the contingent of soldiers, engineers and other auxiliary staff. In front of me, a soldier was being placed in a harness ready to abseil down the dam wall which seemed to fall away into oblivion from where we stood. As the soldier started his descent, the Captain in charge of the exercise turned to me and said, “What about you Sir, are you going over?” I could feel every head turn toward me, waiting for my reply. I was twice her age and right then felt way older than that. Going over the wall was the last thing I suspected I would be doing when I rose that morning. I took a deep breath and said, ‘Sure, I’ll go over.’
Have you ever had a moment when you agreed to something and immediately regretted it? Well, I did then. I was put in the harness and I crawled over the edge. Out there it seemed further down than the started 113 metres (371ft) On command I began the most terrifying few minutes of my life to the bottom of the dam wall. When I finally gained the ground I was possessed with a mix of sheer relief for having survived and a sense of achievement to have overcome my fears and stepped out into what seemed impossible only a few minutes before. Although I was quick to say no to going down upside down when they asked me back up on top!
It was a thrilling and scary experience I was glad to have done right there in front of the young soldiers. The young Captain gave me a big high five and a grin as wide as the dam wall and after that we were best of friends with her. As a result I was welcomed as one of them by the soldiers who were there and those who heard the story, and let me tell you, every one heard the story.
Last Sunday we suggested that Christianity was a progressive religion. In other words, faith is where our journey in Christ begins, and faith is the engine which propels us to grow and become one with God. We never stand still. Faith takes us into places, experiences and relationships we had previously thought unattainable or highly improbable. Faith propels us out into the open, beyond the protection of our fears and need for control. We are opened up to the possibility of God hidden in the ordinary life.
John Spong suggests that this passage is about the transformation of the open, not the redemption of the fallen. In this passage we have begun to move beyond our initial experience of God’s saving grace, from the joy of salvation into the joy of being fully alive. No longer are we enslaved to the power of ego, sin, we are opened up to the transforming journey of life lived in relationship with God.
Rene Descartes offered one answer to the question of what it means to be human when he wrote: “I think, therefore I am’. Merton, Eckhart and other modern Christian thinkers such as Desmond Tutu and Pope Francis offers an alternative answer, I am in relationship….therefore I am.’ The Zulus of Africa have a concept called Ubuntu: a person is a person through other people. A person is a relational being means, according to Anthony Howard, ‘implies that you become more fully a person – or all that you can be – in relationship with other people’, with the other. We are hard wired to be in relationship with the other.
If we are open we step into the very same relationship with God that Jesus had, a relationship in which we move from strangers to friends, from servants to companions, from one who does not know the mind of God to one who is trusted with the bringing in of the kingdom of God. Life takes on a very different complexion when we are opened up, and open our selves up to an intimacy with God we could never have imagined, in fact we may have feared, was possible.
Fear closes us down. Faith opens us up. Fear builds walls where there is no need for walls. Faith finds ways to dismantle the very walls our fear constructs. Faith is found and finds its expression in and through love. The love that we receive from God through the human touch of a Christ who fully lives out his humanity, even unto the cross. His expression of love for God and humanity was such that he placed no limits on how far it would take him. And he went there because he was willing to obey the commandments of God.
These were not laws or rules of spiritual purity and righteousness. They were the commandments that come packaged in God’s dream for the world, a dream for world in which love, justice and peace reigns supreme over and above the law of fear. They were the commandments given to those who had stepped into a transformed relationship with God and were counted as friends, not servants, not people who simply did what they were told to without question or thought. Servants are those who do the bidding of someone they fear. They hide behind statements like, ‘I’m just doing my job’, ‘it is legal therefore it must be ok’, ‘I’m just taking orders’.
The history of the world attests to the horror down to others by servants. The holocaust, prison camps, genocides and killing fields of the world speak eloquently to the violence of the servant.
Jesus says our faith takes us to a very different place. It takes us into a relationship where we are accepted as friends, a part of an intimate interaction where we know the mind of God and play an active role in the implementation of God’s dream. We are co-creators of the kingdom of God in a way that brings joy and fulfilment, not only to a divine plan but to ourselves. We become engaged in a project bigger than our ego self and expand to include others in our life and our dreams. We no longer just do what we are told but use our intelligence, initiative and capacity to build love, peace and justice in our world, both in our immediate world and the world outside and beyond our boundaries.
John expresses this idea clearly in this passage as he has Jesus explain our journey on three different levels:
· A journey from servants to friends – from law to love
· A journey into friendship by choice, his choice, the providence of God’s grace
· A journey into love and joy, a complete-ing of our true self and of the kingdom of God.
Today we have the opportunity to live into the possibility of faith through gratitude to the unfailing goodness of God. God calls us to step beyond our fears and to take the step into responsible faith, responsible for how we value our friendship with God and how we actively live out that friendship in the world around us. Do we do it as servants who simply follow instructions or do open ourselves up to become co-creators with the Trinity of a just an peaceful world. The choice is ours and here, today is a good place to start.