Interfering God

As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.  John 15.9-17 

A few years ago, you might recall that a prominent figure in the Government uttered some memorable words: he said, “We don’t DO God”.

Now, let’s ignore the silliness of imagining that ‘God’ is a subject that you actually can, ‘Do’ or ‘not Do’ as the fancy takes you. And just think for a moment about how anxious that person clearly was about preserving boundaries. Notice how worried they were that what we often like to think of as a purely private matter (that is, religion) was in danger of getting mixed up in the way we organise what we like to call the ‘real’ world. And then, let’s note (beyond the defensiveness of it all); how often remarks like this somewhat ironically, actually demonstrate quite a clear understanding of faith.

It seems that almost instinctively they know that allowing this particular boundary to be crossed is what it’s about. There are consequences. Or, to put it another way; once you acknowledge the presence of God; ‘Doing’ God as he put it, then you can no longer hold onto the autonomy that we’re taught to prize so greatly. It will mean living life very differently because if God IS indeed God, then, by definition He has some interesting things to say about the way His world is run; He’s going to interfere; and there can be no, ‘no-go areas’ for Him.

Which is why, for instance, I think it’s only fair to have a certain sympathy with those who fearfully take refuge behind the label ‘Atheist’. Or for that matter the ones who describe themselves as ‘Agnostic’; claiming that we simply can’t know whether there’s a God or not. I mean this is what you have to do if you’re going to fend off an interfering God. Erect some barricades behind which we can seek to hide.

So from this point of view it’s not religion but irreligion which is the real Opium of the people. These are the strategies a ‘God-haunted society’ uses to ward off that deep seated sense that, to coin the phrase, “You can run but you can’t hide”. I mean, this is the point which St. Paul made to the Greek philosophers in Athens. All those years ago he told them that we can no longer take refuge in apparent ignorance or ‘reasoned dis-belief’ now that God and his purposes have been revealed in and through Jesus of Nazareth. St. John sums it up well when he says: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1.18). Or, we might say, it’s in this Jesus that we meet the interfering God.

And what I want to do this morning is take a look at that short Gospel reading we heard a moment ago as John gives us a few clues about what ‘doing’ this God might look like. Or what things look like if each day we make not a barricade but a ‘foundational yes’ to God.

Today’s passage was a small piece of a much longer conversation which Jesus had with his disciples after the Last Supper they shared together… it was just before he was murdered. Notice that the first word Jesus uses is ‘Abide’… or ‘remain’. He says, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (John 15.9) In other words, Jesus has brought God’s love into their lives and he wants them to remain open to it… As it were, ‘porous’ to God and the things of God. It’s the very opposite to a barricade.

So, in this sense, ‘Doing’ God means being someone who remains open to this relationship; and letting shape us. And this isn’t rocket- science. We know all about keeping in touch with one another (most modern technology seems devoted to helping us do it over vast distances!). And by the same token, we all know what happens to relationships when we don’t keep in touch…. misunderstandings creep in and friendships end. And Jesus understands this. Next, He says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love” (John 15.10).

We might of course react negatively to the word ‘commandments’, after all, personal autonomy is today’s big thing and we’re used to paddling our own canoe thank you very much! But Jesus is wise enough to know that we need guidance; and (here’s the thing) we need patterns to live by. He’s saying that if you want this relationship to flourish; if you want to make a daily ‘yes’ then it’s not a haphazard business. You have to be deliberate in letting your life be shaped by this relationship and its significance….

Again, we know what that’s about. Anyone who has started dating the man or woman of their dreams soon get feedback from family and friends don’t they? They want to know why they don’t see so much of you because now your diary… your schedule has changed. In fact, the tell-tale clues as to whether things are changing in our openness to God are usually in two particular areas: the wallet and the diary. Because these are the two places where we’re inclined to use the words ‘My own’. ‘My own’ money. ‘My own’ time.

Whereas, in ‘doing God’ we surrender our schedule; our daily routines to live with the continuing question: “What will it look like for my life to be re-shaped by friendship with Christ?” od “What might ‘abiding with Jesus’ look like?” You see, trying to ‘do’ God in some discreet part of life simply won’t work. We don’t look to as it were, ‘fit’ God into an otherwise busy schedule. Moments of prayer, setting aside Sunday for worship, Bible reflection, service of others; these are rather like the star striker on the football team- they’re always the first thing on the team sheet and everything else fits around them.

And more than this, our life is not just re-shaped it becomes re-scripted. That is, we find that we have a different story to tell…. About who we are; where we’ve come from and where we’re going. So, it’s no longer a matter of what I’m doing with MY life but what Christ is doing in and through me. It’s not so much ‘what I’ve achieved’ as ‘what I’ve been given’. It’s not… (as our reading tells us) that we have chosen him… but that he has chosen us and set us apart to live a Christ-shaped life of blessing to others.

And then of course, we learn that we can’t go it alone; we learn that the Christian faith is not a ‘self-help’ regime….

No, as a Christian we become part of a community that helps keep us in shape and on script. When you were Baptised, you were marked out as one who has been drawn into friendship with Christ and his people, the Church. The Church is that community which has no other purpose than to ‘do’ God… or more accurately, shout from the roof-tops and demonstrate through changed lives, what God has done for us, in Jesus Christ.

The question is: “Are you up for it?”

2021-05-25