Third Sunday after Pentecost—June 14, 2015. 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13; Psalm 20; 2 Corinthians 5:6-17; Mark 4:26-34
“From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” 2 Cor. 5:16
Recently the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, began a talk on evangelism with these words: “I want to start by saying just two simple sentences about the church. First, the church exists to worship God in Jesus Christ. Second, the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ. Everything else is decoration.” I want us to dwell on this for a moment.
I submit that the Apostle Paul is saying something very similar in our New Testament reading this morning: “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” Let us first concentrate on the latter part of that sentence: once we knew Christ from a human point of view but we know him no longer in that way. We might then say that there are two ways of knowing Christ—according to the flesh and according to the Spirit.
Islam, for example, has a rather high view of Jesus as a prophet of Allah but no more than that. Others look at Jesus and see a revolutionary who attempted to overturn the social order and was thus executed by the State. Others still see Jesus as a peaceful and loving fellow who perhaps we ought to try and emulate so the world turns out just a wee bit of a better place. And, of course, there is truth in all of this but taken alone these views of Jesus remain, simply, according to the flesh. For Jesus is a prophet, he speaks the word of God, yet he is also the Word of God. Not only is he a revolutionary, but he is also Israel’s Messiah and will usher in God’s kingdom in rather unexpected ways. And he is someone we will become like but only because he first became like us. And so the journey to Christian faith begins as the Spirit of God opens our eyes to behold the beauty and mystery of Jesus Christ and in-so-doing illumines our hearts and minds to his true identity. And the journey of Christian faith continues as we are drawn ever deeper into the mystery of Christ and our whole lives start to be transformed in the process.
Just what is the beauty and mystery of Christ? That hidden in the agonizing death of Christ on the cross, there is life, resurrection life. And, furthermore, that our life with Christ is bound up in our willingness to suffer with him. Listen to how the Apostle Paul put it: “He died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.”
Those who come to know the love of God in Christ in this way, they are changed. This is why we gather in worship, to sing and to pray, to hear the gospel proclaimed through the Old and New Testaments, to receive the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. All of this shows forth the risen and reigning Christ who takes away the sin of the world that we might live. And the Spirit takes all of our doing, all of our singing and praying, and joins our offering to Christ’s own self-offering, and works in us that which we cannot work in ourselves—the transformation of our hearts and minds to know and love God more fully—that he might work through us to accomplish that which we cannot accomplish on our own—the transformation of the whole wide world in Jesus Christ.
Let us now turn to examine the first part of the verse we began with. “From now on, therefore,” writes Paul, “we regard no one from a human point of view.” Just as the Spirit of God opens our eyes to behold the beauty and mystery of the risen Christ, so too this same Spirit opens our eyes that we might see all others from God’s perspective—that is, people for whom Jesus died. Every single person you know or can imagine, family, estranged family, friends, strangers, enemies, colleagues, neighbours and on and on, every single person is one for whom Christ gave his life so that they might live anew in him. And so, as those who have received the goodness of God in Jesus Christ, it becomes a priority for us as his Church to let others know of what God has done for them.
This is the other main task of the Church which Archbishop Justin mentioned in his talk: the Church exists to make new disciples of Jesus Christ—inviting people to change their minds (repent) and believe in Christ, to know and trust that he died for all so that all might live for him and with him in newness of life. “Everything old has passed away,” writes Paul. “See, everything has become new!” This is the joy of the gospel, a joy which cannot be contained! In Jesus Christ, God has summoned every single person He has made. And the Church is called to extend this invitation to all, excluding no one. However, before we can go about joyfully proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ and calling everyone to follow him, you and I must be those who have heard the call. We can only share the love of God if we have first received this gracious gift.
This requires our daily conversion. Or, as Saint Cyprian put it, we are to receive daily “one great gulp of grace.” To be a disciple is, literally, to be a learner. We could say then that the Christian life is ultimately about being a student of Jesus. So then, calling people to follow Jesus isn’t the finish line, it is really the beginning. Being a Christian is about becoming Christian. In other words, Christians are those who are learning what it means to say that Jesus is Lord. A friend of mine recently put it this way: “Your responsibility to your own faith, your own cultivation of it, your own openness to its vigour and truth, your life with God, is your greatest gift of love to another person, to any person, to all those around you,” (Radner).
And so we come to see others not from a human point of view but from God’s point of view, as those for whom, like us, Christ has died and calls to follow him. In his same talk on evangelism the Archbishop went on to say, “The best decision anyone can ever make, at any point in life, in any circumstances, whoever they are, wherever they are, whatever they are, is to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. There is no better decision for a human being in this life, any human being.” Christ died for all, and there is no one, absolutely no one, that wouldn’t be better off knowing Jesus.
And on this note, let me finish by saying that I have such great hope for us here at St. Cuthbert’s, that God will use all of us, in one way or another, to invite people to follow Jesus. Just one of the reasons I am so hopeful is because of some of the wonderful conversations that are currently taking place thanks to Joanne and those of you who have been participating in the Invited! series over the last few weeks, dreaming and praying about how we might share the joy of the gospel of Christ with others. We’re all called to this wonderful work—it isn’t just the job of the outreach committee and it certainly isn’t left up to the clergy! If you feel the Holy Spirit nudging you in this direction, however uncomfortable it may feel, do not resist! In fact, come and talk to Joanne or Beth or myself. Or, better yet, during coffee hour this morning forget about the usual conversation points and strike up a conversation about sharing the joy of our faith with others. This is kingdom work, and we’re all invited to be co-workers with Christ.
May God’s Spirit ever open our eyes to behold the beauty and majesty of Christ. And may the love of Jesus continue to transform the way we see others, as those whom he has called unto himself. And may the Spirit embolden us to extend the invitation. Amen.