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The Church : Apostolic


24 March 2007 11:00 | Fr. David Cherry

“And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that …they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” The closing words from the epistle this morning .

May I speak only for the love and glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

It is a great pleasure to be with you today. Thank you for inviting me.

As our theme today I have been asked to address you on the Church – you and I – as apostolic. A church, a People, that is apostolic is a people who are sent. Apostele means essentially ‘sent’.

After Easter we will hear those words of Jesus: “As the Father has sent me; even so, send I you”

Around this word apostele other meanings have accrued over the course of history as the Church came to realise her fuller identity as a People called and sent; living and ministering in continuity with the early church’s apostolic ministry; and the bishops being living signs of it. But I’m not particularly interested in dwelling here this morning.

Rather I think there are other questions which we face as an apostolic people; and which I want to try to uncover. The questions that arise for me are go something like this:
What is there to be apostolic about?

Of what sort of God; of what sort of a ‘some-thing’ are you and I – in the words of St Paul – ambassadors through whom God is making his appeal? (2 Cor 5: 20).

The epistle ends with those extraordinary words “And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, (so) that …they, which are called, might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.” And what might that look like?

Listen then to this account and note how it makes you feel: God created the world; humans are naturally selfish and nasty and get it all snarled up and deserve to be punished. God is full of wrath but at the same time, fortunately for us, he is also merciful. So instead of punishing you and me he decides to send his Son. This Son will live in obedience to his Father and submit even to death, accepting our punishment instead of us. And God, whose anger is thus appeased, will raise him up on the third day. We must live in gratitude for this; and ‘be obedient, good as he’.

Gerry Hughes SJ, Friday’s Tablet, asks:

Why did Jesus endure his Passion and death? Because this was what his Father wanted and Jesus was obedient at all times? And if your answer is “Yes,” then would you want this father to be with you always, or would you prefer to keep him at as safe a distance as possible?

This is a culture of deserving, where each gets his just deserts by transaction, keeping your end of the bargain.

Now listen to another account and note how it makes you feel: God creates the world, holding it in being as the letter to the Colossians tells us. He is constantly working. St Ignatius says ‘he conducts himself as one who labours’. Humans fall prey to envy. They want to be like God – ‘masters of their own destinies’, if you like. In this they become subject to a futile ambition, forgetting they are created and not the Creator. Envy gets them all snarled up in rivalry and competition. Very quickly they commit fratricide (Cain and Abel), killing one another and living in fear. Consequently, they end up having to subjugate others to their power and create more and more defence mechanisms under increasing threats: internal, personal defence mechanisms and also huge nuclear ones. But God has never left his world. As Hopkins says :


“…all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil

And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: …

….And for all this nature is never spent;… (God’s Grandeur)

Our creating God is ever present, bringing people to their right minds, inviting them to see themselves designed for something greater, yet more glorious.

Out of sheer and gratuitous love for us God can no longer bear to leave his beloved ones alone. He appears in human form, ‘full of grace and truth’ so that we may receive, accept and own as ours the promise of our eternal inheritance : that is, who we really are – daughters and sons of the Most High God.

Around him, Jesus, gathers a constellation of people who are beginning to realise their true identity as those who are ‘found’ in him. They find they are capable of receiving such a love and find themselves forgiven – that is – ‘being released’ from what binds and snarls them up: envy, fear and resentment.

But such a God is very threatening indeed and must be done away with for fear he will bring about an insurrection in the body politic; for fear he will destabilise the purposes we have designed for ourselves. It is better that one man die than all the people perish. And God knows this. He hands himself over into the hands of others to be the Victim so that we might be appeased; and through this hellish act of deicide discover ourselves still loved.

At Easter he is still found creating, a Gardener mis-recognised in another garden, walking in the cool of the day. His words to the locked-up, frightened are not a patronising word of forgiveness : only Peace. I am still for you; in love with you.

And this is altogether a different story from the story in which Christianity has become snarled up.

This is a culture of grace, gratuitous love, graciousness towards us, a culture we call the kingdom of God.

Now such a culture is hard to dwell in and make our own. It is hard to imagine and be conscious of. But this is the ‘promised inheritance.’

Here is no god who needs to be implored to change his mind; to be appeased or kept happy. Here is no God who needs to be persuaded to forgive, or demands we are obedient.

Instead, the true God is utterly for us. This is the meaning of YAHWEH – that discovery of the Hebrew people through time of God as unlike any other god. The true God is longing for us to receive and inhabit who we truly are; and for that end, he is willing to die at our hands so that we will come to see in him, our Victim, what sort of God he really is.

And this God is worth being sent out for, being an apostle of.

What does it look like?

The early Christians saw Jesus as the High Priest of a New Dispensation. This is how he is described in the epistle this morning. He is the High Priest coming forth from the Holy of Holies – that place which represented ‘before time’. He come through the veil of the temple into created matter. He is the generative Creator ‘of good things to come’, opening up Creation, so that it may be brought to its completion and you and I to wholeness.

And you and I are being swept up into the creative movement of God’s creative, restorative power in the world. Here, in Holy Communion with this Real God, we find ourselves ambassadors, an apostolic band, sent as agents, part of the project that is God’s: co-operators, co-workers, co-creators, co-redeemers – apostles: ‘those sent’, ambassadors – to the extent we allow this culture of grace to undo us and take hold of us.

So as we go deeper into the Passion let us open our hearts and minds to the One who ‘for this cause … is the mediator of the new testament, (so) that …we, which are called, might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.’ Amen
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