The joy of an unfinished story

SERMON 

St Andrew’s Anglican Church of Indooroopilly 

Isaiah 58.1-9a 

Psalm 112 

1 Corinthians 2.1-13 

Matthew 5.13-20 

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany: Sunday 9 January 

The joy of an unfinished story ©Suzanne Grimmett 

I used to need to know 

the end of every story 

but these days I only 

need the start to get me going. 

So begins Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem “God is the Fracture”. It made me wonder how  comfortable we all are with stories where the outcome is unclear, or with mysterious  bits that we just don’t understand. The poem reminds us that all stories have their  beginning in God and that we are the characters, the strangers who come and go, contributing the flavour and direction of the plot.  

Salt is one of the metaphors that appears in our Gospel reading today to try to  illustrate how we are to inhabit our roles in the great story. Salt preserves and gives  flavour to the goodness that is already in the food. But if salt loses its saltiness, it is  useless and there is left only loss and waste.  

The other metaphor in the Gospel which is phrased more positively is the image of us  all as light. “Hang on”, some might say, “I thought Jesus was the light of the world?”  

Yes. Jesus is the light of the world, but just as Jesus could say “I and the Father are  One”, we need to remember that the goal of Christianity at its most orthodox is  nothing less than union with God. St Paul understood that, and spent so many letters  trying to communicate this truth in different ways to different groups. The rallying cry  to the Galatians was, “I have been crucified with Christ and it’s no longer I that live  but Christ who lives in me!” (Galatians 2:20) I would argue that the keynote of the  letter to the Corinthians is found in today’s reading, “I decided to know nothing  among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”  

Why this focus on an identification with the crucified one?  

Firstly, it is important to remember that Paul was a Jew and always remained so,  albeit a Jew who believed in Jesus as the Messiah. The word Christian is only used 

three times in the Bible, and on all of those occasions it is as the disparaging term  used in popular culture (probably accompanied by an eye roll) for those who  identified as followers of Jesus. Believers themselves identified as “followers of the  way” and the early Jesus movement was known simply as “the way”. This new thing that was happening was not a religion, not a prescribed set of doctrines, but a  movement that fully identified with the person of Jesus and the way he lived. Paul is  saying his life is so caught up in the life and way of Jesus, that his own self has been  put to death on the cross so that Christ can live through him. This is salvation, and it  has nothing to do with believing the right things or belonging to the right kind of  religion, and a lot to do with the mystical union with God now possible through  Christ. 

We have heard in previous readings from Corinthians that there were disagreements  amongst the church in Corinth, with adulation of different leaders and division over  teaching. In drawing attention to the centrality of a crucified Christ, Paul highlights  the weakness of himself and other teachers. In seeing the light in Paul or the other  early leaders, it has been all too easy for some in the church in Corinth to give them  power and begin early manoeuvring to create hierarchies of influence. Paul is  pleading with them to see that the light they have recognised is the light of Christ and  the power of his words has come only through the Spirit. “Here I am, with no  particular skill or wisdom,” Paul is saying, “giving you a message of a crucified Messiah. Unless this was truly the power of God, which you have experienced, it  would be a nonsense.” 

All of the conventional wisdom about power has to be thrown away if it is true that  Jesus was God crucified. It is what is at the heart of Christianity: “The self-emptying,  kenotic humility of God expressed in Jesus Christ.”1 The people of Corinth appear to  be ones who are reliant on their education and wisdom to lead them to truth, and  

Paul is telling them stridently that the mystery of God is encountered not there at all  but through weakness, vulnerability and the self-emptying power of the cross. When  we follow in this way, filled with the same Spirit, we become agents for the  transformation and healing of the world. 

In a culture of debilitating individualism, the followers of the way of Jesus are those  who know that they are not at the centre of their own life project. In Christianity,  where many become anxious about smaller communities and shrinking finances, it is  encouraging to be reminded that the church is not the ultimate end of the Gospel  project. Rather, Christ is the centre of our individual life purpose and the project of the Church. The Christ project is to build the body of Christ, which will unify and transform the world in love. Like our own bodies which are complex, diverse yet  organised system of atoms, so the body of Christ is a complex, diverse, but organised  and unified body of loving souls.  

So this may all sound mystical and wonderful, or perhaps it sounds to you more like  over- spiritualised mumbo jumbo. Either way, it is important to remember that such  words only mean something if they are grounded in our everyday lives. We cannot be  salt and light with contemplation alone. At the end of today’s chapter from  Corinthians Paul goes further to say “We have the mind of Christ”. Often people  seem to think of this as being about making choices that would align with Jesus’  choices- and they go and buy a What Would Jesus Do? wrist band to remind them to  have a bit of a think about it. It is the sort of religion that places God as  fundamentally external to us, and we just need to study Jesus’ life and we might be  able to be a better person. But this is not what Paul is saying. He says we have the  mind of Christ. God is not out there, but within us and indwelling all creation and we  participate in the life and work of God. It also helps us to see the church as not a  motley collection of people doing their best but as the holy Body of Christ. All those  everyday things we witness in one another’s lives here in this community- visiting the  sick, listening to another’s grief, making a meal, protesting injustice, caring for native  wildlife, smiling a welcome or mowing a lawn- all of these actions are examples of the  very real and very present love of Christ bubbling up through the lives of us all. 

Perhaps it is in this light that we can best understand the comic and joyful spirit of  Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem, God isthe fracture. The mystery is that the Christ project has  been entrusted to us- we are the characters in this greatest of the stories of love. It  requires not only for us to surrender to it in vulnerability, but for God to be vulnerable,  self-emptying the divine life into the world and freeing us to narrate our lives in the  light of Christ. It seems a hugely risky undertaking, where suffering of one form or  another is a given, and one where we cannot know where we, and all other life on  earth, will end up. Pádraig Ó Tuama captures the mysterious mutuality of our  relationship with God through the story given us in scripture and the joy, pain and  uncertainty of this sacramental life; 

God is the Fracture 

I used to need to know 

the end of every story 

but these days I only 

need the start to get me going.

God is the crack 

where the story begins 

We are the crack 

where the story gets interesting 

We are the choice of 

where to begin 

the person going out? 

the stranger coming in? 

God is the pillar of salt 

full of pity 

accusing God 

for the sulphurous city. 

God is the woman who bleeds and who touches 

We are the story 

of courage or blushes. 

God is the story 

of whatever works 

God is the twist at the end and the quirks 

We are the start 

and we are the centre 

we’re the characters 

narrators, inventors. 

God is the fracture 

and the craic in your voice God is the story 

flavoured with choice 

God is the bit 

that we can’t explain 

maybe the healing 

maybe the pain. 

We are the bit 

that God can’t explain maybe the harmony 

maybe the strain. 

God is the plot 

and we are the writers the story of winners 

and the story of fighters 

the story of love 

and the story of rupture the story of stories 

the story without structure. 

Perhaps we only need to know the beginning in order to get started. The holy is present  amongst us and the salty, light-filled works of God are everywhere. This is a story of  great hope, because the rescue mission is underway and we are partnering with God  for the redeeming of the world; writers, fighters, characters of all kinds, narrators,  inventors together helping the world realise its potential for goodness and love. Its  messy, unstructured and filled with comedy, tragedy and pathos, but it is our role to  play because we are the body of Christ. We thank God, that the Spirit is with us.  

+Amen.

1 Maggie Ross, Pillars of Flame: Power, Priesthood, and Spiritual Maturity (New York: Seabury Books/Church Publishing, 2007),  xvi.

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