The Father and I are One.
Tuesday 24th April Epistle: Acts 11:19-26 Gospel: John 10:22-30
Luke tells us in Acts that when the early church was scattered because of persecution, ‘the hand of God was with them.’ The moment of apparent desolation becomes a turning point for the Church. At Antioch, a great number became practicing disciples, seasoning that city with their presence, so that they acquired the nickname Christians. Barnabas was sent to see this situation, and he rejoiced and encouraged them: he was ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and of faith.’ Plain practical kindness and goodness marked him out – his encouragement brought Saul out of anonymity in Tarsus – Barnabas discerned that it was time for Saul to begin his public ministry within the Christian church as Paul.
Saul’s history as a Pharisee was notorious. He had persecuted early Christians: it was at his feet that those who stoned St Stephen had put their cloaks. Then there was that episode on the road to Damascus, where the persecutor had a vision of Jesus, who confronted him, with the blinding question ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ Not ‘Why are you persecuting my people’, or ‘my Church’, but ‘me’. Exactly what that meant for the status of Christian believers, however humble, however incomplete and inadequate we might be, overwhelmed Saul, and it should overwhelm us.
In today’s gospel, John tells us of Jesus at Hanukkah. People took the opportunity to ask him to speak plainly about himself and his mission. His answer was that his works have already told that story, it’s how people respond to what they have seen that marks whether or not they wish to be part of his flock. The community is called into being by listening to Jesus – he knows us, and gives us time to know him, giving us eternal life so that we may never perish, and never be snatched away from Him. The Christian community is entrusted to Jesus by the Father: the Father and he are one.
The extraordinary good news is, that in every twist and every moment of each human life, as we say in the Communion Service: “The Lord be with you“– He is here. Our mission lies in his truth – Christian life and the service of God is to name this powerful and gentle extension of God himself to his world. Throughout many centuries this church has stood to say to everyone, on behalf of God, ‘Every day, the door is open for you’. In our worship and self-offering, we tell God ‘Every day the door of our heart is open for You’.
In the real man, Jesus, God never stops seeking the lost – and neither do we. God desires to restore a loving relationship with every soul – and so do we. When we are lost, God himself comes to find us in Jesus. And when we are found, God himself rejoices in us, because we are made and restored in God’s image. Jesus and the Father are one. Our destiny is to be one with him, and one with each other.
God himself makes this happen this in many ways. It can all seem a bit far from the grind of the everyday, but it is God’s purpose in each place throughout all history to reconcile all things in Jesus.
This work of God himself, of the Holy Spirit, is going on now, here. It is been going on in every situation within these stones over the last thousand years. God’s purposes working out in Saxon life, in the establishment of this city and university, through the trauma of the Reformation, in the trials of Cranmer and others; it takes place inconspicuously too, in daily silence, and prayer, and worship; in conversations, amid troubled emotions and conflict, in civic ceremony; in ancient liturgy, and beautiful music that makes us hear God’s stillness. Visitors, and regular worshippers glimpse the living God with his people, and begin to see that in Jesus we all belong to him. And the eyes of love learn to see how Christ himself departs, quietly and invisibly, from the sanctuary. The singing will continue to resound, human fellowship will abound, people will wonder at the beauty of the music. And Christ will go out through the church porch, and mingle with the crowd: the poor, the desperate, the embittered, the lost, the tourist, the student, the strong, the rich, migrant worker, those who live on our streets with their dogs, the addict, drug seller, Oxford residents, night-clubbers, schoolchildren. Christ goes out into these streets, and beyond them to the prisons, the hospitals, to places of power and poverty. He goes in our flesh, yours and mine, because in him forever, the Father and humanity are united: God has become eternally human: the Father and we are one in Jesus.
Fernando Botero, Jesus and the Crowd, 2010, oil on canvas, 107 x 78 cm, Private Collection.
 Cf. Maria Skobtsova (St Maria of Paris).