God has a Cunning Plan

Church newsletter article for 23.10.11

Found this picture on Facebook this week. Made me smile and I thought it was worth sharing… (would love to attribute it to its creator, but I’m not sure where it came from)

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationships of all sorts this week in connection with the mini-course on Wednesday nights looking at Ephesians. Preparing this two-week overview has made me appreciate this letter in a new way. I’ve always been fond of it as a book, it has a number of cracking verses in it, but I’ve never really looked at it as a single piece of work and tried to grasp why Paul wrote it – what was it he was trying to get across through it.

At its heart is a simple message. God has a plan for this world, always has had, and this plan is reconciliation. On one level as Christians we know this. We know that through Jesus, God is reaching out in grace to us, inviting us back into relationship with him. It’s so much more than this though. He’s not just seeking to fix the relationship between us and him, but all relationships; Jew and Gentile, husband and wife, parent and child, master and slave. These are just the examples Paul uses in his letter. I have no doubt the list could go on to include black and white, rich and poor, East and West, employer and employee, working class, middle class and upper class, educated and uneducated, town and country and so on.

Why is it that relationships are so hard? Why are there so many divisions in our families, in our country and in our world? Many of our relationships are built on power and hierarchy – the dominant controls the other. Employers control employees. The rich control the poor. Historically whites were seen as superior to black, husbands superior to wives, parents superior to their children. The problem is that this so easily turns into abuse. In ‘more equal’ relationships, there is still tension as we seek to ‘look after number one’ and to save face, protecting ourselves from what others might say about us if they really knew us. We are pulled apart rather than together.

Into this world of broken relationships came Jesus; the one with true power and authority. Yet, unlike us, he didn’t use it to abuse or to look good, but to serve. The story of his wrapping a towel around his waist and washing the disciples’ feet is not just a nice tale, but is at the core of this gospel of reconciliation. Through this act he made himself vulnerable, a risky act of grace. Through this he turned upside-down the usual hierarchy of power, abuse and self seeking, flattening it, declaring all equal, all important and to be cared for. This is our calling of the church. Where we are in power, we are to use it to serve the other as Christ did the church. Where the other has the power, we are to serve them as we serve Christ. This is the Gospel and it can only be understood through demonstration. Are we ready to make ourselves vulnerable in this way and follow Jesus?

I am The Stig

This week the BBC lost a legal battle to prevent the publication of the auto-biography of the man claiming to be ‘The Stig’. For those who don’t know who The Stig is, he is the mysterious racing driver who dresses permanently in his white racing suit with white helmet, the blackened visor of which is never lifted. His identity is thereby kept secret. He never speaks, just stands menacingly in the background, or drives with silent efficiency in their vehicle test drives. Why did the BBC take this legal action? Their feeling was that the power of the Stig is in his anonymity. If he is revealed as simply A. N. Other racing driver, he is no longer as potent a figure.

Reading this reminded me of the following passage in Ephesians, Eph. 1:15-23:

‘For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.’ 

Here Paul extols the greatness of God the Father as demonstrated in his ability to raise Jesus from the dead – which of us could achieve such a task? Who else has such power over life and death? He also extols the power of Jesus, God’s Son – he is the one to whom God the Father has and will give all authority and power. But there’s more! In the last verse, we are let into a breath-taking secret. If we’re honest, the Church is a motley bunch at the best of times. We’re not the most glamorous or fashionable bunch. We have more than our fair share of failures, scandals and misfits, but what does Paul say about who we really are? Paul says that in his Church is the fullness of God! In and through us, God is known and made known, his character and power is revealed. The Stig may be a powerful figure, with an ordinary secret identity, but we’re an ordinary people, with a most powerful secret identity. Perhaps its time we are prepared to let the secret out!

Church Newsletter article for Sunday 5th September 2010