Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Stand Our Ground

"Weeping may linger for the night,"

- Psalm 30:5a

Today we weep at the news that California's Supreme Court upheld Proposition 8, the unjust ballot initiative that stripped the right to marry from thousands of loving couples. We mourn the seeming triumph of prejudice and discrimination and lament the loss of marriage equality for the citizens of California.

"but joy comes with the morning. "

Psalm 30:5b

Yet, we are reminded of the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." We have been promised by God a new world order in which peace and justice flow, in which love and compassion trump hatred, bigotry and prejudice. And it is in this coming kin-dom that we place our faith, for already we see glimpses of it breaking through. . .

Iowa. . .

and many more to come. . .

Today we weep, but tomorrow we find our joy in action, making real that vision of the kin-dom through inspired commitments, passionate advocacy and unrelenting activism!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

We 've Only Just Begun

When I was little, I had a children’s bible storybook. It began with some stories from the Hebrew Testament…Moses and the burning bush, David and Goliath, Samson and Delilah. It went on to tell the story of Jesus’ birth and life, focusing on the miracles of feeding the hungry, healing the sick, raising the dead. The final chapter of the book depicted Jesus’ death on a cross and his glorious resurrection. I remember clearly the very last page of the book with Jesus draped in long, white flowing fabric, seemingly floating above the tomb with golden rays beaming from a magnificent halo hovering just above his head.

“And when the disciples went to the tomb, they found it empty, for Jesus had risen from the dead. The End!”

The end? Yes, the end. Most children’s books depict the Christian story centered chronologically around the life of Jesus. Birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection. The end.

Is resurrection really the end of the story? Is that really all there is to our faith? If resurrection is the end of the story, what is the point? Why bother being Christian? Why bother living a life in the image of Christ if all is done and accomplished once and for all??

Yet, resurrection is not the end of the Christian story; it is only just the beginning. While it is true that our faith tradition extends far back, sharing common ancestry with our Jewish and Muslim cousins through our ancestors Abraham and Sarah, it is equally true that our faith tradition extends far forward into the future, decades, centuries after Jesus life, death and resurrection as a living, breathing, dynamic faith.

Jesus knew that his death would not be the end of this radical movement of faith of which he was a part. Jesus knew that after he was gone, the disciples and friends would be called upon to do much greater things than he had ever done. Jesus knew that the story was not ending…it was simply beginning.

In the Gospel of John, Jesus articulates this understanding of post-resurrection life (really, post-death life, since it is highly unlikely even Jesus suspected the divine surprise of resurrection as depicted in scripture…). This evening, we read a portion of Jesus’ prayer on behalf of the disciples and the future church as paraphrased by Walter Wink. The author of John, writing almost a century after the death and resurrection of Jesus uses this prayer to frame both the hopes and challenges of the early church.

The prayer articulates both Jesus’ task while alive and the call of the disciples after his death. I appreciate Wink’s translation in that it highlights Jesus’ purpose not in dying, but in living. Jesus’ task was not to reveal Divine purpose in his torturous death on a cross, but rather to reveal the Gospel embodied, incarnated in his life and ministry.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. I have revealed your essence to those who have been responsive to me…Now they know that everything you have given me is from you. They have grasped the fact that everything I have disclosed comes from you, for I have taught them what you have been teaching me.”

This passing on of divine knowledge is not, however, merely a transmission of information or facts. It is not a deposit of holy secrets through rational, logical argumentation. Rather, the way in which Jesus taught the disciples happened in and through relationship. Theologian, William Loader, describes it this way: “The offer is, in that sense, not revelation (information, knowledge-about), but relationship (coming to know a person).” This relationship is an intimate connection not just between Jesus and God, but in, among and between humanity and the Divine.
Jesus prays, “All mine are yours, and yours are mine. They are yours, I am yours, you are ours.”

It is an intimate, mutual relationship that bridges the gap between the divine and human. Indeed, this is what atonement is. At-one-ment…the bringing together of divine and human in one…not just in the person of Jesus, but in all Creation. Through Jesus’ life and ministry the world and the Divine are made one.
This relationship is the key to understanding post-resurrection life. For this mutual, cooperative relationship between human and Divine sets the stage for what the disciples are called to do. Just as Jesus’ task was to reveal the Gospel through his life and ministry, so also the disciples, now seen as one with the Divine are also called to embody the Gospel for the world.

The post-resurrection call to the disciples is not about discrete knowledge which they are to pass on as a street corner evangelist shouting propositional truths. No, the post-resurrection call on the disciples is to embody a very way of being in the world so that in and through their lives, others can come to know and practice the way of resurrection life, so that the at-one-ment Jesus began can continue in the world in and through their witness.

Wink’s interpretation of this passage makes this point absolutely clear:
“As I have humanized your divinity, so you are divinizing our humanity. The qualitative distinction between you and us dissolves. The divine prerogatives are given to humanity…Your real capacity to incarnate in human beings, God, is evidenced not just by your presence and power in me, but in the capacity of these nobodies to create a movement that will span the globe.”

Clearly, resurrection is not the end of the story, for through this prayer we see that Jesus’ resurrection initiates a radical movement that will span the globe. Divinity does not simply apparate or ascend into heaven after the resurrection….no, this prayer suggests that indeed the Holy dwells even more intimately in and among the world through the concrete lives of the disciples. For in them, not just in Jesus, the Divine has been incarnated.

Here the focus shifts clearly from Jesus to humanity. From Christ to us. Look around. God is incarnate in each of us here today. We are the modern disciples who now bear God’s image for the world in our lives and in our ministries.
This indeed is a gift of grace, but this gift also comes with great responsibility.
We not only share in the same relationship with Jesus and God, intimately, mutually bound, but we also share the same task that we are to embody the Divine for the world. Look around. If the world is to know God, it is only in and through our witness. We are it, for better or for worse.

Easier said than done, right?

And Jesus knew that. This prayer in John that we read this evening depicts Jesus as a compassionate friend who knows well the dangers his friends will face after he is gone. The prayer itself is a plea for strength in the face of the inevitable challenges that come with embodying the Divine for the world.

The community of John knew these dangers first hand. The early Christians were marginalized, excluded and oppressed by both the mainline Jewish community and the secular culture in which they lived. The Domination System, that is the status quo of power, where might makes right, is diametrically opposed to the way of the kin-dom and challenges disciples then and now in their efforts to live the way of Christ. Love, peace, mercy, compassion, non-violence, forgiveness, justice…these are alien to the Domination System. To live lives marked by these qualities those who seek to follow Christ’s way must confront the domination systems in their lives and in the world.

Jesus understood that this constant confrontation with the world around them would be difficult. The temptations of losing hope, of giving up, of walking away from all they had been taught were real for the disciples…for Gospel living in the midst of the Domination System is no easy task! The reference to Judas reminds the listeners, ancient and contemporary, of the dangers of becoming alienated from God in the midst of struggle. For John, the danger here is not in discrete acts of sin (selling Jesus to the authorities for a bribe), but rather in losing touch with both the vision of the coming kin-dom and the intimate relationship between humanity and Divine. Judas gave up the vision of the kin-dom in which peace and justice flow both because he could not believe it to be true and because he did not understand the depth of relationship between himself and the Divine. By alienating himself from God, he cut himself off from deep love, compassion and mercy…so much so that he abandoned both Jesus and himself to death.

Often, these challenges are framed as obstacles only the Divine can overcome and the prayer interpreted as a plea on Jesus’ behalf to help the clueless disciples in their post-resurrection life. God help these poor souls! But this is no prayer to magically protect the disciples from harm. This is no Divine defense charm. Jesus understands that the way of protection is not through the elimination of challenge, sorrow or danger, but in and through the Divine relationship.

Jesus prays, “Enfold them in your very being. You cannot surround them with a perfect providence that prevents their suffering the normal outrages of physical illness or rejection and persecution by the Powers. You certainly haven't done that for me! But in that enfolding you can make them one with you and with me and with each other. You can give them a foretaste of your domination-free order.”

What I so appreciate about Wink’s interpretation is that he continues to highlight and emphasize the significance of the relationship between humanity and the Divine. It is in and through this relationship that the disciples find not just comfort, but power and agency.

In this translation, Jesus is not begging for the silly, foolish, lost disciples, but rather voicing their agency and power as the ones who will continue the task of being the Gospel for the World. In Wink’s interpretation, these are no helpless disciples. These are agents and bearers of great power.

“While I was with them, I protected them… I guarded them. I sent them out as sheep among wolves, but they were not, for all that, defenseless. Your very being was at their core, and that itself is a miraculously disarming power….Until now they have been limited in what they can do, because they have projected all their own divine powers on me and on you. But now that I am to be killed, they will no longer have me to carry their projections. They will discover powers unimaginable within themselves--your divine power within them, Abba. And they will do greater works than even I did, because I am getting out of their way. And we are getting into them in a new way.”

Far too often we imagine ourselves as powerless in the face of the challenges of the world. Far too often we project all of our own power onto the god-head, seeking help from above, when we already possess the power to change the world.

Jesus understands this, praying, “They do not yet understand that my leaving them will complete their joy. Right now they are content with theophanies, disclosures of divine love and power, signs and wonders. But the thing they lack is completion in themselves.”

Of course, this notion of powerlessness in the face of the Divine has been reinforced through our Christian traditions time and time again. The “infinite gap between human and Divine” emphasized to the exclusion of seeing in ourselves the image of the Divine. Now, don’t get me wrong, this passage does not say we are invincible. It does not deny that we will face challenges or even that we will sometimes fail. What it does do, is help us to see the Divinity that lies within us, so that not only do we have the power to face the challenges of the world, but we also have the assurance that God dwells in and through us no matter what happens.
Listen again to these words… “Like a catalyst I have opened them to their utmost possibilities, but they have persisted in identifying them with me. In my absence they will be thrown on your power within them. When they discover that power, their joy will be boundless.”

“I have opened them to their utmost possibilities… When they discover that power, their joy will be boundless.” Our post-resurrection task is to discover and unleash that power we have been given in and through our relationship with the Divine. When we take these words of Jesus seriously, we begin to see ourselves as the very soul of the Divine making real for the world God’s love in our concrete everyday actions.

We are no hapless disciples, abandoned in the world without any help. No, we have been empowered, not just to proclaim the Gospel, but to be the Gospel.

The end? No, not ever. Resurrection is not the end of the story. It is just the beginning, for resurrection is Divine power for transformation poured out into human form….not just Jesus’, but ours. Look around. Christ is present!

Resurrection did not end with Jesus 200 years ago, but continues to transform and shape the world in dynamic ways to the extent to which we live out its practices in the world. When we begin to take seriously the at-one-ment with the Divine we witness through Jesus’ life and ministry, when we begin to understand the depths of our relationship in and to the Divine, when we look in the mirror and recognize the Holy incarnate in ourselves, we become empowered to take on the task and challenge of living out resurrection life each and every day.

Resurrection is not the end….it is our beginning!