Monday, February 17, 2003

Power and Sovereignty

As Christians our ultimate model of power is our God of glory, majesty and sovereignty willingly abrogating that power and becoming “small for us in Christ” – as Martin Luther expressed it: small enough to die. For us. From Christmas and the vulnerability of the manger we go to Good Friday and the vulnerability and absolute defenselessness of the cross. As Christians we confess we find the height of God’s sovereignty in the vulnerability and weakness – in the hiddenness – of a human dying on the scandal of a tree. We discover and recognize the fullness of the Shekinah Glory – the glory of the presence of God – in the weakness of Jesus, “The Human One,” who dies without defense. And that powerlessness proved enough to annihilate the powers and principalities; it was sufficient to effect the death of the old order of death itself; Jesus’ dying on the tree of death that paradoxically becomes the Tree of Life. Our Good Friday / East Sunday proclamation is the end of the supremacy of death and the birth, the ascendancy of the primacy of life – the eschatological reign of the Power of God, most eloquently uncovered and found in the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen One both Human and Divine who shared our common lot and in whose birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension we know and affirm the definitive manifestation of the God beyond time and beyond space. For Paul, the human Jesus becomes the divine Christ at his death and resurrection…and Paul determined “to preach only Christ crucified.”

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Synagogue and Basilica...

Synagogue and Basilica are meeting places...Church is people! Some Christians are careful to refer to the church building, physical plant as “meeting house.” The Churches of the Reformation usually reserve “church” as the word for either the local church or the universal church catholic and use terms like “synod,” “conference,” “association,” “presbytery,” etc., for the in-between entities or expressions of the Church.

I can’t lose sight of God’s self revelation in the Christ, and I do equate the historical Jesus and the Christ. And since we’re Christed when we reveal, proclaim God to the world (2 Corinthians 5:18 19) we are called (ekklesia, “called out” (of the world)) to reveal God to the world. As you pointed out, during Paul’s ministry, the Way later known as “Christianity” hadn’t yet been fully grown.

Although there’s definitely and clearly a sometimes neglected third dimension, spiritual dimension to Jesus’ Gospel, I want to return to my earlier caution against over-spiritualizing Jesus’ life and mission. Jesus’ revelation of the Father is earthy, earthly and earthbound. So is the Way of Jesus! Though Jesus’ way also is contemplation. For some reason the 19th and 20th centuries lost sight of this earthly reality – something it’s easy for relatively comfortable middle-class types to do.

Liberation theology categories bring us back to God’s self revelation in scripture and in the Christ Event. Mary of the Magnificat is a central liberation theology concept and text:

“He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly, the hungry he has filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.” –Luke 1:52 53

These words are grounded! Aren’t those happenings demonstrated by Jesus’ life and kerygma, Jesus’ proclamation? I also like the liberation theology theme of the obliteration of SHAME: middle-class mainline U.S. Christianity often emphasizes annihilation of individual sin and guilt…as devastating and as paralyzing as sin and guilt can be, shame is a far more cosmic category, visited upon individuals, cultures and societies by forces outside of themselves, forces over which they have no control – Paul’s apocalyptic “powers and principalities.” …although the historical roots of deutero-Paul’s exposition of and concern with the powers and principalities was somewhat “other than” what I’ve been writing about.

To paraphrase Christiaan Beker in Paul’s Apocalyptic Gospel, the Church is the sign of the dawn of the new age and of the powers of life over and against the powers of death, and God calls the Church to active engagement with the world in order to fulfill its redemptive mission in the world. As I’d express it, God calls the Church, the Body of the Risen Christ, to be an instrument of grace to the world.

As an aside, although, as you suggested, Paul may have been calling “on the Name of the Lord” on the fabled Damascus Road, I’m not completely convinced, since often grace and salvation break unbidden into life…into this world.