Sunday, February 22, 2004

Christians and Covenantal Community

"And what does our Good News have to offer them in place of...?" First, the Gospel freely offers its own offense - the offense and outrage of a Holy Other Who lived and died as one of us, sharing "our common lot," and the Good News offers baptism into Jesus' crucifixion and also his resurrection: we are actually united with him in essential death and in new life like his! Beyond that, the Gospel offers not another disposable commodity but the demands and freedom of covenanted community; it offers something most people couldn't ever even imagine they need...we've been talking about abundant life, and abundant life is a large part of what the Gospel offers and gives.

(Please see my earlier post, Jesus and the Church and Jesus...because it relates to the rest of this post. )

As Christians whose heritage not only is that long-ago day of Pentecost Acts 2 speaks about but as Christians who especially claim the heritage of the 16th-century reformers we acknowledge we cannot be fully "Christian" in solitude, as important as those times and places away from the demanding and sometimes insistent crowds are to all of us.

I'll begin by agreeing there's no such thing as a personal savior or personal salvation. I've mentioned the [American] Baptist congregation that was my first church home and being biblically informed no one there ever talked about "personal salvation," so the first time I heard "personal savior" from someone affiliated elsewhere I could not figure out what on earth the "individual" was talking about! I still have no clue; that is so completely unbiblical and I cringe whenever I hear it.

Back to Jesus/Church; here's one of my favorite scriptures, 2 Corinthians 5:18-20:

All this is from God, who reconciled us to Godself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: God was reconciling the world to Godself in Christ, not counting human sin against humanity. And God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Godself...God still is in Christ - now the Church is the body of the risen Christ! No Church, no Christ? Both yes and no on that one: we need to be careful not to posit the Church rather than the Christ as Mediator between God and humanity, as Redeemer and Reconciler of the world. And I agree eventually "That Day" will arrive in which the entire creation has been reconciled to its Creator, and in "That Day" of complete Jubilee, the Church will be out of a job because it's worked itself out of a job. As those Presbyterians insist, the Church is the provisional demonstration of what God intends for humanity so I can't go quite as far as to say, "No Body/No Christ," though I do agree that for here and now the equation No Body=No Christ does hold true.

As Christians in the Reformation tradition we emphasize God's sovereignty supremely revealed in the cross and there is something so drastic and totally inclusive, something so complete, final and all-embracing in the reconciling death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all of creation dies and rises with him, all creation finally comes under and lives under Jesus' Lordship: again I'll refer to Martin Luther's declaration that the Right Hand of God - the Sovereignty of God in the Risen Christ - is everywhere, actually fills and permeates every aspect of creation.

Earlier I wrote, "each of us as individuals in covenant ... covenanted persons." True I was in a hurry and when I noticed I'd written "individuals in covenant" I thought, no, not - but that is how it begins: the covenant community of the Body of the Risen Christ transforms the individual into a person. But not into someone who then can begin yakking about have a "personal savior!" Seem to me those people technically need to talk about having an "individual savior."

I'm not saying biblically-informed Christianity is anything but relational; rather I'm claiming it's within that gathered commonality of covenanted community each of us previously privatized individuals (BTW, the "individual" is very much a post-Enlightenment phenomenon) is transformed and truly Christianized, and the results are synergistic, as the HS freely creates a reality that's far greater than the sum of its "individual" parts/members I still like "proprietary" to describe that lone and lonely creature gloating over "Jesus died for me and now I even have my very own personal savior all for myself." As Mark observed, "Sometimes it takes awhile ... to see the benefits of fellowship." Though I wasn't raised in the church nor did I even grow up on the margins or in the shadows of Christianity, there remain lots of times I need to do a major remembering of who I am and where God has lead me and taken me to convince myself indeed I do need to stay within the physical confines of ecclesial community, to at least as large an degree as I need to encounter and dialogue with the "out-there" world that's simply not a "Christian" one, however anyone may try to say it is.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Jesus and the Church and Jesus...

Jesus and the Church and Jesus...yes, yes, amen!!! The HS calls ("gathers and enlightens") the church to be the body of the risen Christ for the world and to the world and the church's proclamation and sacraments testify to that fact! A while ago I quoted from one of the church's new songs: "I, the Lord of font and cup, covenant to lift you up; Splash the water, break the bread, pour out your lives..." The Spirit calls and gathers us into the covenant community (commonality) of the church; through the authority of the Church the Spirit offers the sacraments; within the Christian assembly we baptize and are baptized into Jesus Christ's death and resurrection and into Christ himself, literally taking his name upon us; baptism is a mighty act that God performs within the worshiping community and baptism is lived with that covenanted community and in the world. We recognize the stranger among us as the Christ at the same time we experience the broken bread of heaven and poured-out cup of salvation that is the Eucharist.

As Christians whose heritage not only is that long-ago day of Pentecost Acts 2 speaks about but as Christians who especially claim the heritage of the 16th-century reformers we acknowledge we cannot be fully "Christian" in solitude, as important as those times and places away from the demanding and sometimes insistent crowds are to all of us.

But I confess there have been times I've loved the Church more than I've loved Jesus, and I need to remember the Church points us to Jesus. I need to think and write a lot more about this—thanks for the nudge!

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Romans 5 notes

Paul Tillich's sermon on this text, "You Are Accepted," was one of my early favorites; before I began reading the Bible seriously, I'd memorized chunks of Tillich sermons from so much reading and re-reading. I'm also partial to Romans 5 because it segues into the marvelous baptismal theology of chapter 6.

• With this chapter I'm referring again to the CEV. Although generally the CEV strikes me as plain and unliterary, 5:9a wonderfully exclaims, "But there is more!" I also like 5:17a with its "Death ruled like a king..."

• 5:6 CEV "at a time" sounds like just any casual random time – but the Greek is about God's fullness of time, kairos time:

• Good pride about sharing God's glory? Yes . . . I love Paul's words in Romans 8 about "the glory of the children of God," but just as we find God's the ultimate manifestation of God's glory in the weakness and vulnerability of the human Jesus dying defenseless on a tree of shame, so too the glory of our living baptized into the cross must be a crucified glory. Yet, as heirs of the Reformation, we sometimes so emphasize the cross we come close to not mentioning the empty grave, though for Paul, that apostle who "determined to preach only Christ crucified," Jesus always is at one and the same time both crucified and risen. Romans is the "purist gospel," the "Gospel According to Paul," and for Paul the Gospel is death and resurrection.

• Pastor Scott's reminder: Christianity – and Christians – have thrived in adversity, in desert experiences. I realize I think and write the same and similar things again and again, and recently I said Yahweh and Israel first encountered each other in the desert, as through experience, revelation and sacramental provision Israel learned Yahweh's nature and their identity as the People of God.

• Adam/Christ: Scott [and Paul!] mentioned their actions affected all humanity. Paul calls Christ Jesus the "new Adam." And in his genealogy, Luke refers to Adam as "Son of God!" one of the multitude of incarnational images in the Old Covenant scriptures, A-dam, "son of the earth," also is son of heaven!

Friday, February 06, 2004

Romans 3 and 4 notes

Paul still is continuing his explanation and exposition of human depravity and God’s grace. Here are a few thoughts I’ve had regarding this near constant Pauline concern!

The CEV has been interesting, since it’s a version more than a translation, and often the words the committee chose don’t have the incisive impact they do in other translations.

In Romans 3 and 4, where we usually read justified or righteous, the CEV says “accepted,” but that is so too mild! Abraham – and all of us who live in Christ – actually was turned around from being the other – an Ivri, a Hebrew – one from the other side or out-side – to becoming one who belonged on the in-side of the people of God and who God measured and calculated righteous...and righteousness is one of God’s attributes! The Greek Ýëïãßóèç literally is “accounted!” – as in money and finance. Many of our biblical concepts have a decisive economic edge: debt, owe/ought, forgive, justice, free/freed/freedom, reckoned/reckoning.

* Sin is our human condition; because total death is the fair return we get from sinning against a holy God, no one can escape death, no one can cheat death

* Our humanity means mortality and our mortality makes us inevitably and invariably deathbound

* But because of Jesus Christ our mortality itself becomes gracious gift and by grace turns us Godward and finally makes us God-bound!!! But it all begins with God-with-us in Jesus of Nazareth that enables us-with-God. If not for “Adam’s transgression” in which we all sinned (remember “O happy fault?”)...

* With the immense influence Greek philosophy had on Ur-Christianity, it’s important we remember God’s promise to us isn’t immortality but rather something none of those “other” gods could do – resurrection from the dead!

* In American Westerns, the hero comes from outside the community

o Like other people, events and images the Hebrew Bible, Abraham is a Christ figure – in his outsider-ness, stranger-ness and his other-side-ness!

o In Christ Jesus, who entered human history from that very “other side” of heaven to be born as a stranger outside the city and die unknown outside the city gates – outside civilization...

o Christ Jesus, God became the outsider but not a heroic figure in the way most humans imagine “heroic.”

* Since Jesus was born under the law – within the established legal and religious system – a
nd subject to all the law’s demands and structures, he could become sin for us, which he did by becoming a not-like-us.
* To paraphrase the Heidelberg Catechism: we move from Christmas, with the mystery of Spirit in flesh, to the Ascension, with the mystery of flesh in Spirit! And shouldn’t that be what happens to us during our journeys?

* Narnia: the Divine inevitable of death rolling backwards into life rather than the human invariable of life moving toward death!

o 430 years before the Sinai Covenant God accounted Abraham righteous/just[ified]:
Grace and faith – these “New Keys” to heaven really are old keys!