Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
‘How does Jesus help us?’
A fortnight ago, Clive Pearson led a workshop here in the church – a Christology workshop. Christology is study/discussion/thinking/writing about Jesus – who he is and how he helps or saves us. Clive mentioned that, unlike the teaching on Christ’s identity that achieved fourth-
I begin here today because our Gospel is concerned with authoritative teaching; more precisely, with authoritative teachers; more precisely still, with the damage wrought by authoritative teachers. As a portrait of abusive authority it says less about late first-
Certainly that was a diagnosis I came to make, painfully, with regard to my early religious instruction. We were taught a lot about God’s “grace” (God’s accepting the death of Jesus as payment for the debt of human sin), but not so much about graciousness itself – not so much about living graciously, gracefully, gratefully. Faith was intellectual assent – essentially an out-
I was not, as a child or teenager, introduced to the Exemplarist model of Atonement – the theory that the example of Christ’s love had power to attract and to transform believers. I was not introduced to the Cosmic Struggle model of Atonement – the theory that in Christ forces of evil were duped, defeated, or overcome. All this came later. I say now that I was converted out of a narrow religious community, and (via art school!) into a cross-
I am grateful to all the teachers – David Russell, Father Chris Riley, Kate Scholl … – whose lives invited me into the world beloved of God. I include Clive in that group. It was Clive who introduced me to a fourth theory of Atonement, one he calls the Contextual model. It is based on the Greek word for “salvation”, meaning healing, wholeness, wellness. The Contextual model asks: What particular healing is needed in this time and place? What particular calls for help, for support, for empowerment and wellbeing are discerned here, now? How does the Good News of God in Christ address these needs? How is Christ among us, here and now, to save us?
Like the prophets before him, Matthew’s Jesus is troubled by a Law, by a religion taught for its own sake. Jesus is troubled by a presentation of faith that is not taught to influence lives toward justice and the common good. Jesus is troubled by the exalted position some teachers take that doesn’t take into account the lives of those who are to be instructed.
Put positively, Matthew affirms Jesus as one whose “yoke is easy” and whose “burden is light” – whose “way” and wisdom we are invited to follow. In Jesus, and in the lives of all the saints, God is the one who teaches. As one commentator says: “The authoritative Christian is the one who lives not to his or herself, but to the God who, in love, empties Godself and becomes obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Garry Deverell).
Among the desert communities of the third and fourth centuries, a person was called “Father” or “Mother” not because a bishop had appointed such a one, but rather because of the holiness of his life;her seeking to be rid of selfishness and filled with Christ. An ancient story illustrates the point. There was once a brother who had lived for many years in prayer and penitence, alone in the desert with God. One day Satan decided to undermine his virtue, and realising that extreme measures were called for, disguised himself as an angel of light. He burst into the hermitage in a blaze of glory and announced, “I am Gabriel, sent from God with a message for you!” And the monk, glancing up from his housework, smiled and said: “Oh no. Can’t be me. You must have the wrong person.” Satan could do nothing more. He vanished. In this, the word of the Gospel was fulfilled: “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, but those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
A sense of humility, then – genuine and not a form of self-
What particular healing is needed in this time and place? What particular calls for help, for support, for empowerment and wellbeing are discerned here, now? How does the Good News of God in Christ address these needs? How is Christ among us, here and now, to save us? … Amen.