Many of you will remember the case of the Episcopal priest purporting to be simultaneously a Muslim and a Christian. The clergy of the Diocese of RI received an update about the situation this morning. Rather that write an entry, I am pointing you to my clergy colleague, Fr. Scott Gunn and his well-done piece. Seven Whole Days on Muslim/Priest
I received a disturbing report from our summer nanny. My 5 year-old, who wishes for Christmas all year long, has some interesting ideas about the birth of Jesus. According to him, Jesus is born on Christmas. No problem here. After Christmas, Jesus re-enters the womb of Mary, and waits to be born again at Christmas next year. I am afraid we have combined Groundhog Day and the Nativity.
It is clear that I have some work to do on my son’s Christian education.
However, for me, this is a really hopeful sign. It tells me that my son is soaking up what he hears. He might not fully understand, or be capable of integrating what he is being taught. The foundation is taking shape. The fact that he brought this up, as a topic of discussion, makes this father happy.
Last night, the council of the diocese met at St. George’s, the site of a growing Hispanic congregation. In addition to our regular meeting, it was an opportunity to see and hear about that particular ministry. It was very impressive.
We were told about a program the Hispanic congregation has started. The congregation has embarked on a healing ministry. Members of the congregation go out in groups to the homes of those suffering from illness. They start with an opening prayer, sing a hymn, do a house blessing and read a Gospel passage. Those present are invited to comment on what they have heard.
This ministry started out of a desire to offer care for a few ailing members. After that, individuals in the parish and the larger community began to request these visits. At this point, teams are going out about twice a week to offer services of prayer and healing.
One of the team members spoke eloquently about the presence of God felt at the services. She said that it was palpable, and that people were hungry for the Word of God. It sounds like the hunger is being addressed in this ministry.
Good for the congregation seeing a need, and devising a way to meet it. Good for those in need accepting the offer of the support of the Church. Good to see the Gospel in action.
In the past, I have read a number of books and articles about the challenges that face the Church. A good bit of what I have seen focuses on the post-Christendom reality we face. The argument usually cites “blue laws”, the existence of rivals to worship on Sunday morning, and shifting expectations.
Clearly, Sunday morning is no longer sacrosanct and the sole province of the Church. It is easy to bemoan the changes, but it would miss the point. Obviously, we must understand where we are, but I don’t like using a changing world as justification for decline.
The larger issue, in my mind, is how we respond to the new situation.
Jesus appealed to his first hearers in ways that had resonance. His message and identity changed the world and history. Jesus methodology was related to his appearance in history, in a particular time and place. Jesus’ style of debate and use of parables are very connected to his context.
What Jesus taught was old and new in various ways. His teaching was very connected to Torah. In some ways, Jesus counseled to uphold traditional interpretation of Torah, and in other ways he was seen as the fulfillment of Torah. The point is all this happened within a framework of current understanding.
The challenge of our time is the proclamation of the Gospel in ways that work, now. It is bigger than using streaming video and hip music in worship (not exactly my cup of tea). It is more philosophical than that. How do we communicate the essential message of the Gospel of Jesus to a world that no longer thinks the message matters?
We are in the process of losing a framework for understanding. Sin, salvation, justification, redemption are all words losing their meaning outside of “churchy” contexts. The concepts represent essentials, but the understanding of the essentials is shifting.
I don’t have any real answers. I am note sure I understand my own questions. I am clear that business as usual is not working.
Clinging to the past, out of fear, will not be an effective strategy. Nobody is buying buggy-whips.
Throwing out the old for the new always creates unintended loss, and good, meaningful things disappear.
To really understand the Gospel, one must understand the history of Judaism. Occasionally, I will hear someone say something like, “I am a believer of the God of the New Testament. I don’t go in for all that Old Testament stuff.” The trouble with that perspective is Jesus makes absolutely no sense stripped of his Jewishness. Jesus is the continuation of the ancient story of Judaism.
Judaism gives us the story of creation and the first people. Judaism also introduces us to the primordial problem of human separation from God via free will run amuck. The Old Testament then tells the story of God’s efforts to restore creation to the original state. We are offered the stories of God working with people, like Abraham and Moses.
Abraham receives the promise to become a great nation. This nation will have a role not only in the calling of Jews to be the chosen people, but in the salvation of the world and all people. This relationship is sealed through a covenant.
Moses receives the law, Torah. Torah is one of the defining features of God’s chosen people. According to one scholar, “ Israel’s God gave his Torah to Moses, and one of the most characteristically Jewish Activities is to study it, both for its own sake and so that one may bring oneself, and those whom one can influence or teach, under the leading of that which has been identified not only with the divine wisdom but with the tabernacling presence of YHWH himself.-(Sanders 1990a) Torah contains instructions for circumcision, dietary codes, sacrifices and Temple worship. All designed to maintain Israel’s distinctive relationship with God and role in salvation history.
Covenant and Torah are vehicles of God’s action to restore the creation.
Jesus encounter with the Pharisees brings all this into play in that interaction. The Pharisees are a party within the Judaism of Jesus’ day. They understand the covenant of God with Abraham. They feel that the current situation in the Temple is not great. They view it as somewhat compromised. The Pharisees are totally invested in Torah. They understand that they are in the promised land, they have a Temple, yet they are still dominated by the Roman occupation. Torah is the only thing that can be trusted to bring about God’s redemption. The Pharisees occupy themselves with it, in hope of God’s restoration.
So when they question Jesus about his apparent violations of Torah, it is not with disinterest or pettiness. They want to know why he would stand in the way of God’s redeeming work, that they believe, can only happen through devotion to Torah.
What was incredibly difficult for them to grasp is that the ongoing story would unfold in an unexpected way. Torah will not, ultimately, bring about what they desire. It will be the actual presence of God, in the person of Jesus, that will make up the next chapter. It will be the Son of God, who will set creation back on course.
That is after all what we claim. God’s plan for the salvation of the world rests in the hands of the Son of God. But, you will doubtlessly admit, the world seems just as messed up as it was in Jesus day. Maybe the solution is in the story of the two healing stories that follow the controversy with the Pharisees. In both instances, faith is displayed. The hemorrhaging woman believes that she just needs to touch Jesus to be made whole. The synagogue leader knows Jesus touch will give his daughter life. Both individuals are open to the fact, God is free to write the ongoing story, and they were free to become part of it.
The Good News is that we are free to become part of this chapter, not only as St. Columba’s, but as individuals. We are free to make the choice. We can close the book before it is complete, or we turn the page to participate in the life that God offers the Church and us, next. We are free, through the grace of God, to turn the page. Through Christ, we are free.
In the Sunday sermon, I talked about faith and motivation, identity and practice. The text was from Matthew 5-7. I am haunted by Jesus’ message in those few chapters. They represent Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God and our role as members of it.
Karl Marx is quoted as saying, “Religion is the opiate of the people.” The quote implies that religion is anesthesia for adherents living in a painful world. I would argue that while some use religion as such, it is not the intent of Christianity, and certainly misrepresents the intent of Jesus.
Jesus’ teaching, distilled in the Sermon on the Mount, is that a new world is coming. The new world has been inaugurated by the arrival of the Christ. Jesus fleshes out the shape and marks of this coming kingdom. Comfort and hope come from recognizing the deep love that God has for the world, as expressed by God’s will to continue the creative process for the perfection this world.
We face a decision. Do we want to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, or do we prefer to prop up the existing order? The existing order offers certain comforts; the coming kingdom promises much more. God’s purpose contains a certain amount of risk because it will be different. It will mean transformation of the old, but it is born out of God’s perfect love for us and the desire for the reconciliation of all.