On Solidarity

Sunday 17th September 2017
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
Philippians 2.5-11
John 1.1-18

Sometimes, amid the froth of words which compete for our attention, largely through the use of exaggeration and warning, we hear a clear, short statement which rings true, rather in the tradition of the little boy who said that the king had no clothes. At a time when we are learning about the deliberate creation of campaigns based on fake news and when unpleasant realities are dismissed as fake news, it can be very difficult to hang on to basic reality. As human beings, we are sorely tempted, not least because of our genes, to do what is in our self-interest and that of our families, so it is ever harder to be objective and accept that things may not always be what we want them to be, that sometimes we have to put the good of society ahead of our particular interests.

This is why a Creed, for all its shortcomings, is a necessary prop against human fallibility. Even though our Creeds are considered and inspired reactions to questions arising at the time of their composition, and not comprehensive Confessions of the Christian Faith, their routine repetition gives us something to hang onto and even to build upon.

As Christians the core of our faith is that Jesus the Christ was not only the Messiah but also the incarnate Son of God and, therefore, is part of the Godhead. As both God and Man he is not only our Saviour, because no entity less than God can save us, but is also the mediator between God and man and man and God.

We have the Creeds to thank for these simple, but not easy, statements which we tend to repeat without thinking deeply about them; and so I want to explore three ideas to see if we can give the truth of God made man some depth: vulnerability; solidarity; and mediation.

The idea that Jesus was vulnerable is part of our Christmas ritual. Whether or not Jesus was actually born in a stable - the translation of the Greek is somewhat problematic - we certainly acknowledge that Jesus was born as a vulnerable baby to common working people in a land occupied by hostile foreign powers and ruled by a local puppet dictator who, in Matthew's account, forced Mary, Joseph and the child to flee into historically iconic Egypt. We say to ourselves with a degree of warm familiarity that Jesus did not choose to be born in a palace with fine clothes and flunkeys, that he chose to be poor and live among the poor but we too often say these things in much the same way that we tell ourselves tales about national origins or repeat the core plots of pantomimes; it is part of our culture but not of our own intellectual, emotional and spiritual DNA. If Jesus was born as a poor, vulnerable child in an occupied land, what should that tell us about our obligation to vulnerable, poor children in occupied lands?

Which leads me on to the idea of solidarity. The fact that Jesus was born how and where he was born should tell us a lot about where divine solidarity lies. God's solidarity lies with the poor; and we know this because Jesus, as God, tell us so. Because it is God telling us about the centrality in His Kingdom on Earth of social and economic justice, that statement is immeasurably more important than a statement from a Communist, Socialist or Liberal political theorist. There has been a sustained campaign by established Christian Churches, not least the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England to portray God made man as a rather wispy, spiritual figure, not at all concerned with earthly matters but only concerned that we should imitate him in saying our prayers and doing some private good where we can. This is, of course, a natural distortion by the establishment for its own ends. This God in Man was absolutely on the side of the poor and the oppressed; and so must we be.

But there is also another aspect of solidarity which I want to touch on though it will be dealt with more thoroughly next week. We often use words to describe the suffering and death of Jesus as acts of salvation or redemption but I would add the concept here, too, of solidarity: no entity 'knows' more than God why we were created imperfect with the DNA we have which drives us to compete for mates and resources, which drives us away from the divine command of love and therefore God can identify best with our dilemma; and that identity with us, that solidarity, is expressed in the Incarnation of Jesus. And it's important here to emphasise that the birth of Jesus is an act of solidarity of a cosmic nature, embracing the whole of humanity; it is not an act of solidarity only with Jews, or only with the right kind of Christians, and certainly not only with the righteous; the best confirmation of this is the often deliberately overlooked Chapter 11 of Saint Paul's Epistle to the Romans which is clear that the meaning of Christ for humanity is comprehensive, not exclusive.

Finally, a few words about mediation which is often treated rather dismissively by Protestants who insist on praying to, rather than through, Jesus and exaggeratedly by Roman Catholics who have a whole cloud of intermediary Saints, crowned by Mary the Mother of Jesus. The idea of mediation - although it is, fundamentally, metaphorical because when we pray to God it doesn't actually matter which aspect of God we pray to or through - is that it reminds us of the uniqueness of Jesus as both God and man: if we are too focused on Jesus as Christians we will down-grade his humanity; and if we are not precise in our understanding of Jesus as our sole mediator, we end up down-grading his divinity compared with his humanity.

It is natural for cultures that share a deep, common understanding to take it for granted which is why it is helpful for us to pause and think about what we say in the Creed and, more importantly, to think about the meaning of what we say. The doctrine of the Incarnation is not simply a formulation to handle some difficult 4th Century problems raised by pagan and even Christian gnostics, it is the most profound and important statement ever made about the nature of man and his duty, in createdness, to carry out Christ's mission.