Sometimes actions or movements need to act contrary to that culture to make a statement about its life. It’s usually referred to as counter cultural. The gospel began as a counter cultural movement.
The Jewish culture built upon sound foundations seemed to have lost its spirit of justice and mercy, love and forgiveness. God does not want sacrifices, but a broken and contrite heart. Jesus sought to break open the resulting external picture of the Jewish culture by fulfilling the law, not by doing away with it.
The cleansing of the temple is a potent example of his mission. But more importantly he taught and expressed a life of love and mercy, truth and spirit, qualities that had faded into the occasional memory of its people.
Cultures can become, complacent and self-serving far to easily. Are we facing a similar predicament in our own day? The subject is far to big for us to address today, save that I focus upon the culture of the church, which we know has stood at the heart of the Western culture.
As a church we are facing a time of extraordinary challenge as we find ourselves at the centre of the Royal Commission on Child Abuse. Of course the press have made sure the Catholic tradition has been strongly scrutinised. Not necessarily any better, but we Anglicans have had our turn recently. Probably not as publicly, because we are not taken as seriously.
There are many other issues that have led to the negative attitude toward the broad Christian communion. Together they have led to the marginalisation of the church within our Western secular society. If we started as a counter cultural movement in the life of Jesus history has witnessed the gradual forging of Christian culture with the very culture of the society we helped create.
In our own day we are, on the one hand, no more the heart and guardian of society, or on the other hand a dynamic community of faith.
Is our end nigh? Of course not! Rather than think this is the end, I suggest this is to be expected as the way of the cross. Our calling is to follow Jesus our leader. But our self-inflicted wounds hardly emulate his example. He was the ‘wounded healer’ in Henri Nouwen’s words.
SPIRIT FILLED ERA
In our spirit filled era of discipleship we have been blessed with a second picture. We walk together as a stumbling community. Fortunately we learn from one another. Some lives have stood out as inspirational leaders, not because of their Christ like perfection, but because like us they stumbled in their walk with Jesus and learnt they could pick themselves up and continue the walk.
THE GOOD FRIDAY STORY
Today we are taken back to the picture of not only Jesus but the scattered group of his followers. And at the centre of the Jesus story was Peter whose story was so humiliating and illuminating. So enthusiastic, blessed with personality and confidence he quickly became the disciples leader. But what a miserable failure on good friday
Peter has a vital story to tell us about living the way of the cross, depicting the counter cultural gospel.
To grasp its message I want to briefly paint a picture of personality. We are born with extraordinary potential to develop a range of exciting capabilities, gifts and talents starting in infancy and our early childhood years through our upbringing and eventually adulthood, enabling us to find our place in life.
But this picture is significantly modified by that stranger darker side of experience, shaped by fears, weaknesses, wounds and anxieties. Along with the other disciples, who were little better, Peter is a stark example of someone whose darker side got the better of him. His fears brought him crashing down as he denied Jesus to the point of utter shame. I believe unless we accept this is the way of the cross we will desperately cling to the ideals of our western culture.
This is the point that humanity gets stuck. Our point of failure creates the greatest struggle within our mind. We are engulfed in its mental darkness. We struggle by burying its memory, blame another or search for an excuse. And in doing so we merely bury our experience alive only to find it frequently trip up our progress.
Peter is the first one to discover the open door through the tragedy of the loss of his friend and with it its implication. First the empty tomb, then the upper room. Some time later the implication of the story is presented on the beach of Galilee.
We read the story of his encounter with Jesus in which time he was asked three times whether he did love Jesus, truly, truly love Jesus and eventually truly, truly, truly love Jesus: How therapeutic, but in truth, far more than therapeutic. On affirming his love of Jesus he is instructed to nurture, love and care for others.
Here we see that it is out of our failure, our fears, our anxieties, our weaknesses that when touched, forgiven and healed by spirit, its negative energy converts into compassion and so released to once again walk with spirit.
The way of Jesus is comprehensive. He came that we may have life and have it abundantly. It is wholistic in that it embraces and integrates all that we are, both our giftedness and our brokenness. Without this two-sided nature of Peters story we cannot find the Christness the world so desperately needs.
A LOP-SIDED CHURCH
Dare I say it but I believe the church has become one sided. It has done all in its power to be gifted and powerful. It has tried so hard to perfect its ways and control others.
It has been two preoccupied with its desire to lead the world with power and demand it follow its ways. That was not Jesus way. He did it with compassion.
Peter discovered that one must face ones failings to find that Christ-like compassion.
In recent years, the universal church has known great failure and we have experienced considerable buffeting. I am suggesting the doorway is before us. A new door is opening. This is a reminder that the compassion of Christ arises out of our failure, our fears, our anxieties our brokenness.
In addressing Peter with questions of his love, he is addressing the whole Church. At the point of our failure, like Peter we are being asked,
Do you love me?
Do you really really love me?
Do you really really really love me?
This is counter to western culture which only believes in success and power but which leaves a wake of brokenness and division. The spirit of our message is energised in recognising our failures and recommitting ourselves to love. Our gospel is counter cultural.
This must be the future of the church.