‘We preach Christ crucified…’

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Like all good archdeacons, I listen to my betters, so when the Archbishop of Canterbury revealed on Desert Island Discs that he is a fan of The West Wing, I bought the boxed set of all seven series and 156 episodes.

If you’ve ever watched the West Wing you will know that candidates for any senior post in American politics have to undergo a confirmation process in which just about everything they have ever said or done will be raked over. What it leads to, it seems to me, is a culture in which leaders are expected to appear to be omniscient and omni-competent, which means, I suspect, that they are out of touch with the rest of us.

There’s nothing new in that. People have always expected leaders to have done great things and/or to have all the answers. Thus, the Apostle Paul writes (in 1 Corinthians) ‘Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom’ – action and answers – ‘but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles’ – Foolishness, not least, because to be crucified was a failure, perhaps the ultimate failure.

It is tempting for church leaders, like leaders everywhere, to try to be people who have all the answers and who can do everything. But that’s not the Biblical model.

Famously, Moses was a murderer, Jacob was a cheat, Peter had a temper, David had an affair, Noah got drunk, Jonah ran away from God, Paul was complicit in Stephen’s death, Gideon was insecure, Miriam was a gossip, Martha was a worrier, Thomas was a doubter, Sarah was impatient, Elijah was moody, Abraham was old (the ultimate sin) and Lazarus was, well, dead. And yet, God was able to work through such people for good.

Leaders in the church do well, in Lent, to acknowledge that we don’t know it all, and that we’re not omni-competent. We make mistakes, as leaders have done throughout history. We’re a bunch of sinners in need of a saviour.

In the Anglican church in East London and Essex, we’ve been encouraging people to use a ‘holding cross’ – the Chelmsford Holding Cross, no less – as a reminder of some deep truths about our relationship with God.

  • We hold onto the cross because time and time again it offers the chance of a new start with God.
  • We hold onto the cross because it reminds us that we do so as members of the body of Christ.
  • We hold onto the cross because it is at the centre of the great story of God and his creation of which we are part.
  • We hold onto the cross because we’re called to serve, to love God and to love our neighbours.
  • And we hold onto the cross because the love of God is as relevant to what we do out throughout the week as it is to what we’re doing in worship on a Sunday.

We’re human, and we fail. And yet…

And yet, as we know, by God’s amazing grace, when a motley crew of people open to God’s will gather in his name, anything can happen.

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