Well week 2 of intensive, great, but-slightly-brain-melting-Masters-teaching-weeks has begun…
It really has.
And before I share something about the teaching that really stuck with me from today, let me first tell you about something slightly more amusing.
Because we spent our afternoon having a tour of Glasgow (this is the urban theology part of the course after all …) A walking tour of Glasgow. Yep. Two hours walking around Glasgow, learning about the city, taking note of interesting facts and places and history… (you're with me so far?!?)
And we did this activity… in the torrential, and I mean torrential, rain.
Did I say it was torrential?!
Like, this wasn't the kind of gentle rain that you just shake off your coat unnoticed. This was the kind of rain that soaks you to the bone, seeps through your shoes and makes you feel so cold that your teeth actually chatter. I was mildly chilled about 3 minutes into the tour. I was moderately cold after an hour. By the time we had finished I didn't actually think I could be more wet if I sat in a puddle in the middle of the street and asked people to splash me on purpose.
When we got back to uni one of my course-mates looked at me serious-faced, patted my shoulder, and said in his most sympathetic voice, 'Wow. You really are wet…'
You know, like I didn't know that… 😉
And then came the difficult decision of the evening. It was still raining heavily, and I had to get back to my hotel. So, did I ring for a taxi? No. Did I try to figure out the bus route? Not me. Did I decide that I possibly couldn't get any wetter or colder than I already was so I might as well just brisk-walk it? Yep. That seemed like the positively best idea.
Except, you know when I genuinely thought I couldn't get any wetter or colder than I already was? Well, I don't think I was quite right. In fact, I wasn't. Right. I have now learnt, that you can always be increasing amounts of both of those things.
Now, after 30 minutes standing under the hottest shower I could cope with to warm up (successfully, might I add) I have to confess that I can look back on the afternoon with a little more amusement.
Because I am not one of those girls who looks particularly glamorous in the rain. Do you know what I mean? Some girls can cope with rain. Their hair still looks good. They manage to retain a sense of poise and dignity in all weathers…
Well, I am not that girl. I look literally befrazzled (is that a word?) in the rain. I'm ok about this. I'm not particularly self conscious and you can't, after all, look good all the time 😉 BUT, the thought of what I must have looked like traipsing around Glasgow this afternoon made me chuckle to myself.
And if anyone had seen me on that last 20 minute walk back to my hotel… Well, let's just say I'm real glad no one I know passed me!
Ok, onto the more serious blog-point. This morning I took 16 pages of A4 notes in our lectures. That's sixteen. I normally type as we go, but my lecturer for this week is one of those amazing people who it really does feel like you're trying to drink water out of a fire hydrant when you listen to. And so I resort to a type of manual shorthand that only I can make sense of and still don't feel that I have in anyway captured the stuff that he can just speak about with the fluency of wisdom that I can only one day aspire to have.
Our second lecture of the day was entitled something like, 'An Urban Redactive Apologetic of Jesus in the City'. Don't worry, I'm going to keep this in normal-English-language, but we were basically (and I'm going to simplify pages into sentences) looking at the narrative in John 2 where we are told the story of Jesus clearing the Temple. I don't have the space or time now to retell the passage, but I would encourage you to read it.
And so we were reading this story and asking questions with an emphasis of Jesus being in the city. In Jerusalem. John places this into the narrative right at the start of his Gospel. He emphasises Jesus in the urban world. And he stresses the religious, political and economic powers that were at work in this whole situation. We are told it is Passover. We are told it is Jerusalem. We are told there are some seriously unjust economics and exploitation going on.
There is a relationship between Jesus and the city as a centre of power.
And as John tells this story, we see Jesus' anger and disdain for economic power abuse. The temple practice had become something which made the rich richer, and meant the poor couldn't afford to be faithful. They were prevented from accessing God.
And (this was the point that really hit me today) this temple practice showed a whole lot of contempt for God's economy. You know? Because God's economy is, well, uneconomical. His grace, that isn't cheap, is directly free. His grace, that isn't cheap, makes the Gospel available to everyone, whether they be rich or poor. And so the temple was distorting the gracious character of God.
And Jesus was angry about it.
He confronted the distortion of power that was keeping people separate from God. He confronted those who were denying the grace economy of God.
This injustice made Him zealous for His house.
And into this confrontational temple-clearance, He brings the prophetic message of His death and resurrection. His sacrifice that would bring grace. That would allow all to enter in. That He, who held all power, real and ultimate power, would lay it down and become a sacrifice in order to cleanse us from that which separates us from Him.
To bring us into his grace and His forgiveness.
Which I guess (actually, I know) is really the only message of hope to the city and to the world.
That's stunning isn't it? The thought of the grace economy of God. I love that phrase. Because if that's true then it changes everything. It's Good News. And it also makes me ask difficult questions of myself. Because we're not told that Jesus gets angry a whole lot. So we know that when He does, He is 1) still acting in righteousness, and it 2) must be serious. So this distortion that was going on in the temple was serious business. And that makes me ask questions about how I behave. And how I handle power. And whether I fight for this grace to be shared that enables everyone to access God.
I was thinking as I warmed up, about my rather wet-walk home from uni. I was soaked to the skin. Through four-layers-of-clothing soaked. And when I got to my hotel door, I just used my key-card to buzz into the main entrance. My price for staying in this hotel has already been paid, and so no matter how wet, or befrazzled looking, or soaked through I am, when I genuinely appear at the door and desire to get in, I have access. I might be a bit self conscious about how I look or want to take my shoes off at the entrance, but I have access. Because the price has been paid. And if someone tried to stop me, then I could wave my keycard at them and show evidence that the price had been paid. And I guess, very simply, my thoughts right now are on how that spiritually relates back to Jesus in the city and Jesus at the cross and Jesus at the empty tomb. Because His heart was and is that all could access. Access Him. Price paid in full by His blood, death defeated by His life. The rich and the poor. Those who have it together and those who don't. Those who are on their first, second, third or fifty-seventh chance but who turn up with broken and repentant hearts.
Because grace isn't cheap, it cost Jesus everything. But it is free. And that's why God's economy makes no economic sense.
(Clause: I've done a relatively bad job of explaining that compared to the brilliance of the lecture. You should all just come and study at the International Christian College. But bring your raincoats… ;))