Live Your Life in a Manner Worth of the Gospel

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

PHILIPPIANS 1:27

These words are written from the confinement of a prison. What is it to live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel?

There are four key ingredients and movements of the Gospel, namely the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ.

First, Incarnation: God is revealed in, and is like Christ

God who is with us is revealed and reflected in the powerless dependence and vulnerability of a new born child born, not in the might of an almighty warrior. Humility is the first characteristic God.

Matthew and Luke record birth narratives. Written in the context of the fall of Jerusalem after AD70, at the height of the power of Caesar who was being proclaimed the Saviour, armed to the teeth, the Gospel writers assert that the Saviour is a helpless, dependent, vulnerable, weapon free refugee child.  

A life lived in a manner worthy of the Gospel will be a life lived in the confidence that God is with us, and shares our fragility. It will be a life that is characterised by humility, not oppressive and intimidating behaviour. It will be a life that will make decisions from the perspective of the most vulnerable, and most in danger. 

Discern the presence of God in people and places of humility.

Live humbly without being oppressive and intimidating, at home, in church, at work, in community, and you will reflect Christlikeness and the Gospel of Christ.

Secondly, Ministry: Reflecting the hospitable and healing ministry and practice of Christ

The ministry and practice of Christ was characterised by being a healing presence. Jesus had a ministry of healing, not harming or hurting. Jesus lived humbly, and was angry when confronted with hurt and exploitation. He modelled leadership as service. 

Jesus’ ministry is revealed as a service of mending hurts, doing good, including the outsider, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison, sharing food with the hungry and water with the thirsty. He sought justice for those who were most exposed to exploitation.

We never hear of Jesus carrying any weapons of war in his hands. This is relevant in our world characterised by hurting and harming, and by increased spending on instruments of war. We need medication, and instruments of healing. Turn the spears into pruning hooks. Invest in those things and practices that heal, not in things and practices that harm and hurt.

Our commitments and actions have to be consistent with the ministry and practice of Jesus.

A life lived in the manner worthy of the Gospel will be a healing life not a harmful or hurting life, and will call for this in others. Be a healing presence, not a hurtful one, at home, in church, at work, and in community.

Thirdly, Crucifixion: Reflecting the passion and cost of such a ministry

Marks Gospel was perhaps the first attempt at recording the life of Christ. It does not include the birth narratives, but interprets Christ from the perspective of his suffering and crucifixion. The message of these themes is the recognition that nothing worthwhile is without cost. A ministry of healing and hospitality is not cost free. It makes heavy demands, and is exhausting and painful.

There is a cost involved in exercising the ministry described above. Jesus was tortured and persecuted and rejected. He valued communion with a small community. But Jesus died denied, betrayed and abandoned even by his closest friends. What greater humiliation is there than that?

Living life in a manner worthy of the Gospel will be costly. Expect opposition. However, such a life will be lived in a spirit of service and humility, without seeking to hurt or humiliate others. It is Gospel wisdom that we bear the cross. It is the pathway to resurrection and hope.

Fourthly, Resurrection: Reflecting hope, always

The resurrection stories in the Gospels insist that there are no dead ends. The weightiest obstacles can roll away.

This is modelled in the life and ministry of Christ. He always looked for transformation and the fulness of life in all places and for all people.

Reflect on your life and all the situations in which you feel you are at your wits end, at a dead end, stuck, imprisoned, not sure of which way to turn next. It is perfectly legitimate to puzzle over obstacles (Mark 16:3). Living and serving humbly does not mean you turn away from them, or that you give up in fear and frustration.

According to John’s Gospel (21:1-13), the disciples had laboured hard and had nothing to show for all their efforts, they were ready to give up, but in the wisdom of Christ they were shown a way forward.

A life lived in the manner of the Gospel will embrace the cross and the cost of life, but will always be characterised by hope, even in the worst of circumstances. Do not despair. Live with hope. Help others to do so also.

Conclusion

The Letter to the Philippians insists that we are to live our life in a manner that is worthy of the Gospel, but also that we are to live “side by side” not by ourselves, that’s why we are part of the community of followers of Jesus, with the “mind that was in Christ”. This is the mind that Charles Wesley says is “emptied of all but love”. It will not be a life without difficulty, opposition or conflict, but it will be a life that is not intimidated by opponents [Philippians 1:27-30].

A life lived in the manner of the Gospel has confidence in God who is revealed in Christ’s birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection.

It is a life that will not exercise oppression or intimidation. It is a life lived in the confidence that God is with us. It is a life that will give you breath, that will be healing, that will give you strength to bear the cost, and to remain hope full, always.

So live your life in a manner worthy of the Gospel, and bring and encourage this lifestyle in all life and reality at local and wider level. You will help to build a better world governed by humility, service, hospitality, healing and hope as opposed to oppression, intimidation and humiliation. It is the pathway of a follower of Christ.

INDERJIT BHOGAL, 9 APRIL 2020
MAUNDY THURSDAY. ANNIVERSARY OF EXECUTION OF DIETRICH BONHOEFFER (1945)

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

He Restores My Soul

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

PSALM 23:3

This is a beautiful thought, my constant mantra, and in my mind as I observe trees and plants restored in nature.

These words speak to me of an unsolicited gift of God, who restores my soul, even in sleep (Psalm 127:2). It is an ongoing gift rooted in the grace and generosity of God, and applies to all people of all ages.

The Hebrew word for “soul” draws attention to the core of a person’s being. It is the essence and seat of your being. I believe it is here we are one with God, a union that is never broken. Here we are in communion with God when we are aware of this and when we are not. And, in the words of St Patrick’s breastplate, God is the “soul’s shelter” and sanctuary.

There is something very special and sacred about the words “He restores my soul”. What message do they hold?

The writer of these words was perhaps a shepherd working hard to safeguard and hold a small flock together, seeking the best nourishment for the sheep, and being exhausted in the process. The shepherd is perhaps most able to relax and recover as she/he draws on the air of green pastures and gazes upon still waters, when the flock is together and safe.

From here emerges the reflection that God is the Great Shepherd who in the experience of the writer is always with her/him, and with those who are precious to her/him, and holds them together. This goes a long way to hold and restore her/his soul. From this grows her/his commitment to the pathways of righteousness, without fearing loneliness, and with the assurance that she/he has nourishment and goodness even when surrounded by “enemies”. The Psalmist concludes that this is where her/his ultimate rest is.

Restoration is a gift of God, but it is also rooted in communion with others. In the mind of Christ, the key lies in communion with two or three. Nurture lasting friendship with two or three special people with whom you are in a depth of communion that is best described in the term “soul mate”. These are people who are like nourishing pasture and pools of still water, in whom you find restoration.

In the context of coronavirus and Covid-19 the focus is rightly on medication. But we cannot ignore psychological and mental wellbeing. We are discovering more than ever that communion with others is essential to our health and contribution. We are troubled when anyone in distress is alone.

Do not underestimate the reassurance and restoration that can come from communication and communion in twos and threes. This is pastoral care. It strengthens our ministry.

The soul is precious. It is the centre of our resilience when our body is weak. Nevertheless, our body, with all its fragility and vulnerability is the sanctuary of our soul. 

Perhaps the soul also is the “treasure in clay jars” we read of in 2 Corinthians 4:7. So the writer of these particular words goes on to say,  “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9). Even when your body is bruised and broken and exhausted, your soul within you will find pastures and pools, and paths of righteousness. It is treasured and restored by God.

Treasure Jesus’ Gospel wisdom that you should not seek material gain and wellbeing at the expense of your soul (Matthew 16:26; Luke 9:25).

Inderjit Bhogal, 6 April 2020

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

A Creed for Our Times

Part of the Communion in Times of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

We believe God dwells in our midst

The refuge and shelter of our souls,

In whom is our sanctuary and in whom we live and have our being, and eternal life.

We believe the life of God flows in us and restores our soul.

We believe that the Spirit of God is upon us,

In darkness, and light, storms and stirrings,

In which God weaves with darkness and the “deep” to make life and love,

and calls us to protect all creation and life with carefulness, and to do all things with wisdom.

We believe Christ reveals the life of God, and how we can share in it,

By being fully human, embracing beauty and brokenness in life,

By seeking wholeness and the fulness of life for all,

Bearing the cost of suffering, and always keeping hope alive. 

We commit ourselves to so live our lives in God that we reflect the likeness of Christ,

See the image of God in all people, those like us and those different from us,

Love ourselves that we may love our neighbour as our self, and,

Always act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God.

Inderjit Bhogal, 29 March 2020

NOTE: You can use the word “mercy” or “tenderly” in the final line, which ever works best for you.

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here

Where is God in All This?

Part of the Communion In Times Of Coronavirus series of gentle reflections
Click here for more

Inderjit Bhogal, 2020

In my view the first two verses of the Bible are the key to unlock the rest of it. These two verses are a summary, and what follows in the rest of the Bible illustrates this summary.

Use the wisdom of these two verses to reflect on where you find yourself now. I offer a few thoughts.

“In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, and the spirit of God swept over the face of the waters”

Genesis 1:1-2

This is the beginning, not the end.

There is a formless void, darkness, and what is termed “the deep”. God does not create this. It is just there. But God dwells in the midst of it all. This is where the spirit of God is, creating something new.

The “deep” is described elsewhere in the Bible as a trembling, a disturbance, a stirring, or a storm within a person, in the mind, in circumstances or in the environment around us. It is a stirring, which can also be scary, but in which new things happen. See for example, Jeremiah 23:9, Daniel 7:2 and John 5:2.

In Sanskrit the word is “vritti”, which signifies a whirlpool. 

This is what is being described in the two opening verses of the Bible. And such scenarios are real throughout the Bible.

The stories of the Bible are reflections of a people, their journeys in life, and how they experienced and interpreted God in the midst of the harsh realities of their meanderings and troubles, conflicts and hurts, and the points at which they found meaning and hope.

The Word of God is discerned by the people of the Bible as they reflect on their often terrifying and troubling experiences. Their reflections reveal God who is with them in their travel and travail as the still and secure and creative presence at the heart of it all. Biblical witness illuminates and unfolds this insight.

The life of God flows in the “deep”, and is the ground of all creation. God weaves darkness and the deep into all creation, makes new things, and calls human beings to share in this work, to protect and take good care of life and all created things, and to do all things with wisdom (Genesis 1:26-28).

A true devotee of God (a disciple of Christ, a guru) will reflect the nature and likeness of God: staying without fear and serving in the midst of darkness and the “deep”, interpreting this as a place of sacredness, not scaredness, being creative not destructive, healing not hurting, hospitable not hostile, holding out hope not despair, modelling holiness.

In Christ we see how we too can reflect and share in the life of the divine by being fully human and embracing immersion in life (incarnation), seeking healing, hospitality and the fulness of life for all (ministry), bearing the costs of suffering (crucifixion), and always keeping hope alive (resurrection).

In life we discover God, in our humanity we embrace divinity, and in our time on earth we touch eternity.

Live confidently and help others to do so.

Inderjit Bhogal, 24 March 2020 (Fortieth Anniversary of the Assassination of Saint Oscar Romero)

This article can be downloaded for use here
All documents on this topic are located here