Marks of mission

Mission is the great imperative for the Church.  It’s not so much that the Church has a mission, as that the God of mission has a Church.  Or that’s the line, anyway.

But mission is highly contentious.  Burned by the colonial past and hesitant in pluralist society, Christians often struggle to know what faithful and appropriate mission looks like, and how it engages the world.

That’s a problem too big for one blog post.  However, as an appetiser on the subject, as it were, I thought it worth noting that the Anglican Consultative Council – an international Anglican body concerned to facilitate the cooperative work of the Anglican communion – has developed what has become something of a touchstone for me in thinking about mission: The Five Marks of Mission.  They seek to present a balanced view of what Christians, and Christian churches, should be about in the world.  These are the marks:

1.  To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom.

2.  To teach, baptise and nurture new believers.

3.  To respond to human need by loving service.

4.  To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.

5.  To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.

It’s a fairly comprehensive package; proclamation, teaching, nurturing; service; social justice, peace making and reconciliation; faithful stewardship of creation.  It is not necessary, or in many cases even possible, for every Christian to be engaged in all of these aspects of mission; but it is possible for every Christian community to challenge itself to embrace this breadth of thinking about mission.  If we come to a place where reducing our waste paper, writing letters to members of parliament, working in a soup kitchen, and all the other good works of the church can be seen as part of the Church’s embodiment of the love of God for the world, just as much as preaching or the sacramental life of the church, I suspect we are on our way to a healthier way forward than perhaps many of us have known.

Are we ready for the harvest?

This is the text of a sermon for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost, in the parish where I am now licensed. The Scriptures referenced are Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 and Romans 8:12-25.

My brothers and sisters, I have a problem.  And that is that, despite being a bit of a language geek, I have sadly concluded that Icelandic is hard.

Why – you may well ask – would I even consider learning Icelandic?  It all started innocently enough.  I was talking with some people who are very distressed about some of the policies of our government; particularly with regard to the treatment of asylum seekers.  And our conversation turned to the question of how bad things would have to be for some of us to consider actually leaving and living somewhere else.  And – if it did get to that point – where would you go?

A quick google told me that if you want to go somewhere with an excellent record on human rights issues, you’re generally talking about somewhere far away, cold, and with a language that’s not intuitive for English speakers.  It’s not exactly encouraging.

Of course, it’s not entirely a theoretical discussion for me, because I’ve done it before.  Australia looked pretty good from the point of view of apartheid-era South Africa.  But having done it once already, I’m not in a tearing hurry to do it again.

So it leaves me – and anyone else, who like me, isn’t anxious to move halfway around the world and master modern Viking – with a problem.  What do you do when it seems like evil is winning?

This morning’s parable, from Matthew’s gospel, gives us much to think about in this regard.  Remember how it goes; an enemy sowed weeds in among the good wheat in a field.  And so when the plants came up, the wheat and the weeds grew together.  And the slaves who worked the field were perplexed by this, and wondered whether they ought to uproot the weeds.

Note that – the slaves were confronted with the same question.  Here is a field overrun with weeds, with evil.  What do you do?

Well, comes the answer, you can’t fix it.  You can’t get rid of the weeds without damaging the wheat.  They have to grow together, lest the weeding diminish the harvest.  It’s a kind of spiritual version of the medical principle to first, do no harm.

That’s the bad news, folks.  We have to live in this world, with all of its mess, with planes being shot down and unsatisfactory governments and suicide bombers.  We can run away from it, we can try not to notice it, we can even distract ourselves with Nordic fantasies, but we can’t fix it.

And the parable offers us the perspective to understand why we can’t fix it.  Because we’re not the farmer; we’re not even the field hands.  If anything, we identify ourselves with the wheat.  We’re the harvest.  It’s a frustratingly passive role, for people who are used to thinking of ourselves as having agency over ourselves and our environment.

Maybe we are sometimes a little too attached to our illusions of control?

But I want to examine the idea that we are the wheat a bit more closely.

Of course, we’re the good guys, aren’t we?  Here we are, in church, pondering the Bible, about to come to communion – of course we’re the wheat.  I mean, we couldn’t be the weeds.  They’re children of the evil one.  They’re out there; ignorant, perhaps; misguided, certainly; lost to eventual fire, apparently.

It’s a problematic prospect, isn’t it?

What if there were another way to think about this?

What if, instead of dividing people into two neat categories – on whatever criteria – of good and bad, of wheat and weeds; what if the situation were a bit more complex than that?

What if, within my own heart, there were a field of both wheat and weeds?  Hmm.

I hate to admit it, but I can see some things in me, without which I might be a better person.  I guess you could call those weeds.  And I can see some things which – I hope it’s not too boastful to say – I think you could say are genuinely good; which I might call wheat.

And it’s not just me, is it?  This is part of the human condition.  Even the best of us struggles with awareness of our own weedy patches; and even the worst has at least the potential for good.

Here, perhaps, we might find it helpful to leave the gospel for a moment and ponder Paul’s image in our reading from Romans.  He said that “we know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

It’s a nicely balanced view, isn’t it?  All of creation, and not only the creation, but we ourselves, are waiting for the fulfilment of God’s purpose.  The image of groaning in labour is apt; an unstoppable process is underway, one with pain and difficulty and indignity and, well… truth be told I try not to think about it very much.  But at the end, new life takes its first breath, and there is relief and joy and celebration.

The good news about all of this – whether we’re talking about our own interior life, or the world at large – is that the evil will end.  Harvest time will come, the wheat will be gathered in, the weeds are collected and go to the fate they deserve.  And the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

So there are two aspects to the message for us, in a passage like this; hope and warning.  Evil is here, and we can’t fix it.  And yet, we’ve been given to know that evil will not win.  This mixed moral economy will end.  And even more than that, the fact that it has not ended yet tells us something very important, something worth celebrating: the wheat is still growing!  So maybe, alongside the question of what we do in the face of evil, we also need to ask ourselves; are we ready for the harvest?

Why I love my diocese

I had a bit of an epiphany today.  I’ve been at a conference for the clergy of the diocese of Melbourne (and some others) this week, on the topic of “Ministry and Mission in the Asian Century.”  This meant that much of the discussion over the last couple of days has been about cross-cultural, and multicultural, ministry.

And as I stood in worship with my brothers and sisters in Christ, and looked around the room, I felt my own joy at the diverse group of people we are.  Here we were, standing shoulder to shoulder; people from every continent (well, except Antarctica); people of an amazing variety of languages, cultures, and nationalities; people who are heirs to diverse riches of churchmanship, theological viewpoint, spirituality; people who are gay and straight, men and women, old and young; and if, below the polite exteriors, there were tensions and disagreements (who am I kidding – of course there were!), we were still here, engaging in this endeavour together, exasperated at times but not having given up on one another, or on the God who calls us to common purpose.

I do not agree with every theological position held by people in that room.  I do not like the liturgical choices many of them make in worship; I do not have much in common in personality and spirituality with others.  And yet from all of them – the most liberal to the most conservative, the most over-the-top Anglo-Catholic to the most over-the-top charismatic, all of them – I have something to learn.

And thinking about this, I had a moment of insight into something I have long recognised but struggled to understand; and that is my own instinctive sense of being at home, and belonging, in the Anglican church in Melbourne.

You see, I am a child of many cultures.  I am a citizen of Australia, born in apartheid-era South Africa, whose mother is a French Mauritian and whose father has mixed Afrikaans and English heritage.  I have lived on two continents; in my childhood home we spoke four languages.  (And at school and as an adult I have formally studied two more).  My family’s religious heritage includes Roman Catholicism and Dutch Reformed membership, and I have chosen Anglicanism (or, perhaps, it has chosen me) as my household of faith.  My initial experience of church was evangelical-charismatic, and now I find myself serving in a community which consciously identifies as liberal Anglo-Catholic.  Inside my head I have an eclectic grab bag of opinions, viewpoints, ideas, experiences, and passions jostling for my attention, and which I strive to somehow offer to God with integrity.  Sometimes the cognitive dissonance is almost distressing.

It struck me that I am very much like my diocese; heir to many traditions and cultures, in which none predominates absolutely.  I am sometimes conflicted, confused, surprising myself at what comes out of my own mouth.  Sometimes hurting, sometimes hurtful, sometimes flat out wrong.  And yet, by the grace of God, the diversity in me provides me with the raw material for growth; in comparison and contrast I can see highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of the different strands of my life, and in experience and reflection I can learn to find the best way for each to bear fruit.  It is a process of constant internal dialogue, and it is hard work; but as I persevere in it I see glimpses of encouraging growth.  Sometimes I truly express a servant heart in just the right way to connect with someone else’s need.  Sometimes I have the right words of wisdom or knowledge at just the right time.  Sometimes I see indications that I am on the way to becoming someone who is truly worthy of her calling.

And really, I think this is why I find myself so at home in such a diverse diocese.  I instinctively understand the process – and the value – of dialogue across difference.  I would feel out of place in a monochrome church in which dialogue was closed and diversity absent, because I would not know how to challenge myself and grow in that environment.  To celebrate and honour the diversity of my diocese – even when I struggle with aspects of it – is to celebrate and honour something of my own nature.  To look for and anticipate the growth of the church in holiness and fruitfulness is to hold out hope for God’s graciousness to all who are open to challenge.

We are not perfect.  We squabble (sometimes nastily), we fail to uphold and support one another, we struggle with what it means to be faithful in community when it sometimes seems that we are pulling in opposite directions.  But I see in the struggle the commitment of very different men and women to the one God, and the heartfelt desire to offer our best to God, with integrity.  I see in our common life glimpses that we are a church on the way to becoming truly worthy of our calling.  And I am moved to tears with gratitude and joy.

Needs mending

I don’t know if there is any expression of Christian prayer more vexed or fraught than prayer for inner healing.  I have seen people carrying great burdens due to trauma, or mental illness, or some other wound of the soul, who go through the motions of seeking medical or psychological help but struggle to set those processes in the framework of their faith and spirituality; or who don’t know how to make connections between their beliefs and ideas about God, and relationship with God, and their own complex and difficult lived experiences.

Which is why I was so glad to come across this very simple, but profound, spiritual exercise for inner healing.*

“Take a “needs mending” inventory.  Set aside time for several days or weeks to be in the presence of Jesus with your wounds.  Gather a list of wounded places and tender relationships that need mending.  Simply gather the list.  Let it grow as other wounds come to mind.  Leave it with God.
At another time, come to God in a safe and quiet place where you can attend to the list in the presence of the great Physician.  Breathe deeply.  Inhale the closeness of Jesus.  He is nearer than your own breath.  Don’t hurry.  Wait in his presence.
When you are ready, set the list before the Lord and wait.  What one item seems to have your attention?  (Attend to one wound at a time.  Don’t move on to another wound until you sense that the time has come to do so).  Ask Jesus what he wants to tell you about this wound.  Listen.  What do you sense the Lord is saying to you?
Respond to Jesus.  Trust Jesus to do what he needs to do.  The fruit of healing may not be a big feeling of release at the time of prayer, but changed internal responses as time goes by.  Over time you may notice that your internal responses to people and situations begin to shift.  Talk to God about this.”

There are several things about this exercise which I particularly like.  I like that this exercise recognises that our needs for healing are complex and that healing unfolds over time, but also treats those needs with seriousness and does not dismiss or belittle the heart’s yearning for wholeness.

I like that it makes no assumptions about what kind of wound you are dealing with, and therefore does not make prescriptions for fixing it, other than bringing it to the One who knows all things.  It also makes no assumptions about your support network; this exercise is equally valid whether you are working with a team of professionals and have an extensive network of helpful family and friends, or if you have not been able – for whatever reason – to surround yourself with other personal support.  It does not rely on the expertise of a religious professional or the constancy of a prayer partner, both of which might be lacking.   (Having seen too much damage done by inaccurate “diagnosis” and inadequate or misguided attempts to help, I am wary of solutions which rely on them!)

I like, though, that this exercise doesn’t assume that it operates in isolation.  It is clear that ongoing prayer for healing of this kind draws its substance out of the reality of our lives, and is shaped by and responds to our relationships and context.  This exercise then can become the place where all of the different strands of understanding our wounds – medical, psychological, religious, social and so on – can be integrated and given over to God to form something whole.  It gives a sense of having something to do, in the face of wounds which can seem overwhelming and incomprehensible, and thus lifts the dead weight of despair and helplessness which compounds so much human suffering.

Like everyone else, I have my own wounds, some of them sometimes terrible and burdensome in their darkness.  But finding this exercise, I feel that perhaps I have a way to form connections and integrate those wounds better than any other “method” I have encountered before.  I intend to try it; my biggest problem is likely to be finding the quiet and private time, the greatest luxury in the life of a working mum!

*This exercise is taken from Adele Ahlberg Calhoun’s book, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.

Discerning the spirits, and communion.

This is the text of a sermon for the feast of Corpus Christi (Thanksgiving for the Holy Communion).   I was invited to be the guest preacher at a friend’s parish. The Scripture referenced is 1 Corinthians 10:14-21).

Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, or as some would call it, of thanksgiving for the holy communion.  And while there are a great many positive and celebratory sorts of things I might say about that – and I promise I’ll get to some of them – I actually want to start in an odd, if not an almost negative place.  And that is Paul’s writing, in our epistle reading this morning, that “what pagans sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God.  I do not want you to be partners with demons.  You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons.  You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.”

It’s solemn stuff.  But so far removed from our own lives that it can be difficult to see any relevance.  After all, pagan sacrifice is hardly a feature of everyday life in the high street of this town, and demons have become more comic figures than serious representations of reality.  So what do we do with it?

Paul was convinced that the idols used in pagan worship were a block of wood or stone and nothing more; they were not anything in and of themselves.  At the same time he believed in the reality of an unseen spirit-world, and that idolatry was not merely meaningless but connected into that unseen realm in an unhealthy way.

It was unhealthy partly because it robbed the true God of the glory due to him alone, but also because it meant that human beings, engaged in a spiritual act and directing their worship toward something other than God, were brought into intimate relation with other, and evil, spiritual powers.

I should point out that the kind of sacrifice under discussion here is not necessarily just to “gods” as we might understand them (or just a religious function).  It could include rites intended to honour the emperor, or heroes and military generals, or even dead relatives, and so this kind of sacrifice had social and political functions just as much as spiritual.

So what do we make of demons, if we are not inclined to think of them in stereotypical terms and start checking if they’re hiding under the bed?  The ancient idea of demons was used here to explain the presence of an evil that is bigger than just you and me, that expressed itself through cultural or social or governmental or any other kind of institution or organisation or communal reality (and I might add, which could express itself as much in and through the church as any other such organisation).

Those communal realities can be said to have a spirituality, a real aspect of the institution even in places where spirituality is very much out of fashion.  Anyone who has ever dragged their feet into school or work because of a deadening environment (and hasn’t that been all of us, at one time or another?), has experienced that even if this isn’t the language we normally use to describe it.  The issue is not whether we “believe” in this kind of spiritual reality but whether we can learn to identify our actual, everyday encounters with it – the ancient discipline of “discerning the spirits.”

Paul’s statement then that idolatrous sacrifice is to demons, and his insistence on not being partners with demons, show how serious, how grave and solemn, how absolute, he regarded the statement that Jesus is Lord.  No other claim on our allegiance is allowed to stand beside Him.  The matter of serving God should not be understood too narrowly.  It shapes not only what happens here in church on Sunday but all of our priorities and decision making.

Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury, described Jesus as setting us an example of “the one big thing that Christianity had brought into the world of human imagination.”  And that was – and is – the truth of what power is for.  Power exists, in the Church or the state or anywhere else, so that ordinary people may be treasured and looked after, especially those who don’t have the resources to look after themselves.  Scripture is crystal clear that this is the standard by which the gospel of Jesus judges the powerful of this world.

Jesus gave us this startling idea that the goal of the supreme power in the universe is that we should be nurtured, respected and loved.  And it is the failure to meet this standard; any instance in which we see that people are being neglected, held in contempt, or hated, that we are able to recognize the concrete examples of what Paul would have described as demonic influence.  Demons are the name given the real but invisible spirit of destructiveness and fragmentation that rends persons, communities and nations.

Which brings us back around, as it were, to the question of the holy communion.  Paul’s logic is that community and relationship hinge on participation.  There is a coherent and unbreakable union in which ‘bread,’ ‘body,’ ‘Christ,’ and ‘church,’ are inseparably identified together.  In a real sense the four have become one and cannot ever be separated.

The body of Christ can be understood, in the same spiritual terms that we have discussed demons, as the spiritual reality of the Christian community.  As the inner nature of the Church, Christ calls us forward into that hope for liberation, compassion and love which God presents anew in each moment.  The body of Christ is the human community that has committed itself to be the manifestation of Christ’s spirit in the world.

That’s why the Corinthians couldn’t sacrifice to idols and still take communion; it was a fundamental lack of integrity that would even think that would be possible.  It’s no less true for us; honouring or committing ourselves to power that is expressed in oppressive, abusive or destructive ways is utterly incompatible with everything this table stands for.  Rather, it is in the Eucharist – the central Christian proclamation of the power of God, made real for us, poured out in sacrifice for us – that we find sustenance, strength and hope, for transformation; ultimately not only of ourselves but of all the horizon of life, as idols are abandoned and power serves its true end: the glory of God, shown forth in human beings fully alive.

Trinity and exhilaration

This is the text of a sermon for Trinity Sunday, in the parish where I am now licensed. 

Sometimes I think the people who put together the lectionary – the guide to what the readings for church services each day should be – have a real sense of humour.  Here we are, on Trinity Sunday, and the epistle reading included Paul’s instruction to “agree with one another.”  And yet it took another four centuries or so – and plenty of not agreeing with one another – for the church to begin to feel that we had a satisfactory way of talking about God as Trinity, which took into account what the Bible has to say, as well as the lived experience of believers.

And I want to emphasise that lived experience as important.  For example, it was because Christians worshipped the Spirit, sang songs in praise of the Spirit, and prayed to the Spirit; because they recognised the Spirit as present and active in the church’s life, that they found they needed a way of speaking which recognised the Spirit as God, as much as the Father and the Son.

It raises the question in my mind; if we don’t use the language of Father, Son and Holy Spirit to describe our experience of God, have we explored the potential of our faith as fully as possible?

Let me put that another way.  We talk about God as Trinity.  And I think it’s an important and valid question then to ask, “So What?”

I’d like to begin to scope out an answer to that question.

What is it that leads us to talk about God as Father?  Isn’t it that we celebrate the dignity, the value, and the wonder of each human being around us – and remember that these human beings are made in the image of God?  Isn’t it that we look at the heavens and the earth – everything from the vastness of space to the intricacy of a single living cell – and worship in awe at the wisdom which could conceive of this, and the might that could bring it into existence?  Isn’t it also that we are aware that in what we know, we are just playing in the waves on the edges of a vast ocean, and that we can only guess at the depth and breadth of the mysteries which are just too vast for us to grasp?

I suggest that every time we are mindful of these things, they bring us back to recognising God as Father, and to a profound reverence and awe in our worship and our lives.

And then, what is it to talk about God the Son?  The defining story of Christianity – of the God who emptied himself; who, as Philippians says, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but laid it aside, became human, and became our servant, even to the point of death – shows us an aspect of the life of God which is distinct from that of the Father.

There is, I think, something important consider here.  And that is that in no way can we consider Father and Son to be divided or opposites.  Sometimes in the way we think and talk about what Jesus did for us, in dying for us and opening a way back into intimate relationship with God, it sounds as if the Father and the Son were pulling something of a cosmic good cop-bad cop routine.  The Father is presented as the “bad cop” who holds judgement and damnation over our heads, and the Son as the “good cop” who steps in, placates the “bad cop” and makes everything alright for us, if only we comply with what is being asked of us.

I have to tell you, that kind of thinking about God doesn’t wash.  There is no difference in attitude towards us between Father and Son.  Both the Father and the Son love us; both the Father and the Son care for us, and the Father and the Son collaborated together in the costly work of our redemption.  In this, as much as in creation or any other work of God, they are united in purpose and action.

Yet we still need to ask, what is it for us to recognise the work of the Spirit in our lives, in our Church, and to be able to talk about that?  Some of us will have experienced, or known others who have experienced, “charismatic” expressions of the Spirit in the life of believers.  That is all well and good and to the glory of God.  But even for those of us who haven’t, the evidence of the Spirit’s work amongst us is still there to be seen.  As long as we can recognise in ourselves (or, more often it is easier to see it in others) the growth of a person, becoming more loving, patient, kind, generous and gentle; more wise, faithful, joyful, and peaceful; and more self-controlled – we can recognise the work of the Spirit in bringing about good fruit in our lives.

All of this is as much to say, the idea of the Trinity isn’t an intellectual puzzle to be solved. It is an idea which comes out of the lived experience of every Christian believer.  It is the Church’s communal shout of praise for a God whose richness of being overflows, in ways which stretch our language almost to breaking point, but only so as to make room for us to grow in love and worship Him more fully.  It is as we realise the truth of God’s being, for us, that we find ourselves growing more fully into His likeness; that we find God’s kingdom growing and transforming the world in which we live; and that we find our language unable to contain the full meaning of truth which ultimately we have to experience to know.

I came across a line which I very much liked from Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that in speaking of the Trinity, we try to find, not the most exact but the least silly things to say; that we try to find language which will share the exhilaration of being drawn into the life of God.  It’s just possible that I’m a lot sillier than Rowan Williams.  But I hope that if I can say anything which is of use at all about the Trinity, it will be something which speaks of that exhilaration.  Of the abundance of God the Father, poured out in creation; of the generosity and selflessness of God the Son, shown in his life, death and resurrection; of the power and energy of the Spirit, renewing us, pushing at the world as God’s kingdom comes and grows in our midst.  Who wouldn’t be exhilarated?  Who wouldn’t be encouraged to glimpse something of this?

This brings me back around to Paul’s instruction to “agree with one another.”  All of us are here today because something about God has been deeply attractive to us.  The deeply creative, loving, overflowing life of God comes to live within us; to show itself within us, and to work through us to take hold of others around us.  Our life as a community should mirror something of the inner life of God; a life in which hierarchy and ego is not at issue; a life in which each is willing to be involved in work that is costly; a life which is not closed off and turned inward, but looking outward in overflowing abundant generosity, love and joy.  God’s love has been poured into our hearts, and we can hardly remain unchanged after that experience.

That is my answer to the question “So What?”  That is the least silly glimpse into the meaning of Trinity which I can offer you today.  And this is the vision in which I think Paul would encourage us to agree with one another, to join our hands and minds and voices in unity of purpose and direction.

The Lord be with you.

Ascension Day

This is the text of a sermon for Ascension Day, in the parish where I am now licensed. The Scriptures referenced are Luke 24:44-53 and Ephesians 1:15-23.

So often, when we think about Christ’s ascension, we think of it from the earthly side.  We imagine something like the picture on the front of tonight’s pew sheet; Jesus ascending into clouds, the apostles and their companions standing around gazing upwards, all of that.  But if that was problematic or even a crisis point for the people standing on earth, I read one author who suggested it was just as much of a shock to the angels in heaven; Christ returned, fully human, and sat on the throne at the right hand of the father, and nothing was ever going to be the same again.

You see, the point about Christ’s ascension is not so much about his going away, or the physics of where or how he has gone, as it is about locating him now.  About having the wisdom to recognise that he is at the right hand of the Father, in the heavenly places, with all things under his feet, and is head over all things.  The imagery is spatial but it is one way of articulating relationships of comparative power and status, which have implications for the church, the physical created world and even for heaven.

Christ is now in the presence of the Father, in the place where events of even cosmic significance are decided; and seated in the position to which every other power and authority must defer.

In the reading from the letter to the Ephesians which we heard tonight, Paul writes about Christ’s superiority to “all rule and authority and power and dominion,” and in the language of the time, this was understood to refer to demonic power, which Jewish thought saw at work behind idolatry, and all the practices, dispositions and structures which alienate people from God and from one another.  For the Ephesians, Christian converts in an environment where pagan worship and the practice of magic were both common, this reminder of Christ’s superiority to all such things was, no doubt, timely.

But even to us, who may be more hesitant in identifying demonic forces behind our own experiences of alienation and dehumanisation, it is helpful and timely to remember that the reign of Christ surpasses – and will in time bring to an end – all rule and authority which would see God ignored and human beings reduced to less than the image and glory of God.

The mention in the text of “this age but also…the age to come” points to the reality that although Christ’s rule over all things is already determined and established, it is yet to be brought to its fullness.

Paul prays that “you may know what is the hope to which he has called you;” hope that has been begun in and which draws its life from Christ, raised from the dead and seated at the Father’s right hand in the heavenly places.  That hope is not yet brought to fulfillment; God’s will is still unfolding, and we – the body of which Christ is uniquely and personally the head – find ourselves caught up in the drama, somewhere between the overture and the final curtain.

But because we have been given a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, we know something of the final scenes, have caught a glimpse of that hope, the final reign of God in which all that is wrong will be put right, and God will be all in all.  As the church, the body of Christ, even, the text says, “the fullness of him who fills all in all,” we are called to participate in bringing that about.  Hope is not primarily an emotion, but an expectation expressed in the orientation of our priorities and our lives.

And I should say that this is not only an outward-oriented reality; as if Ascension Day might have much to do with social justice but not so much about anything else.  Make no mistake; this is just as much an internal reality as well.  The reign of Christ must be as much in each of our hearts, and has as much to do with individual holiness and obedience – unfashionable terms though those are – as it does with social justice.

In that regard, I’m reminded of the words of a worship song which I’ve sung a great deal elsewhere.  I won’t sing it for you, but just read you a couple of verses:

Lord, take up your holy throne,
deep within my heart.
Take the place that is yours alone,
deep within my heart.

Lord, take up your holy throne,
throughout all the earth.
Take the place that is yours alone,
throughout all the earth.

And of the increase of your government,
there shall be no end,
there shall be no end,
there shall be no end;
you are worthy, Lord, to reign.

I can think of no more fitting prayer to finish with on Ascension Day.

 As a bonus, here in the blog I can add a link to a youtube version of the song I quoted, so you can listen as well as read.