Chosen w/ Cherith Nordling
Welcome to the Gospel Reverb podcast. Gospel Reverb is an audio gathering for preachers, teachers, and Bible thrill seekers. Each month, our host, Anthony Mullins, will interview a new guest to gain insights and preaching nuggets mined from select passages of scripture, and that month’s Revised Common Lectionary.
The podcast’s passion is to proclaim and boast in Jesus Christ, the one who reveals the heart of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And now onto the episode.
Anthony: Hello friends, and welcome to the latest episode of Gospel Reverb. Gospel Reverb is a podcast devoted to bringing new insights from Scripture found in the Revised Common Lectionary and sharing commentary from a Christ-centered and Trinitarian view. I’m your host, Anthony Mullins, and it brings me great delight to welcome our guest, Dr. Cherith Fee Nordling.
Cherith is a theologian. She’s an author, a college professor, and her passion is to see the reconciled church conformed to Jesus in the power of the Spirit. Amen to that. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband, Robert, who happens to be a symphony conductor and worship leader, and they both love Christ’s church, and they serve in their local embodied faith community.
Cherith, thank you for being with us. Welcome back to the podcast, and this is your second time with us. It’s great to have you back, but it’s been a long minute since our last conversation, so we’d love to know a little bit about how you are participating with the Lord these days.
Cherith: Thank you so much for having me. It’s such a privilege to be back here.
In the last couple of years, I can’t remember how long it’s been since we talked, but it’s been time to just watch the Lord gift us by bringing both of our sons to Grand Rapids as well, with their wives and new babies. And my in-laws are still here who are turning nineties. And so suddenly there are four generations of Nordlings here. And just the ability to serve one another and to watch the gift of life and community, starting with a family, is just pretty astonishing. So, we are just loving that and grateful to God for that.
Then also just to say thanks to the Open Table community, which actually for me, has been a place to do some of what we get to do today, which is just to hang out and just love the Lord through his word together. I’ve been having a lot of fun with the group there. And we’ve been doing Hebrews this last year and just finished, but you can find out about that on Facebook or some such place.
[00:02:53] Anthony: My wife and I had dinner with a pastor and his spouse this past Saturday evening, and he brought up the study of Hebrews from Open Table and what a blessing it’s been.
And I said, hey, I’m going to be interviewing Cherith on Tuesday. Oh, she’s amazing, [they said.] So, you’ve got some people who really appreciate that interaction around Scripture, and that’s, like you said, that’s what we’re doing here today, and I’m so glad you’re a part of it. So, let’s get to the lectionary passages we’ll be discussing.
1 Peter 2:2-10 “The Chosen”
1 Peter 3:13-22 “Good Suffering”
1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11 “Accusation Nation”
1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 “One Spirit”
Let me read the first passage of the month. It’s 1 Peter 2:2-10. It comes from the Common English Bible, and it is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fifth Sunday in Easter, which is May 7.
Instead, like a newborn baby, desire the pure milk of the word. Nourished by it, you will grow into salvation, 3 since you have tasted that the Lord is good. 4 Now you are coming to him as to a living stone. Even though this stone was rejected by humans, from God’s perspective it is chosen, valuable. 5 You yourselves are being built like living stones into a Spiritual temple. You are being made into a holy priesthood to offer up Spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 Thus it is written in scripture, Look! I am laying a cornerstone in Zion, chosen, valuable. The person who believes in him will never be shamed. 7 So God honors you who believe. For those who refuse to believe, though, the stone the builders tossed aside has become the capstone. 8 This is a stone that makes people stumble and a rock that makes them fall. Because they refuse to believe in the word, they stumble. Indeed, this is the end to which they were appointed. 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people who are God’s own possession. You have become this people so that you may speak of the wonderful acts of the one who called you out of darkness into his amazing light. 10 Once you weren’t a people, but now you are God’s people. Once you hadn’t received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
Cherith, there’s a drama series out there called The Chosen, and it seems to stand in solidarity with this passage in 1 Peter that reminds us of our chosen-ness. Hallelujah. Praise God. However, I wonder if it actually tells us more about the chooser, our triune God revealed in Jesus.
What do we learn from this passage about the God who chooses?
[00:06:04] Cherith: I love that you are reflecting on The Chosen, because it’s always the question of who is the chosen in any given moment in that series, and that the ones who are chosen usually don’t know it and don’t understand it. I think there’s just a humility and a beauty to be recognized there. And just the tenderness of Jesus, the chooser and God’s chosen in that series. It’s just been a really beautiful thing to see.
I think that in relation to this text—because 1 Peter is so much about a community that’s suffering and that frankly don’t want to be, and they don’t think that they should be, at least some of them, based on whatever they thought “choosing” actually meant. And I think in this context, what we’re really seeing is this language from the Old Testament, that we have this royal priesthood and holy nation, who really are to live out the life and character of God in the world.
And when we finally get to see that in Jesus, as the cornerstone, that is a participation in the fellowship of our suffering in which God joins us, through a people who both enter into the land, not just to eradicate what is the business of a broken world, but to enter into the space of a broken world and to let the world see the God who loves them and will redeem them in the midst of that, not out of that, and at least not yet out of that, in a sense of renewal.
I’m just always fascinated by this letter and so curious about the fact that it rings so true to our current day, which is that we live in Christian communities—if we do instead of just going to church. But our Christianity and our understanding of life with God, or as being children chosen by God, is somehow to believe that there’s an exemption from the very thing that is the sacrifice, is what it means to be the holy people of God.
That is, Hebrews 13, with the sacrifice, that’s the fruit of the lips of those who proclaim and declare his name and that both are actually acting for the good and sharing with others who are suffering, and that’s the sacrifice of God. Or Romans 12, that you together, your bodies, as one living sacrifice become holy and pleasing because you are living for the sake of the other because this is the character of God. And when that breaks down in 1 Corinthians 3, it’s, don’t you know that you are God’s temple and his Spirit? God’s Spirit dwells in your midst. And if you destroy that, watch out because this is the only place where the world can look to see what God looks like.
I think as we hear that again in this letter from Peter, it’s like, here we go again, right? That it’s just really hard to be a people who are willing to suffer with those in our world who do not yet know who they belong to. And then to stand with those who really do know, but somehow got caught up in a narrative that says, if you just go with God, all the bad stuff will stop happening, all the suffering will disappear. And wherever there is suffering and tension and abuse, it must be that God is absent. So, you need to go examine what you did to make God go away. And then it turns into this transaction, yet again, that puts the burden on us to figure out what we did wrong so that we can get God back here, instead of going the only reason that we see Christ suffering is not so that he did some suffering and now we have to.
It’s Christ [saying], no, you as a broken people in a broken world suffer, and the only way that I can actually be like you and with you and for you and put to death this as the last word over your life, and to bring something out of this that is actually glory—even though nobody looks to a cross to find glory—then you will suffer because I see that. I know that. But your suffering now is answered by mine. And so don’t be afraid because the answer that mine gives you is actually resurrection. That God’s bringing me all the way through the death that awaits you. And as children of resurrection, don’t be afraid. Come with me into the place of suffering. Come with me into the places of your own heart suffering or your body and see the marks of the living God and the way and the character of the living God right there, instead of expecting to be looking somewhere else.
[00:11:19] Anthony: As you were talking, I was reminded that God doesn’t save us from death. He saves us through death, primarily the death of his Son Jesus. But also, we experience it subjectively as we die to self each and every day, the salvation of our God and as we participate in his suffering.
This passage (it’s the very first scripture, verse 2) it mentions—what does it mean, to grow into salvation and light that we are God’s chosen people in Jesus Christ who have tasted indeed that the Lord is good. What does it mean to grow into salvation?
[00:11:58] Cherith: That’s the challenge with the lectionary is that you get portions without getting to find the content of what’s happening, which doesn’t say anything negative about the lectionary. It says, go read the context, and you’ll love better what you’re getting in the lectionary.
But I think it’s that it comes out of that whole discussion of what does it mean to be a people for God’s name. And that Peter uses those really odd and beautiful oxymorons like, you’re this people here, but actually you are to live here as elect, in the sense that God has chosen you to reveal himself to the world. But at the same time, while you’re busy doing that in the world, you really are exiles. You’re foreigners and strangers to this very space that you get to now be slaves to, as you are slaves like Christ, as you could you talk about at the end of chapter 2.
I think it’s such a brilliant and really challenging moment to go, do I know? Would I hear the voice of these brothers and sisters challenging me to stay in this space that actually looks like the life of Jesus, where people do betray and people do reject and ignore and want a different God and a better version of whatever it means to follow God so that he can serve them in a different way, instead of us being those who get to accompany him into these places. And I think it just picks up from the preceding argument of, what does it look like to take off? It’s sort of the Pauline language of “take off the old and put on the new.”
Peter says, rid yourselves then as holy ones who’ve become holy with Jesus. You need to get rid of the stuff that actually looks nothing like the character of God but is probably in your DNA, and that just takes a long time to live in community together, especially when people are persecuting you, basically, subtly as well as straightforwardly, just always questioning you.
Like, what a ridiculous thing for you to follow this kind of God, because what good is that going to do you and where’s the glory in that? I think it’s really easy to become deceived or really easy to (what does he say?) have hypocrisy or envy the fact that other people don’t seem to have to struggle in the same ways that we stand with God to struggle for the world.
And he [says], you got to put that off, and then it’s time to just start. Because he’s just been talking about the word out of the Old Testament and the people are like grass and they wither, but the word of the Lord is forever. And you have been given that Word and you have been joined literally to that living Word. But that’s going to take a lifetime to grow up into the character of your elder brother and Lord as children of both fearlessness around death and suffering, but also children who know the hope of their resurrection. So, you already know how this turns out, in a sense. It looks like Jesus and so stay with it.
You’ve been given this, and you’ve tasted that he is good. Not that suffering is good for its own sake, but that he is good. And through him you can ask every question and consider every experience and find that God is in it and is actually making a difference through it.
I think it’s just a beautiful—like a new newborn baby that’s just—there is no other way to survive except to just drink from the breast. And it’s that basic. This is not, I should include God in my life a little bit if I have time. It’s like you will not just survive, but you will not live.
And the Old Testament passages all through 1 Peter are really about life as they reflect the God of life. He’s [saying], there’s no way that you can live and grow up into a life that isn’t nourished and nurtured from the very heart of God.
[00:16:08] Anthony: And this nourishment, as you keep pointing back to, gets experienced, especially in the community of faith. You’ve mentioned this a few times, that we belong to each other.
There’s no such thing as me and my Bible, right? It is about the community. That’s where we experience the fullness of God’s love for us as a triune God. Jesus taught us to pray, our Father, not my Father. And I read this morning, Paul uses the phrase, our Lord, 53 times and my Lord, only once. And you won’t find, “Jesus is my personal Savior,” [in the Bible] though there is the personal nature of it. He is saving the community, the world. That’s who he is. And I sure hope that as our listeners hear this, that we’re leaning into community because that’s where we start to experience wholeness and healing, I think, that God’s intended for us.
Let’s move on to our next passage, which is 1 Peter 3:13-22. It is the Revised Common Lectionary passage for the sixth Sunday of Easter, which is May 14. Cherith, would you read it for us, please?
[00:17:23] Cherith: Sure.
Who will harm you if you are zealous for good? 14 But happy are you, even if you suffer because of righteousness! Don’t be terrified or upset by them. 15 Instead, regard Christ the Lord as holy in your hearts. Whenever anyone asks you to speak of your hope, be ready to defend it. 16 Yet do this with respectful humility, maintaining a good conscience. Act in this way so that those who malign your good lifestyle in Christ may be ashamed when they slander you. 17 It is better to suffer for doing good (if this could possibly be God’s will) than for doing evil. 18 Christ himself suffered on account of sins, once for all, the righteous one on behalf of the unrighteous. He did this in order to bring you into the presence of God. Christ was put to death as a human, but made alive by the Spirit. 19 And it was by the Spirit that he went to preach to the Spirits in prison. 20 In the past, these Spirits were disobedient—when God patiently waited during the time of Noah. Noah built an ark in which a few (that is, eight) lives were rescued through water. 21 Baptism is like that. It saves you now—not because it removes dirt from your body but because it is the mark of a good conscience toward God. Your salvation comes through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who is at God’s right side. Now that he has gone into heaven, he rules over all angels, authorities, and powers.
[00:19:00] Anthony: Thank God for the rule and reign of Christ, Cherith. I personally believe there is good suffering and bad suffering. And all of it is how we see pain, I think. But good suffering from my perspective is our participation with Christ (and you’ve touched on this) and his suffering by embodying who he is. But bad suffering is the consequence of hurting others and ourselves. And it seems to me, we’re doing a lot of bad suffering these days. What would you have to say?
[00:19:32] Cherith: I think that’s really true. It’s probably always been true, but I think that our bad suffering is so often tied to wanting a different storyline and getting enticed into believing that there is a way to consider a Christian storyline that just falls in line with the ways that we have flatlined a few biblical texts and feel like now we’ve mastered Scripture and now we mastered how Christ works among us.
And if somebody disagrees with us, then they just need to get more saved and more in line with our position. And suddenly we end up defending things and weaponizing even the way of Christ as we perceive it, and then can’t figure out why we’re constantly paying a price.
Because actually, the powers of this world over which Jesus just said, at the Father’s right hand, I’m over it all. And you have a choice to participate in the powers—just like I did in my temptation and every day from the wilderness forward—to play the games of the world and try to put a God stamp on them and see if you can get broken power to work for you. Or you can actually let the suffering that is a world that even finds those things appealing because they can relieve something temporarily or give you an identity that makes you feel like more of a human than someone else.
Whatever that is, these are the things that God is putting to death, and the reason he is doing it is because they will kill you. They’re killing you. So, it’s his joy to kill them so they can stop killing you. But the more you hold onto them and try to make them work for him and him to work for them, you will suffer and so will those around you.
Because you cannot but do harm when you’re actually looking for a way to secure yourself or to alleviate your fears or to find a position that you feel like secures you against all the deepest fears that you’ve never even seen or named. Or whatever the world tells you is the better spot to be in, and so just come over here and be part of our club, and then we get the bennies [US slang for benefits] and everybody else is wrong.
All of that is so contrary to Jesus. But it’s all the stuff that people dug up who were leaders at the time to try to get him to shut up or to play by their rules. And we kill a God that looks like Jesus in the face of these kinds of things. And so, in the kindness of Jesus (like one of our other texts), I’m putting this to death.
He says, it’s my joy to put these things to death so that they stop killing you. And you can actually live in the life of the Spirit, the truth of who you are in me instead of these fake truths (as we’ve come to know that term) that seem to work for you better or rescue you out of suffering or whatever it is that is in the moment. But that actually, in the end, will not just kill you, but those who you love, and especially those who you don’t care about because you don’t even see them.
[00:23:05] Anthony: Whew! There’s a lot to unpack there. And what I’m struck by, and I’m looking at verse 16, we need to approach suffering, others’ suffering—when we speak of the hope within, we do it with humility, right? That it just requires such humility. But thanks be to God that his final word to suffering is resurrection, and it’s ours in the here and now.
Peter wrote that salvation is a result of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. But also wrote baptism saves us now. So, help us understand the dynamic nature of God’s salvation that this pericope seems to point to.
[00:23:52] Cherith: Yeah. So, it’s never baptism … Well, I’ll qualify that. There’s always mystery, right? And so, I don’t want to [inaudible] the mystery because the mystery is always just Jesus. Salvation is Jesus. The gospel is Jesus. Our hope is Jesus. Resurrection is Jesus. Ethics is Jesus. It’s all God with us, showing us both God and our true selves.
I think when we hear the language of baptism, both in Peter and in Paul, it’s a beautiful metaphor for our dying with Jesus, That already, to become children of the resurrection, to become those who wait for the hope of the redemption of our bodies, for those who are sitting literally with him at the right hand of the Father in terms of authority and humility, with him, all of those realities come through him.
And so baptism is the language of both the taking off and the cleansing and the dying to all the other powers and stories and internal narratives and external narratives that become sort of a wedding of a national identity and a Christian identity or any identity with a Christian identity. Whether it was the Jews plus Christ, Paul’s encountering those kind of things too.
But to say, anytime you add something to Jesus, then you better get down in the waters of baptism again, because this is where he just washes this away. And when you come up, it’s always to come up again into the life of a resurrected Lord who says, now I can empower you to live your baptism.
You are going to live your baptism every single moment of every single day. If your baptism truly represents your dying and rising life as a child of God, as an heir of God, as a co-heir with me, this dying and rising is going to be just the way of your life all the time. I think when he uses that metaphor, it’s not to think of the dunking or the sprinkling per se, it’s to say, this sign reminds me all the time that there’s a world that wants me to live into something else.
And God loves this world and the only way he can love it, with and through me, is if I die to the world’s own understanding and sense of itself and live into the love of God for this world, in the way that God would love this world and will through us.
[00:26:45] Anthony: One of the things I appreciate about you, Cherith, is your high Christology, that all of this points to Jesus and what is already true.
It’s like Karl Barth said, “The gospel does not indicate possibilities but declares actualities.” So, as we are baptized and as we live baptism, like you said, we’re just reflecting on the truth that Jesus was baptized for us to fulfill all righteousness. Hallelujah. Praise God.
Let’s move on to our next passage for the month.
It is 1 Peter 4:12-14 and 5:6-11. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the seventh Sunday of Easter, which falls on May 21.
Dear friends, don’t be surprised about the fiery trials that have come among you to test you. These are not strange happenings. 13 Instead, rejoice as you share Christ’s suffering. You share his suffering now so that you may also have overwhelming joy when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are mocked because of Christ’s name, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory—indeed, the Spirit of God—rests on you.
6 Therefore, humble yourselves under God’s power so that he may raise you up in the last day. 7 Throw all your anxiety onto him, because he cares about you. 8 Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith. Do so in the knowledge that your fellow believers are enduring the same suffering throughout the world. 10 After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the one who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be power forever and always. Amen.
So, this pericope tells us to throw all our anxiety onto God because he cares. And I truly do believe that, to the extent that I do. And yet I have friends (and I’ve experienced it myself) who love God and still struggle with real and sometimes debilitating anxiety. Are we doing something wrong?
[00:29:11] Cherith: No.
[00:29:17] Anthony: Not to put too fine of point on it, but no.
[00:29:21] Cherith: No, I think that just really practically, when we read about the levels of anxiety that are increasing every single day in our culture and across the world, and we watch the debilitating forms of that anxiety in terms of profound panic attacks or just really disordered neural pathways, that just cannot get out of the place that feels most real and feels most familiar and feels like the place where the world is really happening, in that kind of fight or flight or paralysis kind of space. I feel like our God of compassion knows so much better than we do why that is rising and rising and rising.
And I think it’s because we’re actually trying to live as creatures who have a global sense of things—which is really like a God sense of things—and able to see all things, know all the news at all times, be aware of the thousand million dangers that we didn’t even know were happening before.
Whether it’s the stuff in our food that’s poisoning us, that’s intentional in the sense that it’s making money for somebody, and so let’s just name it as something. Whatever it is, our phobias are (which is fears, right?) are just becoming not just temporary, they’re working their way into our brainwaves.
They’re working their way into almost it feels like our DNA in a way that just should alert us that we’re really trying to navigate a world that I don’t think as creatures, limited human creatures within a time and a space and a focus, and being able to be for the other instead of every single day being asked to be even more afraid of someone else or something else, or seeing the dangers of the world.
All that to just say God in his grace and mercy cannot be the one who [says], step up and get over yourself because I’m trustworthy and I could just help you navigate through all this stuff. I think the Lord of compassion is like, I know so much better than you how we got here and what it is that you are suffering.
And I think that’s different than a kind of low-grade anxiety that is also being—it’s part of the human condition—but I think is also being perpetuated in us all the time. And again, like the marketing industry is a 300-billion-dollar industry that’s built on causing in us a sense of not being enough, not having enough, not being valued enough. And that if we just do this or that or the other thing then, if we spend our money in these ways, maybe that will satisfy the sense that we belong or that we have value.
I think when you’re waking up in a world every single day that is going to tell you that story—even if you live in a pretty secure and loving context, just imagine what it’s like for people who live that constant, constant flow of narrative when you also live in spaces that are actually dangerous, that you’ve learned that from a child, that the world’s a place to be fearful of.
So when we do this kind of transacting again with God that says, if you love God enough, that anxiety will go away. If you’re reading your scriptures enough, if you are, whatever it is, like there is a master slave thing here, and your master is just asking you to serve him better in this way, and you just have to try harder. And I think that’s about as far from everything that we ever hear in the Old Testament or the New or in the life of Jesus. Ever.
So I think we go back then to 1 Peter and go, okay, what are they anxious about? It’s not just common anxiety and low-grade anxiety. Though, that’s part of their life too. But at the same time, what are you anxious about? And who knows that? And what is the source of anxiety?
It’s fear. And so whatever those sources of fear are, whether they’re external in the context of 1 Peter, as a community under oppression. Whether it’s deeply internal that this isn’t the life I thought I would have with Jesus and it’s really hard. Or I’ve lived under so much fear under empire that now to realize if I wake up today to follow Jesus means I’m a target for these kinds of things.
Or did my family abandon me because I’m following Jesus? Or what happens when I, who was the master sit in community with those who I was the slave holder and the master over? And can I trust that these people can really be for me?
There just have to be like a thousand fears that in a sense have to be risen to the surface—actually in the waters of baptism. They just have to float to the top and have Jesus [say], this is real stuff and this is the deep stuff that will actually very quietly entice you because your accuser will make you shamed over this.
And he will deceive you into thinking that if you could just adjust a little bit of what Jesus has called you to, just to relieve the tension a little bit that that’s a good choice. That’s a good apple from that tree because it just helps you in the moment. But the minute we start giving ourselves a little pass in that way, we just start giving ourselves really big passes later and then suddenly we’re in the passage back in 2 [1 Peter 2:8] where he [says], you know what? Jesus turns out to be a stumbling block for a lot of people who don’t want to, or are really afraid to, trust God and to live into the life of God that does not mean we only get to see glory now, but that really has to trust that the life we’re living is the life that Jesus has aligned himself to in every single way. And that the anxiety that we’re experiencing, he gets that and has been tempted by that.
That the fears that we’re tempted by, he has been tempted by them. And he is never like, shame on you. He’s, I get that. And as your high priest, can you sit with me and let me mediate that? And let me tell you what I know about that from my experience and yours because now we share one. And how do we come before the Father knowing that the one who loves us is not ashamed of us.
He is the one who is going to go after the prowling lion, just like with a lion of Judah who wears the marks of his wounds and suddenly looks like a slain lamb because it’s going to be such a different story. But the Shepherd and the overseer of your souls is somebody who lived Isaiah 53. This is the way that God is going to save you is to actually embody all the stuff of a suffering servant to say, this is how it feels to live the hope of a world that needs that hope. (Not every minute and not all the time, and certainly not even every day—though for some that you and I know, that is the life that they’re just barely trusting there’s anything else other than it.)
But I think he’s just trying to say this, the one who wants to deceive you, mostly wants to deceive you into thinking that Jesus doesn’t get you, and that what he’s asked you to do is something that’s not like God, and that God is asking more of you than God is willing to do himself.
All we keep doing is looking at Jesus and going, oh, oh! Oh, of course! And it doesn’t make it easier in the sense that it goes away. It goes, okay, I trust you to be with me here. And what do I come to know that I wouldn’t otherwise know? Like the language that talks about suddenly you’re in a fiery trial that came to test you. Well, it’s not God saying, I think it’s time for Cherith to really be tested in a certain way to see if her metal’s still strong here or whether she’s starting to fall away.
It’s to go, you live in a broken world, this stuff’s going to come. And that’s the place where suddenly it’s, I really thought I trusted Jesus, but I think even the way I trusted him was not helping me here. And I really need to ask him about this because I’m not sure I do trust him. I think I’m trusting something I want from him to happen.
And those are the places where God goes, thank you so much for looking at that with me because if I can kill it off and burn it off, then you become more free. And that’s the gift of love, is love and freedom that says, I want to set you free, not out of all of these things, but free to not fear that they have the last word over your life.
[00:39:24] Anthony: We have a great high priest who understands. And if you’re in a place where it feels dark and the walls are closing in, let me read verse 10 and 11 again.
After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, the one who called you into his eternal glory in Christ Jesus, will himself restore, empower, strengthen, and establish you. To him be power forever and always. Amen.
Cherith, you mentioned the accuser. And it is the business of the one who is opposed to what God is and what he’s doing. And I don’t have to tell you, you see it every day. We live in an accusation nation, and I’ve thought, if the Father didn’t send the Son to condemn the world, then why would he send us to do it, if Jesus is not the one who’s accusing us.
But it has become a sport. We love to accuse others. So, help us course correct in light of this passage.
[00:40:32] Cherith: Maybe it’s just to fall back into some of the other stuff that I just said, which is, I think the fact that we live in such a polarized world around so many things, is that we’re coming to what feels to me like the crumbling foundations of modernism, which is really built on this idea that we could really control things.
If we just understand them enough, if we master them, including Scripture and the understanding of God, then we’ve pocketed it. We’re in a good place. And suddenly, we start looking around and realize, no, this world that we thought was building up and progress to better and better ways, including the way we were telling the Christian story, it’s not.
And our fears are actually coming forward. And we don’t trust our leaders. We don’t trust one another because we feel like everything is being played out to say, who’s going to win? Who’s going to get the benefit of this? And if somebody else benefits from this, I won’t. So, we’re living in this scarcity world, this kind of crumbling world of, I thought it would work this way and now it’s sort of not.
So, you watch this fundamentalism or this polarization happening religiously all around the world, politically all around the world, militarily all around the world. And the only way to defend that kind of position is to push the other person or to see them in your heart’s eye—and then suddenly, socially locate them in that same place—as “the other.”
And then to go, and I don’t have to love the other, I just have to hang with the people who are like me. And then you’re (you were mentioning community earlier) going, huh? And here’s the New Testament that just wants to talk about one another-ing. Allelon is the word of Christian community.
And it doesn’t mean that you’re going to find people who think like you or love the things that you do, or that there’s never going to be conflict. If you want conflict, just stay in the church for more than three weeks, right? But this is the place where you become like Jesus.
This is where you learn to bear with one another and their burdens. This is the place where you suffer long on behalf of the other and learn the character of Christ with those who you forgive because they have forgiven you. Because you’re forgiving one another, you’re having compassion on one another.
The grace is the multiple, I don’t know, like 20, 30, 40 allelon passages that come out of these letters to churches saying, it’s about the other. But the language of God for the “other” is “another.” It’s the another-ing that says, without the other, I cannot be who I am without the other, who is different from me. I cannot bear the character of a triune God.
And so, what would the enemy do? To say, well, the first and last thing I can do is to divide what God puts together in the very nature of God, which is to be distinct and yet in profound communion and union. And as long as I can see the other as someone to be feared, as someone to react and live in opposition to, instead of to lay my life down for, even if they never recognized that as a choice or a gift given to them, and they see it as power over and that they won.
Jesus is like, okay so did Herod and so did the Romans and the Sanhedrin who thought they won in this moment of laying my life down. But this was God’s moment to change the course of the world by the fact that new creation starts through baptism and resurrection. This is the place of living out our baptism.
So, I think we just have to name the accuser for who he is. And it’s not just personal shame, [the accuser says] that person who you’re a little bit suspicious of and don’t know what to do with, you are right in doing that. And let me tell you all the reasons why you should just stoke that fear and then build a world that surrounds you to keep them out from everything that God would call you to see them as a fellow brother and sister sitting at the triune table of God,
[00:45:10] Anthony: The local church is such a gift and such a quandary. It brings together people who would probably never be friends otherwise and puts them in community. And like you said, we don’t always agree. Oh, there’s such disagreement within the body of Christ, and yet we learned to love one another, to be with one another, to really drink in of living waters.
It’s just such an interesting dynamic, and I thank God for the local church and the beauty of sharing life together. And I think once we do that, as we break bread, as we come to the table of fellowship, the communion table, what we realize is that we do belong to one another. And that we do like each other.
When we’re apart, I find that we either fill in the gaps of relationship with trust or suspicion. And in the local church is where we learn to trust, even though we’re different. Hallelujah. Praise God.
We have one final pericope of the month. It’s 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13. It’s the Revised Common Lectionary passage for Pentecost on May 28. Cherith, would you read it for us please?
[00:46:24] Cherith: I will. So, we’re picking up halfway through something else that Paul’s already going on about. So here we go.
So I want to make it clear to you that no one says, “Jesus is cursed!” when speaking by God’s Spirit, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. 4 There are different Spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; 5 and there are different ministries and the same Lord; 6 and there are different activities but the same God who produces all of them in everyone. 7 A demonstration of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good. 8 A word of wisdom is given by the Spirit to one person, a word of knowledge to another according to the same Spirit, 9 faith to still another by the same Spirit, gifts of healing to another in the one Spirit, 10 performance of miracles to another, prophecy to another, the ability to tell Spirits apart to another, different kinds of tongues to another, and the interpretation of the tongues to another. 11 All these things are produced by the one and same Spirit who gives what he wants to each person. 12 Christ is just like the human body—a body is a unit and has many parts; and all the parts of the body are one body, even though there are many. 13 We were all baptized by one Spirit into one body, whether Jew or Greek, or slave or free, and we all were given one Spirit to drink.
[00:48:02] Anthony: One Spirit into one body. The Spirit leads us to see the family resemblance in others who aren’t like us. Hallelujah. And we’re told here that the demonstration of the Spirit is given to each of us, but it’s not for ourselves. Here we go again, it’s the common good. It’s the community. So, gifts, fruit, the manifestations of the Spirit are meant for the community. So, what does that mean? Is that the church body, the neighborhood? What are we talking about here?
[00:48:32] Cherith: You sure have somebody who knows this church well, loves this church, is away from this church and hearing all kinds of crazy stuff about what’s going on with this church and so on. We know that Paul loves this community, and he also has lived among them and grown with them. But also, is really clear about where things can go wacky really quickly.
And so, I just appreciate the fact that here he is—and we hear him really boldly in this letter. But I think part of that is because when he’s busy sort of planting churches, this is one where he spent almost two years. And that’s a long time watching people come together and lay down their old life and have to be renewed in a new way of being. And so much of this letter is about thwarting division.
[He’s] like, you guys are just dividing up in all kinds of ways, whether it’s around the leadership of your church, whether it’s around certain views of what to do here. You’re dividing up even at the Lord’s table and trucking in the kind of honor/shame culture that you get to live out there in a Roman world that has nothing to do with the Kingdom of God.
And he’s just, point after point. And worship, he [says] what is going on? He [says], everything that you were meant to do and be as the temple of God, (so now we’re back in 1 Peter language) you are the temple of the Holy Spirit (“you” plural). And you, plural, are the domain in which the Spirit of God dwells. And there’s only one place in Corinth. As a big city with lots and lots of temples and claims to deity, and claims to power, there’s only one place that this city will see the love of God manifested for them and for the world, and that is in your life and love together.
And division has no place in God. Diversity? Tons, everything. The Father is not the son. The Son is not the Spirit. The Spirit is not the Father. But he says their union is the shorthand little word that we call God. So, you get to be like God. And then he pulls this analogy that says, as a body who’s been made alive by the Spirit, all of these ways that the Spirit is ministering among you is to actually build you up as a people to look like Jesus.
So, these aren’t shows of power, and they certainly shouldn’t divide you to say, I’ve got a more awesome gift than somebody else, or whatever. He [says] they don’t even belong to you. He says, the Spirit has them, and they’re gifts that the Spirit gives you to give away to someone else.
And he gives them because it’s an act of love and an act of mercy, and this person needs so badly that gift of God. And you get to be the one who carries that and ministers that and embodies that and touches that on their life and thus builds up the life of the whole.
I think it’s just a fascinating way when he talks about the fact that we are all one body, by the fact that Christ has one body and we are that one body, but that we’ve become that body by the Spirit. And then he says, and we’re also baptized into that one body and given the Spirit to drink. So suddenly we’re now in eucharistic language. To have both the body and the blood, in the sense that the very life of God is given to us by the Spirit. It reframes our complete identity, reorients how we are and who we are in the world. And Corinthians is a fantastic letter to read that!
[Paraphrasing Paul] Okay, let’s talk about division. Let’s talk about the fact that you want to raise people up and celebrate them around power when it looks really cool and powerful. You love great speakers, which means you probably don’t love me (even though I love you and lived on you for a couple years); I’m way better in print than I am in person.
He [says] then you want to have like sexual craziness going on in your community, and he doesn’t call out the people who are doing that, he calls out the community. He [says], excuse me, but if you love them and if you’re loved by God, how would you let something that’s doing harm to them and the community happen?
And he [says], oh, and then you guys had a disagreement about something that you owned, and somebody borrowed and kept. Really? You want to go downtown Corinth to the agora and have these people—who supposedly have all this wisdom. Although you’ve been claiming that by the Spirit, you are so wise. But you can’t have the wisdom of God to solve a disagreement and not only solve it, but to look like Jesus and say, forget it; you can have it. It wasn’t mine to begin with; everything is Christ’s.
What?! He goes after issue after issue. So, this is one letter where you’re like, he thinks that we’re really supposed to be looking like Jesus as a people. Not as people reading Scripture in our little 10-minute devotional and hope that we remember to be kind for a few minutes in the day. But he [says], if you’ll be this people—you’re not being this just because God wants a little place to hang out. He wants to love Corinth; he wants to love the world.
And this is about becoming Christlike enough to lay your life down as (how does the letter finish?) as resurrected ones whose hope is this. So, it might cost you your life, but who cares? You get it back. He’s [saying], lean in. Lean into the character of God, which is to love and love doesn’t keep records and love doesn’t look for ways that it benefits. It looks for ways to benefit the other.
It’s just God! So, he [says,] we’ve seen him, and we’ve seen him in the flesh, and he’s asking us in our flesh to live in such a way that the places that the world gives no honor, we celebrate them. He [says] as he goes on in this same chapter, you know what? There are body parts that really don’t get much honor, and I want you to honor those.
And I’m like, oh man. This would be speaking to me. I teach, and it’s a very public thing. And when people hear the word of the Lord somewhere stirring in their hearts, because I get to say it on behalf of Jesus and echo something he’s telling all of us, I can get a lot of gratitude from people for that. But I’m like, where’s the pancreas in my community, without which I am dead, and I can do nothing? I cannot survive. I have nothing to give because somewhere in my midst, those who are hidden in a sense, are the ones who, by their life, are also so profoundly keeping us alive by staying close to Jesus. And the world will never honor them.
But the world could see what it looks like to find that insecure place in yourself, that if people really saw who I am, nobody would love me, and no one would honor me. He [says], yes, we would because that’s the character of God. So, show the world that, show your community that. Bless those. Honor them. Raise them up. Not at the exclusion of others, just be aware that a lot of you will already get that, by the nature of how your gift is given. It’s very public.
So, watch where gifts are being given to you for your life, all the time, and then that attunes your eye and heart and ear to the voice of a world around you that doesn’t believe that anyone would love them or see them that way. And so, they grasp power to try to prop themselves up. He says, there’s a different way and you get to live it.
So, it’s a very, very powerful passage, I think.
[00:57:14] Anthony: That was so beautiful. I wish every church could hear it. And as one pancreas, let me ask you one final question. Let’s talk some nematology. It’s Pentecost. Hallelujah. Praise God. And God’s Spirit has been poured out on human flesh.
Tell us why this relationship with the Spirit is so vital with our relationship with the triune God and to one another.
[00:57:45] Cherith: To put it bluntly, there is no life with God and one another without the Spirit. Jesus knows that. And the only life he was able to live as one of us with the Father was by the Spirit.
The only life he can offer us to live is his life, which is still empowered by the Spirit to do the will of the Father. All of our union with anything that belongs to God, which is salvation in its biggest, biggest sense, is only possible by the fact that if our Father lives in unapproachable light, in this glory and wonder that we haven’t yet seen, we have also by the Son, been able to see God in a sense, face-to-face.
We haven’t seen that glorified face. My dad and mom have, but I haven’t yet. So, there’s a communion of saints where Paul, when he talks about community, he’s not just talking about the local fellowship. It’s the language of Hebrews 11. They always know that they are part of a very, very, very big people. And the more alive members of that community are not us. That we are the dying ones. We are the least alive of all the community of the saints.
But that’s again, a gift of the Spirit, that we can be joined to the whole communion of God’s people only by the third member of the Trinity too. Which is that this in a sense is Emmanuel from the beginning, that the God who is with us from the beginning of creation and the one who gets to be that same God in eschatological new creation. (That was our other passage that we discussed on that other day.) How are we actually made alive? But we are made alive by the Spirit. Or even this passage, that we’ve been drinking of the Spirit to be joined to this body to find our life.
I think when we come up through circles, very much American evangelicalism in the last century, many different eras and seasons through the church’s life throughout the world and church history, we become really quickly binitarian. And we see this kind of Father-Son relationship that is very often some kind of transactional relationship to get us saved, i.e., to get us to some eternal destination that’s better than the other one.
But it has nothing to do with relationship. And the only one who can bind us to that relationship is God himself, and that is God the Spirit. And the only one who can breathe life into us, which is really, truly human life, from Genesis 2 into Romans 8, you have been born by the Spirit of adoption to cry Abba.
Jesus [said], you cannot enter the kingdom of God unless you’re born from above by the Spirit. He’s just like, this is it! This is how God makes image bearing people for his name, is to actually be the one who not just creates them, but indwells them and empowers them and teaches them who they are in the ways of a God who is self-giving, self-sacrificing love. And that it’s costly love.
It’s just this beautiful sense of God [saying], yes, I don’t need you. But for the cost of everything that I have, we love you and we’ll bring you home. No matter what. And that is into a full life of the Spirit. Let’s just start now because this is the life that you’ve really been invited into. And for those of you who are trying really hard to live a Christian life in some way that’s trying to quote please the Father and be grateful for Jesus saving you, no wonder you don’t want to be a Christian half the time.
And no wonder it’s exhausting because nobody can live that kind of moralism in the way that we kind of project that onto God. But if we really are born of the Spirit, then suddenly we find ourselves birthed into, and gathered into and sought after and brought home by the very person of God who is the one who’s always been with creation, always been with creation as Jesus.
Also as Irenaeus talks about, Jesus and the Spirit as the two hands of the Father, that together they bring us life, save us into life, pour out life through us, and bring us home into final human life. So, there is no such thing as being a Christian, there’s no such thing as being truly human, that isn’t foundationally a life in God, the Spirit.
[01:02:52] Anthony: Thank God that the Spirit hit the fan and rained down upon us all. And I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the movie, Prince Caspian, but there was a great scene where Lucy is talking to Aslan, the Christ character, and said, “Aslan, you’re bigger.”
And he says, “That is because you are older, little one. Not because you are, I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
And I think that’s so true by the Spirit. And may that be our journey with Jesus, that he appears bigger and greater by the Spirit as we go.
Cherith, you are a beloved daughter of God. We’re so thankful for you for the testimony of the triune God that so easily flows from your lips and be blessed. You certainly have blessed us.
And want to take a moment to thank our producer, Reuel Enerio, who does such a great job, and my beloved bride, Elizabeth Mullins, who does the transcription. So Cherith, every word you said is going to live forever. But it’s been good. Don’t fear!
As is our tradition here at Gospel Reverb, we’d sure be delighted if you would say a prayer. But before you do if you want to find more about Cherith, more of what she has to teach, she’s done a great series with Brad Jersak, who’s going to be our guest here on Gospel Reverb this summer. They do five-minute clips about a book that is upcoming, and we’ll put the links to those productions in our show notes. So be on the lookout for that.
But Cherith, if you would close us with a word of prayer, we’d sure appreciate it. Absolutely.
[01:04:30] Cherith: Our Lord Jesus, we thank you that you delight in us all the time and that you have already seen us finished because we look like you at the end of all things, and that you hold that and embody that and mediate that, that our Father loves us in a way that is always the way that you love each other, and that he always also sees us finished by seeing us through you and your life.
We thank you, Holy Spirit, you who are the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds in the Father and the Son, who is worshiped and magnified with the Father and the Son, that you’ve spoken through the prophets in the past, and you are the one who has made the living Word our Word, and then pours out from his life in the Father, the Word of life in our own being.
So, I just thank you even for that reference from Lewis of Lucy’s picture of Aslan, that as we just grow with you, we grow up into you, into a childlikeness and put away childishness. And I thank you that means understanding really does mean standing under you and that you just keep getting bigger as we get older and bigger and are just drinking from the milk that is our sustenance by your Spirit in you.
So, I thank you for Gospel Reverb. I thank you for Anthony and thank you for Reuel and Elizabeth and those who just give the gift of this time to dwell with you and to love you more. And just pray your blessing on all that we’ve talked about today, in your name, amen.
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