Posts Tagged ‘church’

JAMES 5:13-20

13 Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise. 14 Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. 17 Elijah was a human being like us, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth yielded its harvest.

19 My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, 20 you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The ministry of intercession, of “going between” another person and what threatens his or her life, dignity, happiness, or hope for the future, is the primary vocation of the Christian. As our example, Jesus gave himself so completely to this task that he was remembered above all as “a man for others.” He proclaimed his gospel for the hope of those mired down by guilt. He taught on the subject of God’s reign for the sake of dispelling false conceptions and deepening true understanding. He reached out to the sick and set free the possessed, restoring them to health and wholeness. Upon his departure, Jesus commissioned his disciples to carry on in the same way, farther out into the wide world of human need.

To the degree that Christians have retreated into their churches and are preoccupied with concerns of membership and the heaven that awaits them, they have betrayed the vision of Jesus and his gospel. The truth of the matter of Jesus is that his vision, as well as the community he organized and inspired, is all about interceding for the world on behalf of its awakening, liberation, and fulfillment. Before the Church became busy over issues of orthodoxy and hierarchy it was focused on realizing this vision in Jesus’ name. And if the Church can transcend these same fixations today, it will be able to pick up where it left off.

1 PETER 2:2-10

Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.

Come to him, a living stone, though rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight, and like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in scripture:

“See, I am laying in Zion a stone,
    a cornerstone chosen and precious;
and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”

To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe,

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,”

and

“A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall.”

They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people;
once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

The apostle Paul also used this metaphor of “milk” in reference to the teachings he first delivered to the converts in Corinth (1 Corinthians 3:2). This was in contrast to the “solid food” that he thought would have been too much for them to digest (i.e., understand).

Milk is gentle on the stomach, but really only for newborns, since the production of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down the sugar found in milk, decreases significantly into adulthood. Research is showing how many health complications today might be traceable to the persistence of dairy in the adult diet.

With that in mind, we should question the wisdom of feeding a “milky” gospel to adults who are looking for authentic meaning in their lives. Could the significant arrest in church growth over the past several decades have something to do with the fact that preachers, teachers, and evangelists are serving an essentially tasteless and indigestible message to people who are looking for relevancy and substance?

The “spiritual milk” of the emerging Christian religion was focused on Jesus whose death had made atonement for the sins of the world. What we were unable to do – pay the penalty for sin and satisfy the conditions against God’s forgiveness – Jesus did on our behalf. Christianity made Jesus into its object of worship, eventually merging him into God as the Second Person of the Trinity. His divinity, virgin birth, miraculous powers, atoning death, literal resurrection, ascension into heaven and future return to earth became the diet of doctrines proclaimed as necessary for salvation.

And so it is to this day.

Jesus himself had spread a table of “solid food” – literally bread and wine, as the tradition goes. But intellectually speaking, he didn’t dumb things down or reduce his kingdom movement to a set of beliefs and a closed membership. Neither did he put himself at the center of devotion for his followers to worship. He didn’t let people rest in their assumptions and take the easy way. Instead he challenged them to give up everything and not look back.

Even more significantly, the gospel of Jesus was not about paying a penalty for sin or getting on God’s good side. His message was that God has already forgiven – everyone!  Jesus knew that the human future depends on our willingness to let go of resentment, set aside our demand for retribution, and let the spirit of love (rather than the demon of vengeance) move us back into relationship with our enemies. Don’t wait for repentance, he said. Just forgive, and don’t stop. This is God’s way.

Christianity would soon become an elitist religion of true believers with a  mission to save the world. The kingdom movement of Jesus, however, was an ordinary company of forgiven sinners, on fire with a joy they just had to share.

If Christianity is to become a creative force for the liberation of humanity, it’s time for a change of menu.

ACTS 7:55-60

55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died.

Stephen goes down in history as the first Christian martyr – or more accurately, the first martyr of the messianic Jewish sect that proclaimed Jesus as God’s long-expected savior. Was this claim the deciding accusation that justified putting Stephen away? Not exactly.

According to the previous chapter, Stephen was a gifted apologist and wonder-worker who had made some enemies in his own synagogue by his charismatic and well-argued defense of The Way (as the sect was initially called). In their frustration, his opponents stirred up rumors and had Stephen put on trial with trumped-up charges and false witnesses. They accused Stephen of preaching a Jesus who would completely undermine the authority of their religious tradition.

Well, that part they got exactly right.

What we see here is what has been seen countless times throughout the history of religion, Christianity included. When the gospel of Jesus is heard in all its revolutionary power and implications, a very typical reaction is provoked in the hearts of those committed to upholding the supremacy of tradition. His vision for the world can never be realized, since it would involve the dismantling of everything religion tends to become: separatist, exclusive, arrogant, dogmatic, and moralizing.

When this way of doing things is dutifully handed on to the next generation, it becomes tradition (from tradere, to hand on).

As long as just one person is awake and courageous enough to speak out for spirit, dignity, love and freedom – for all people and not just “our own” – the rest of us are in danger of waking up as well. And then what? What the hell would we do with a world full of awakened, liberated, fearless and joyful people?!

In his last breath Stephen forgave his murderers, just as Jesus had done on his cross. The spirit of unconditional forgiveness had set them free, too, even if their righteous convictions could not accept it.

JAMES 5:7-10

Be patient, therefore, beloved, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near. Beloved, do not grumble against one another, so that you may not be judged. See, the Judge is standing at the doors! 10 As an example of suffering and patience, beloved, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.

The farmer waits for the precious crop from the earth. As a counter-example to the mechanistic metaphors of reality that dominated the Western mind for more than four hundred years during the industrial age, models of organismic growth and dynamic complexity are being recovered from ancient wisdom traditions for the challenges and opportunities of today.

As this writer knew, the deeper evolutionary processes of spiritual life and awakening are not events that can be engineered or induced by external interventions. Growth comes from within, from below, out of the concealed depths of waking potential, energized, gestating in the dark womb of the earth, the woman, or the creative imagination – all symbols for the ground of being giving existence to all things.

The machine operator must remain the ever-vigilant superintendent, manager, and mechanic in order to ensure the efficient and productive interworking of all the parts. A farmer, on the other hand, while directing great care and intensive labor to the preparation of the soil, the planting of the seed, and guarding against weeds, locusts, birds and other dangers, must above all be patient.

Having provided for and cooperated with the conditions necessary to the germination, growth, and maturity of his crop, he needs to wait on the miracle of life and the rhythm of time. The farmer waits, but waits with expectancy!

                                                                                                   

It is so difficult to be patient! We may ask for God’s help in developing greater patience, but then we grow impatient for the results. When we are impatient in waiting for something to happen, it is easy to take our frustrations out on each other. So many faith communities just like the church in Jerusalem get embroiled in interpersonal conflicts and disputes, not because they are necessarily more beset with problems than other groups, but because their members lack a shared sense of purpose (or mission) and/or the spiritual grounding (individually) of inner peace.

Indeed, many churches become so involved and highly invested in the programs and ministries that achieve their corporate mission, that this deeper spiritual connection withers from neglect. The critical skill required is to work diligently for the accomplishment of goals in the world and to nurture our mystical communion with God in that holy space of our inner life. When we are at peace within ourselves we find that we are much m ore patient, flexible, and resourceful in our outer life.

The discipline of strengthening the heart – not simply the emotional center but the core self, according to the biblical languages – involves the practices of contemplative solitude, centering prayer, meditational exercises, and spiritual reflection. The world makes precious little space and has little patience for such commitments. We must make the space and protect the time, if we are to grow into God.

ROMANS 15:4-13

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
    and sing praises to your name”;

10 and again he says,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”;

11 and again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
    and let all the peoples praise him”;

12 and again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
    the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

There were two streams in messianic Judaism that flowed alongside one another throughout its history, and even down to our day. One stream focused these expectations around a more exclusionist vision of the future, where the messiah’s coming would eradicate Israel’s enemies and secure world dominance for God’s chosen people. In this case, the Gentiles were definitely outside the circle of divine favor and salvation.

The other stream held a greater and more positive interest in the non-Jews of the earth. Not their destruction but their conversion to Torah and fellowship with God was the desired outcome. This second stream, of the more evangelistic type of messianism, is actually the more dominant of the two – if by dominant we mean more generally representing the worldview of the Bible.

In the first century CE these two traditions came into conflict, with Christianity (especially under Paul’s influence) following the path of world evangelism and the inclusion of the Gentiles.

Paul (the author of this dispatch) may begun his Pharisaic career more committed to an exclusionist messianism, but his visionary encounter with the risen Jesus radically changed his perspective. From then on, he became the leading proponent for a truly evangelistic (as distinct from “evangelical”) Christianity – not waging war on unbelievers, spinning out elaborate apocalyptic fantasies of their demise, or simply writing them off. They, too, were loved by God.

                                                                       

One of the most powerful metaphors that the apostle Paul invented to help in the growing self-consciousness of the Christian movement was that of the church as “the body of Christ.” The birth of this body had been the event of the resurrection, when Jesus was delivered by God from the extinction of the grave and granted the status of a “life-giving spirit” for all who seek authentic existence.

This metaphor and its association of ideas added something further to the paradigm of evangelistic messianism: It expanded the notion of the messiah (Greek christos) to the point of incorporating the disciple community in its identity.

In addition, it extended the work of the messiah into becoming the missionary purpose of the church, the disciple community. For Paul, the full accomplishment of Jesus Christ on behalf of the world’s salvation was as yet still pending, as his redemptive suffering seeks its completion in the self-sacrifice of every believer.

This critical move of Paul’s, to internalize the messianic identity of Christ first into the disciple community of the church, and then further into the true self of the disciple him- or herself, opened the Christian imagination to the mystical dimension.

When we proclaim Advent as being about more than just commemorating a miraculous birth long ago, but also about celebrating the birth of Christ-within, we are following through on Paul’s original insight.