Challenged to Change
Communion: Jesus Under Our Feet
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
Have you thought again of what the real situation was when God determined that his dear, divine, only begotten son would be the first human being? Have you thought when he made that decision and made that resolution — he was actually committing himself to being in man? The hymn that Charles Wesley wrote: “Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man” — doesn’t’ only mean that here was God’s son becoming like a little baby not any larger than a span. But it meant that God himself was committing himself to being, in a way, imprisoned inside a man.
Because once Jesus became human, and became human forever just as he is divine forever, then God was really committing himself to be with man, and to be in man, and to be for man. And I think Barth puts it like this: “God put himself at risk for man.” What absolutely astounded me about that was, I have always had the idea that probably came into theology through the Greeks more than through Christianity — that God is up there untouchable and untouched.
I’ve known the phrase that Jesus was touched with our infirmities. But I’ve always thought God himself is one who sits above everything and makes all the plans, and devises all the systems — but he himself is in a sense untouched by it. And I think that Barth is right — that that idea of an untouched God, a God who cannot suffer, a God who never in that way, changes — that came from the Greek idea of gods who have really no feelings, and are so far above humanity that they cannot really feel what human beings feel. Of course, it is obvious when you begin to see what really happened in eternity that that isn’t the case. That when God resolved to allow his son Jesus to become the first human being, he himself was in Christ reconciling the world. So he was committing himself to us there.
So that’s the first thing I think it’s important to be clear about in our own minds — that God was actually at that moment making a massive change in his own situation and his own status. And his creation of man was not just a kind of experiment that he was engaging upon without any risk to himself. But it was, in fact, a mighty commitment that he made to humanity, and to accepting humanity as permanently part of his very own family.
Then the second thing I think that is obvious from this, is that when he permitted Jesus to become a man like that, and resolved to make all of us inside his son, then he was really committing himself also to bearing whatever we all would do inside his son. So it seems to me in a second, even more serious way, God was putting himself at risk. He was putting himself inside a dear son of his whom he knew would be sacrificed and executed — so that all of fallen man could be destroyed inside him, and he himself would take part in that.
Obviously, God the divine being was not destroyed. But it certainly is obvious that the human Jesus suffered all the agony of destruction. And as his Father was in him, and was right with him, and part of him, in some deep way God himself suffered that, and endured the contempt, the hatred, the blows, and the sin that Jesus bore.
But the third thing that came home to me certainly was that God has made that part of his eternal relationship with us. That explains his constant attitude to us. His constant attitude to us is, “I am bearing all that you can throw at me. I am bearing that. I must bear it. I have made you. I have made you capable of doing this, and I must bear all that you throw at me whatever it is. So
the worst thing that you can do to a little child that is molested sexually, the worst thing that you can do to an old Jewish person who is gassed in the ovens, the worst thing that you can do to your friend whom you hurt by some caustic comment, the worst that you can do to anyone who is part of my son — I bear that, and I will bear it, and I will bear it, and I will bear it, and I will bear it, and I will let you do what you want.”
And when I first saw that I thought, “That’s incredible! It’s unbelievable.” Because I think you were probably the same — I had always the idea that God is the mighty and powerful judge, and he is looking down upon us, and he is noting when we are right and when we are wrong. Then he is corralling us so that we’re moving all the time towards doing right. Then suddenly I saw, “No. God is saying, ‘I’m letting you do what you want. Do what you want. Do what you want and I will bear it, and I will bear it, and I will bear it even to the end of time.’”
So with Jesus on the cross refusing to pray that an army of angels would come and deliver him — Jesus is expressing what the Father’s attitude to us is everyday and every moment of our lives. And it seems to me that that’s the reality of it, that we are actually free to do what we want. He’ll let us do what we want, and he won’t strike us down dead in this life. He’ll let us do what we want, and all the time it’s searing and scarring his own heart. It is hurting him beyond anything that we can express. But he will continue to bear that — hoping all the time that we will stop.
In sermons, I used to try to represent Jesus bearing that by the picture of him you know, with one hand out clasping us around the waist and the other hand up at his face to save himself from our fists. But actually, that’s the picture of our Father. Our Father with one hand is sustaining our lives and keeping our breath going, and keeping our hearts beating, and making sure we have food each day, and on top of that giving us all kinds of little gifts through the day. And he has a hand up to protect himself from the things that we do against him. But that hand is up just to keep the blows from his face. That hand is not up to hit us.
So that I think is the reality of our life here. That our Father is actually letting us do what we want, and he’s not resisting us and not trying to stop us. He’s letting us do what we want. But all the time he is bearing those sins himself. And in Christ he is constantly endeavoring to reconcile the world to himself. But it seems to me, it’s such a change, and it reveals the terrible lie that has been so successfully transmitted to us, I suppose by Satan, over the years. The lie that God, of course, is the mighty and powerful one, that he is watching us as we do wrong, and is punishing us when we do wrong. In fact, it’s an absolute lie. It’s the other way around — we are the punishers. We are the punishers, and he is the dear loving person who is lying under our feet.
That is a condescension and a submission that just is bewildering — that it’s our God who is suffering from what we do, not us suffering from what he does. Yet he is refusing to react against us. He is saying, “Do what you want.” For me, it changed the whole attitude to what we call besetting sins, or the little things that we keep doing that we think, “Well, I know God would rather I didn’t do it. But I’ve done it again.” Suddenly I saw, “This is terrible cruelty to one who is letting me do what I want, and is committed to letting me do what I want — even though it is killing him.” Suddenly you see, “Wait a minute. Lord, I want to take your side. I want to be on your side. Not for my own sake, but for your sake I want to be on your side.”
Let us pray.