On this Pentecost, the church’s birthday, I just wanted to encourage the church to be who we are. Instead of doing the lectionary thing and preaching Acts 2, I chose Luke 11.1-13. The church is most ourself–the church God envisions–when we partner with God to make his kingdom visible by making sure our neighbors have their daily bread; and when our communities embody forgiveness and reconciliation. The church is able to live on these terms by the good gifts of God and the power of the Spirit.
Abel’s blood echoed on throughout history, and echoes still. Whenever justice is deferred. Whenever voices that deserve to be acknowledged are silenced. Whenever the wounds of the people are dressed as though they’re nothing. Whenever people suffer alone. Wherever anybody prays, How long, O LORD?—that is the echo of Abel’s blood crying out.
The text of a sermon I preached at Cordova Church of Christ Sunday, November 2, 2014. To encourage the church to receive the Beatitudes as gifts rather than commands or recommendations.
In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, Paul names some specific kinds of gifts God entrusts the church with. It seems to me that he never meant these lists to be exhaustive, for they do not recapitulate one another. It also seems to me that multiple, complimentary gifts can coincide in one agent. Further, it seems perfectly reasonable to me that sometimes a gift that Paul named might come with articulations and expressions that make it difficult for us to see the gift for what it really is. Sometimes the gifts God gives the church are strange, indeed. Let’s pray for enough discernment not to throw them away. Because it also means throwing people away.
The gospel is the narrative that gives us freedom by allowing us to interpret our story. And it is not a story about someone else being your whipping boy. It is a story about God’s refusal to let our murdering of his Child finally determine our relationship to him. It is a story about his rejection of our rejection of him through the Cross–of his not allowing that Cross to have the final word, but undoing it in resurrection. And it is a story about God continuing to invite us through his Crucified-and-Resurrected-Child to come be reconciled to him. The Cross and Resurrection is a narrative that subverts and reinterprets all the stories we have been told, and continue to tell ourselves.
If our sharing in the Lord’s Supper on Sundays isn’t an act of resistance, maybe it isn’t really the Lord’s Supper.
For years I have rejected any application of Ezra-Nehemiah in the church, other than a stern warning not to imitate them. The racism and sexism that justified their decision to have Israelite men desert their foreign wives and children reflects an appalling lack of concern for the vulnerable; and care for the vulnerable is at the core of what it means to be God’s holy people. But can these Scriptures be reclaimed for use in the church? In this post, I explain again why I think Ezra and Nehemiah set a terrible precedent for God’s people; but I also point out a few helpful applications from these texts for the church.
The conversations we have about big issues like war and capital punishment; about abortion and euthanasia; about economic inequality and food justice–they are all carried out in terms of rights and sanctity. I suspect that one reason we do this is that it tends to make us think that by so arguing, we are elevating serious discussions to their appropriate level of seriousness. But I also deeply suspect that we do so in order to place these discussions into the metaethical realm, where they don’t have to be taken sufficiently seriously–as if they had real consequences for the world or anything. Once we have framed issues of dying and killing as metaethical abstractions, we have turned them into topics fit for polite conversation–a diversion that lets people know that we really do, after all, believe in something, even if it is of no practical consequence. After all, it’s not worth dying over But it seems that a society that is premised upon the idea that there is very little worth suffering and dying over, ironically has little trouble finding things that are worth killing over.