Rm15v1-2 Our neighbour to one side of us is a hollow shell, a burnt-out wreck, a glowering monument to the devastation of a man whose extreme loneliness was muddled with flamable carelessness. So latterly our neighbour is the scorched earth of the London property market, land commodified and relentlessly resold, the prostitution of air, the auctionable abstraction of confected scarcity conspiring to squeeze the breath out of the town. Oh neighbours, there is so much to build up.
Rm15v3-4 There are many ways of engaging scripture, some better than others. It is, I think, generally unhelpful to be formulaic about how to read scripture, but it is always worth looking at the fruit of our scripture-engagment as a way of thinking about our praxis. v4 offers three little metrics: does your engagement with scripture make you (i) more hopeful, (ii) more patient, (iii) more encouraged?
Rm15v5-6 "The God of encouragement.." How does God encourage? How does one encourage? How do you give courage, how do you transfer current across the void, or fan a flame across a forest firebreak, or propel invisible momentum through Newton's cradle? What, indeed, is courage? What is the substance of this confident vigour beyond merely assured bravado? (Rowland Manthorpe asks similar last week bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08bb33j) For surely the world needs encouragement, over against anxiety disorders, and imposter syndrome, and the timidity of reedy Christian voices muttering a plaintive "Yes, We Can" into their decaf. 2Co1v4 be encouraged to encourage.
"...and endurance" Christianity is an endurance sport. It is the long haul. Eternity. How to keep on keeping on? As persistent widows weather what a weary world wears down by its withering bluster.. how much more so we whose perfectly just judge is unconsionably generous and whose deeply involved father gives good gifts, we whose sense of eternal reality is a strong tower, an ultimate shelter in the storm. We can be stoic without being callous, ebullient without being naive, anchored without being sunk by the tide's range. We are load-bearing beams with scriptural rebars, we are tonkable tankards.
"Grants yous harmony" I have the image of Christians as town bells, not muffled by caution, not cracked by experience, not warped by theory. We are tonkable instruments tooled and tuned for the task of broadcast. We are hung heavy, rung public, and we are melodic when struck hard. Being-church in harmony requires a God of encouragement and endurance, because there is so much discouragement which leads so quickly to dischord, so much burnout which leads to disharmony.
"So yous glorify God with one voice" Oh that church unity, might be unison, the exquisitely practised acapella of close harmony communication. Art brings order in the face of chaos, glorying in the statistical improbability of life's form, colour and motion. Language speaks of a God who speaks, a God who put meaning into the mouths of sign users. Christianity is a joy surprised by signal-to-noise, we call out to deep space, and it answers not in mere morse code, but polyphonic surround sound declaring a dancing God of many persons singing creation into being as with one voice.
Rm15v7-8 Sat with this verse a few days, feeling my own proclivity to wax lyrical the virtues of hospitality into my echo chamber, a slight distaste at the thinness, the hipster cliche of talking about welcome without substance. So considering some of the things welcome is not:
~Welcome vs Envy - I'm preparing to preach on Cain & Able this Sunday. Envy & competitiveness, which lead to destruction, are the first fruits of original sin. All my relationships, all my encounters, contain such a thread, & will overcome me, unless I receive the mind of Christ. Welcome is the inverse of competition, it tries to enlarge the other rather than cut them down. Welcome hence has to start with my own safety & security in God.
~Welcome vs Pretence - There is a truthfulness to welcome otherwise it is not welcome. How often I 'welcome' people into our home without taking off my mask or letting them take off theirs. This is not how Christ hosts us. This morning's Ps62v4 a reminder of the kind of doublemindedness that I use as a defense against others. In many cases I feel as though I really don't know how not to. Help me, God.
~Welcome vs Weariness - I am tired of your otherness, your truth. Dulled to your difference. Indifferent to your story. Overwhelmed. Let us Ps62v1 for our renewal, as Christ rests in the love of the Father.
Rm15v9-10 "in order that" Christ served the circumcised (v8) .. "in order that" the Gentiles would hope in Christ (v12). What are we? // In embodiment and imitation we are Christ // In being a community of covenant we are also the circumcised. // Thusly, we serve we in order to save the Gentiles?
- We-serve-we sounds self-serving? The trinity is a we-serving-a-we in-order-to save by a sweeping up of the other and the outsider into the we's excess. So Christian community likewise and reciprocally, fractally, and hedonistically abounds in hope and peace and in joy for joy (v13) which overflows out of that interactive we-serving we-experience to an _in-order-that_ derivative and ecstatic evangelism.
- Paul's bold, but observable, case for "in-order-that" causality gives impetus to deeply-do church (church qua equivalent circumcision) in order that the city might richly glorify God (city qua equivalent Gentiles). So we capaciously conspicuously do the doing of, by the serving of, church. Emphatically. // We are church for the sake of the non-church. // We are 41 for the sake of 39 and 43. // We are us for the sake of them. ~ We are a faith community. ~ More than that, we are a from-faith-to-faith community Rm1v17. Our we is so built on the basis of a faith hypothesis, that others observing can draw a faith conclusion. Our life of faith, as Christ's life on earth, extrapolates unseen promises, immanentises the eternal, and realises heaven. Being church is supernatural. In serving the church you participate in a plausibility structure for a redemptive, relational and personal cosmos, conclusively.
- Thus: Prototypical faith becomes catalytic faith. // Incubated faith becomes contagious faith. // A faith practised becomes a faith broadcast. // The promised fulfilled in our us, is a promise being made to the other. // This follows that. // Faith begets faith. // And it is all joy.
Rm15v11-12 The reference back to Isaiah serves as a point of meditation on this universal praise of the one God. Read Is11v1-16 as a meditation on the person of Christ and on what the telos of humanity looks like under Christ. We are following Genesis in the St Mark's evening services at the moment, last week remembering the fall as humanity's three-pronged alienation from God, from each other, & from our fellow creation. This Isaiah passage declares beautifully the reconciliation of all three to all: v10 humanity to God, v13 humanity to each other, v6-9 humanity to the rest of creation (& the rest of creation to itself). Perfect shalom with all humanity worshipping the shoot of Jesse.
Rm15v13-14 What is Hope? Hope is such a foreign commodity, a strained emotion, a poisoned chalice. Hope is a pinned-on, a held-out, a glimmered-of, and a given-up, a deffered, a pluperfect. We had hoped.. but now we are the savage bleak of soiled goods, the leftovers landscape of an entropic end game. In 2017, Hope parodies itself, the ghost limb of public consciousness. Wistful Christians, we have only sentimentality and superstition, Heaven's hereafter is a rabbit's paw clutched in fingers crossed. The shield of cynicism is a precious comfort as the scoffing chorus swells with lurid fury, nursing each other's indignance, basking in the warm scowl of mutual self-pity. // Against this, Hope. By hoping in the God of Hope. He who is the source and substance of Hope. Joy and Peace are the currency of Hope, the fruit of Hope, and the precondition for Hope's abounding. Abounding: in that Joy and Peace are effervescent and infectious, as a luminous Joy brings light to the room, so a deep Peace can absorb every wave of dischord - and by these, Hope abounds.
Rm15v15-16 Yet. v14 you are full of goodness. Yet. Thinking yesterday about the tussle between good & evil. This is the first 'yet', the acknowledgment that at least sometimes our image-bearing goodness is overcome by evil, this is our fallen nature. But this is the first 'yet', we know the second: Eph2v4 et al. But God. And Yet. But God...'made us alive together with Christ'
Rm15v19-20 'I've never heard a story more beautiful than the gospel'; the articulations of others in this new way of life that remind & restore faith. A simple prayer then, for all those I know who are intentionally telling the beautiful story in places where it has not been told.
Rm15v21-22 Claim a verse. Get busy. // By contrast with resigned zero-sum notions of time and geography which are convinced that all we can do is move the pieces around, vaguely taxing some to subsidise others in an exhausting closed loop, propping up an ailing system, painstakingly restoring some former golden age at great expense, battening down the hatches inside a protect-and-survive silo. // Overcoming 2017's isolationist turn wants for more than mere outrage at populist demagogues or mere compassion for refugees. // We, as Paul, believe in open heaven, help from the outside, reverse entropy. We open borders to let the healing flow outwards with a holy impatience and ecstatic restlessness. // More of you God.
Enjoy each other.
Assist each other.
Rm15v25-26 In the words of Dennis Moore, wealth redistribution is complicated.. Sixfigure-earning charity-execs caroling chugger squads to squeeze sporadic guilt-offered gleanings from card-carrying have's whilst a chronic Welfare State eats itself having exponentially multiplied both a rash of feral fatherless free-loading dependents on the one hand, and a smarmy callous embittered class of tax avoiders on the other. // Society is a body. Wealth moves through veins between organs. Individualism clogs the arteries, and a mindset of scarcity bloats bigger barn tumours stock piling inert wealth. Against this, compassionate remedial disaster-responsive charity is synthetic blood in a bag, piped in to starved limbs. // The church is a counter culture. The church is not merely charity done more energetically, it is not Christianised collections of tawdry surplus flogged to the less fortunate. Society is a body and the church is a replumbed arrangement, new pipes, new pumps, new sources. Christianity is social surgery to the root. // When the Bible says the believers had everything in common Acts4v32. How? What are the management mechanics of this? Really practically, what is the first step? Who is doing this well? How thung a thing does this alternative system of wealth need to be? Radical versions of this are usually recounted as utopian and precarious. How can we be different, resilient but nevertheless radical?
Rm15v29-30 "Fullness" Debates around half-empty/half-full will end. This Gospel is bigger than bigly, it's way too big for your boots. There is a fullness, a Lk6v38 pressed-down, shaken-together, running-over Ps23v5, an excess overflowing Ps45v1, a chock-full, unabridged and full-to-bursting Mk2v22, gushing torrent sort of fullness. Phil ist full? Would that it were more-than more so more often. Paul, however, is "sure" of this. And so surely he shall fully proclaim (v19) the fullness (v29) intensively and extensively. And to this end we should pray, he says, "with me .. for me". Pray with Phil for Phil. Pray "together". I picture the mechanics of prayer as an alignment of conduits, orchestrating the carriage of fullness from the source outwards, as if there were a waterwheel in Paul, turned by the release of water backed up in a reservoir, released as prayer's piping plugs in. So, Pray. Pray that a fuller Phil's falafel would fall frequently from his falafelloeffel for the fruit of many, Jn12v24.
Rm15v31-32 Paul asks for prayer for 1. Safety, 2. Meaningful service, 3. Joy 4. The refreshment of company. These four make a good starting point for prayer for anyone. For those met this weekend, For those near and far. Pray these for me? That our everyday lives may speak of the beauty of God.
Rm15v33 And also with you? CofE ism and schism. Marital strife and striving. Tangled tentacles stuck under your fourteen wheeler, we are odd shapes. We are gowns in towns not big enough for the boot of us. We are a jumbled jigsaw puzzle on fire with both barrels clocking square pegs to your round house, Ego I am the incompatible worst of human diversity, Ozymandias mauling I'm ruggedly over-against and always in a mutually exclusive club, I am the spaceship earth, an island self. The only peace is the tumbleweed of nuclear winter, the noise-cancelling bliss of podular encapsulation. I can't hear you when I'm vibing. God's peace is different.