June 13, 2010
Rev. Dr. David A. Davis
“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Christ living in me. Crucified with Christ. No longer me. Christ in me. Not me. Not me. Paul, Galatians chapter 2 and a verse that ought to stick somewhere in your craw. It ought to rattle around a bit somewhere inside you, a verse seeking some understanding, a quote crying out for some unpacking. A little help, please? That ought to be the prayer to God’s Spirit of wisdom and understanding. Like when you come upon Jesus saying “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who want to lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel will save it.” (Mk 8:34ff) Losing life to save it, yeah(?). Or when you read Paul in Philippians, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me, and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better, but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.” (Phil 1:21ff) Living is Christ and dying is gain, yeah(?). Or when you remember Paul’s exhortation in Romans 6. “So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” Dead to sin. Alive to God. Yeah (!). Then later you try to wrap your head around what that means, how that works. The being dead to sin part. “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Yeah (?).
In the life span of the Christian Church there have been those who have experienced persecution, martyrdom, unspeakable suffering because of their faith. In every generation of the church, women and men who gave witness to a more literal reading; “I have been crucified with Christ.” Saints, martyrs, there in the great cloud of witnesses who followed in the footsteps of Stephen in Book of Acts. Stephen was stoned, he was murdered in response to his proclamation of the gospel. According to scripture, in his death, his vision of heaven included Jesus rising to greet him there at the right hand of God. “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” Stephen prayed even as he asked the Lord to forgive those who were killing him. “I have been crucified with Christ.” In honor of Stephen and for all who followed him to their death and to life eternal in Christ’s name, the rest of us ought to be really careful tossing around phrases like “we all have our crosses to bear” or “he was crucified by the media” or “they crucified her for that mistake.” Crucified with Christ. Martyrdom for some, but not all. In Galatians, the Apostle Paul is not writing about the Stephen’s among us.
We were at a family gathering on Memorial Day when someone said to both our kids, “I was just looking at some pictures from when you were younger. I think you are more Davis than Cook.” The conclusion was based on a close analysis of facial features (cheek bones, nose, eyes maybe something else) long about ages 4 and 7. More often than I can count I have heard a comment something along the lines of not being able to deny my children. A neighbor way back when saw Ben and I walking up the driveway. Ben was maybe three years old. “From behind” he said, “you two walk exactly the same.” Growing up, living with the imprint of another; it’s a part of who we are, really. A complicated part of who we are.
“It is Christ who lives in me” writes the Apostle Paul. The imprint of a Savior. The image of God; alive, at work, within us, part of who we are. Being crucified with Christ, at his crucifixion, he took us, he took our sins, he took all of humanity, he took the sins of the world with him. Crucified with Christ not in our suffering, but in his. It is the plan of salvation, that in the love and mercy of God, and because of the suffering and death of the Son of God, when God looks at us, at you, at me, when God looks upon us, God can’t help but see Jesus. Christ who lives in me. Living with the imprint of Christ himself. It is a part of who we are, really. A grace-filled part of who we are in the eyes of God. Christ living in me. A God’s eye view of salvation history.
But in Galatians, the Apostle Paul is not writing about what God sees in me. There are way too many first person personal pronouns in this text to assume that Paul is worried here about what God sees. “If I build up again the very things that I once tore down...I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ….the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God…I do not nullify the grace of God.” I. I. I. I. I build up. I died. I might live. I now life. I live by faith. I have been crucified with Christ. In all the wonder of God’s grace, you and I dare to believe that when our life on earth ends we shall stand there at the throne of God with the very imprint of Christ all over our faces and hearts, our very being; that indeed God shall see Christ in us. But this argument here, Paul and Galations and being crucified with Christ, it’s about living here and now for the One who loved me and gave himself for me.
“It is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.” There’s an old preacher’s prayer. It is one of those prayers for illumination that the preacher prays right before the scripture and the sermon. In our liturgy, more often than not that prayer is in unison. We all share in the prayer because the reading and the preaching and the hearing, it is a collective act. Sometimes the preacher prays by herself. One of the prayers I have heard goes something like this: “Allow me to decrease and you to increase, O Christ. Not my words, but your words. Not me, but Thee, O God.” The language of increase and decrease, it comes from John the Baptist in the 3rd chapter of John’s gospel when the Baptist is telling his own followers about the Messiah. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
That preacher’s prayer has always made me uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the implied disclaimer that what I am about to say comes directly from God on high unadulterated by my study and preparation, Maybe its because PT Forsyth said more than a generation ago that preaching is truth proclaimed through personality; in other words, you never can remove the preacher and the preacher’s humanity from the equation. Maybe it’s the elevated sense of piety that implies a privilege or a closer relationship with God for the preacher, a closer relationship than the one between God and the listening saint in the 4th or 5th pew who has been praying and listening and hearing; preacher after preacher after preacher; probably some days wishing that the preacher would decrease a whole lot more. Clearly God is present and the Holy Spirit is at work in the reading and preaching and hearing of God’s Word. But you can’t take an eraser to the preacher’s self.
He must increase, I must decrease. Not my will, by Thy will be done. Not me, but Thee, O Lord. Truth is you and I are in good company with such prayers; more of God, less of self. But you can’t just take an eraser to self when it comes to you and God. And I’m sure that’s the aim either. “I am wonderfully made” says the psalmist and “wonderful are your works.” “You are precious in my sight and honored and I love you” the voice of the Lord in the prophet Isaiah. “Love your neighbor as yourself” in the whole canon of scripture implies a certain love of self. I don’t think here in Galatians when Paul writes about being crucified with Christ that he is arguing for the obliteration of the self in the complex terms of wholeness and being that one may write about today. And I’m not sure Paul right here in Galatians is writing about our piety at all.
“I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” Christ living in me. Crucified with Christ. No longer me. Christ in me. Not me. Not me. It is Paul making an argument, a theological argument. Paul taking on all who think your ability to keep the law makes you right in the eyes of God. Paul taking on any who think the goal here is to live a good life, or to make your own contribution, or to go out and change the world. Paul taking on any who think if you live right, blessings will come. Paul taking on all who assume to be faithful is to be like us, to be like me, to do what I do. Paul taking on any who think that your faith is somehow your own doing, or the result of your own study, or because you figured it out, that it is about correct doctrine, or right belief, or you deciding to follow Jesus, or you thanking God you’re not like those others. Paul taking on any who fail to see that faith in Jesus Christ is absolutely nothing compared to the faithfulness of Christ Jesus revealed in his life, death, and resurrection; that believing on his name is nothing compared to his unconditional love and faithful obedience and self-emptying death.
To live for him, the one who so loved you and gave his life for you, it is to know that at every turn, and every transition and every decision and every report card and every pay check and every review and in every relationship and every place and every season and at every day and every moment, in life and in death, we are claimed by nothing other and no one else save Jesus Christ and his righteousness, his faithfulness, his obedience, his love. That in all we do, and all we say, that with all that we are, and all we ever shall be, we point not to ourselves, but to him, to Christ, and Christ alone.
Almost a year now as I was interviewing varieties of corporate leaders as part of my sabbatical research, I remember one conversation with a CEO at his office. We had a great conversation about values based leadership, and authenticity and leading with confidence and conviction. I asked him about leading change and identifying leaders in the organization and empowering his team. Being a person of faith he was intrigued by my research and how all the leadership stuff that occupied his learning over the years, how it might apply to my life as a pastor leading a congregation. We talked for two hours out of his busy day. At one point, he sighed and said, “Of course, none of it matters if you don’t perform.” The leadership, the culture, the values, he meant, it won’t matter if you don’t make the numbers, meet the goal. “It’s still business” he said.
In a moment we’re ordaining leaders, elders and deacons, in the life of Nassau Presbyterian Church. Leadership in the church of Jesus Christ is a unique calling. In the Presbyterian Church you are not elected to vote what the people want, but to pursue the will of God. You are not being called because your faith is so stunning or your membership so shining, but because this congregation is asking you to live by and give glory to and point us to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. Success around here won’t be judged by a bottom line, or by a budget, or by attendance at worship, or by innovation in worship, or even by the next fresh idea for service in our community. You are not being asked to preserve an institution. For you, elders and deacons, are being asked to witness to the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. You may remember the quote in the Constitution of the PCUSA; “the church is called to undertake its mission even at the risk of losing its life”….that sentence finishing with this, “trusting in God alone as the author and giver of life, sharing the gospel, and doing deeds in the world that point beyond themselves to the new reality in Christ”
Leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ; none of it matters, none of this matters, if you don’t point to Christ and Christ alone. Because it’s not about you, not me, but Christ, and him alone.
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