Last Updated: Friday, 06 November 2015 16:05
The thing about excellent preachers is that they can really preach; clean, clear, intelligent inspiring. To gather in a room with several of them and to sit at their feet for three days does much to shake the dust out of the rafters and scatter mites across the hardwood.
The conference was about preaching these days, in this contemporary season. The emphasis was on the need to tell people again about the cross of Christ. I often preach around it, through it, in its shadow, in its light, but I still find it overwhelming after all these years. When in the room it all fits. When out on the street it all unravels.
These are the bits and pieces I cling to so far:
The crucifixion as an historical event was political. Only after years of theological reflection did it become the sign of God’s engagement with the world to redeem its sins. This is heady stuff. The theological presuppositions behind it may not be ours, no those of our times.
Layers and layers of theological lacquer now cover Jesus, the first century Jew. He is fully man. He is fully God. He pre-existed. He was fashioned for his moment of need. The Spirit is he, or it claims him, or it adopted him. He is raised from the dead as a living body, or an unrecognizable companion, or one who eats fish or passes through locked doors. Or as a High Priest in the rafters of the endless cosmos, or as the one who battles the profound evil and rebellion that holds all things in its sway.
What are we supposed to do with that? The simplest saving thread is that God lives, has made a covenant with us, comes seeking. When the time is right, God appears in human flesh to live the perfect life, to heal teach restore, empower. God, in Christ Jesus, faces the enemies that enslave us all, empire, and religion, and culture, and tribe, and personality, and attitude and the spectre of death that terrorizes us all.
God raises Jesus from the dead. We are restored to intimacy and love in the divine, and are given a spiritual companion in whose company we go to tell the Good News of cosmic and human liberation.
I really like the story. It comes from some deep place among us, and is compelling to me. The thing is that so many hands have spun it for their own purposes that I don’t quite know what parts to hold and what ones to set down. Add to the mix all the centuries of organized church stuff and it is really a jumble sale.
In reality, we are only guessing. We mix trust, perception, feelings, thought, personality, era and location in the world, social status and sense of safety or vulnerability, and out of these we shape and handle our Christ.
I believe and commit my life to the truth that God exists and is active and real in Jesus and his entourage. I feel I have been touched by that God, and have been an instrument of some kind for that God over my lifetime. But I still feel like a drowning man swimming in a sea too deep and too wide when it comes to handling the whole “Jesus and Cross” thing.
Later in the week I reread parts of Paul Tillich’s “A History of Christian Thought.” He says that a first generation experiences a thing. The second one fleshes out the meaning. The third one builds a system to hold it, and the fourth and beyond waffle among supporting the system, challenging the system or leaving the system behind. I feel that I, and we, are living mostly many generations onward down the line. Perhaps a clean, fresh revelation is on the horizon, and the news “We have seen the Lord,” will animate the world once more.