Thursday, April 20, 2017

Jesus' Death and Revolution

We often spend time interpreting Jesus death on the cross by analyzing Paul, John or the book of Hebrews.  But we should spend time looking at what Jesus said about his death, understanding how he interpreted his death.
1.       Free the abused
“The Son of Man has come to seek and save the lost.”
Jesus looked around him and he saw masses of people who were suffering.  People who were running around insane, desperately poor, horribly sick, blind, and imprisoned for their debts.  Instead of helping these needy people, the leaders of his people punished them more.  Preachers spoke to the abused, claiming it was their fault they suffered.  Priests kept them from God because their suffering was seen as a punishment.  Elders passed laws that made their plight more difficult.  Jesus saw the oppressed as “sheep without a shepherd”, a people without a leader, and the leaders as “whitewashed sepultures”—containers of death with a fresh coat of paint on them.  So Jesus had a plan to deliver these people—to give them a new exodus, a deliverance from slavery.  And that deliverance plan included his own death.

2.       Martyrdom
“Blessed are you when men hate you… be glad in that day… for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way the fathers treated the prophets.”
The first deliverer of Jesus’ people, Moses, was a shepherd who had a deep connection with God, and God enacted the deliverance of the oppressed using Moses as a conduit.  There were many like Moses offering deliverance through the years: Deborah, Samuel, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Esther. These were prophets, people whom God used to deliver his people from oppression.  However, these people, every one, suffered horribly.  Their lives were miserable.  But the misery of their lives was worth the deliverance they brought, and also because they were given the opportunity to live at peace with God after this life was over. Jesus knew that he was to live like these: be led by God to deliver people, suffer horribly, to be resurrected to be at peace in the end.

3.       Demonstrate Love
“Greater love has no one than this: that one lay his life down for his brothers.”
Jesus declared that the law is all about love.  Not just any love, but love for all people, love which helps those in need and love that sacrifices oneself.  Jesus lived out this love every day.  He healed the sick, brought sight to the blind, fed the hungry, raised the dead, delivered the mentally ill, and gave to the poor.  This was good, but he needed to provide a final demonstration of how one should live.  When Jesus died on the cross, he showed what real sacrifice was, and the kind of love we all should share with one another.

4.       Jesus On the Campaign Trail
“This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”
At the moment Jesus was baptized, he had a vision of God the Father quoting Psalm 2 to him, declaring him to be the Son of God, the new king of the Jewish people, the leader of the people of God, and the next emperor of the world.  From this point on, Jesus was campaigning to be this king, to prove himself as more worthy than the current rulers.  But Jesus was never campaigning to the people of God, but campaigning for God himself.  He was showing himself to be more compassionate than Moses, more obedient than David, and having more faith than Elijah.  His death was the ultimate expression of all of these characteristics.

5.       Principle of Humility
“If anyone exalts himself, he will be humbled. Whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
There was one principle, however, that Jesus needed to demonstrate above all.  If a person was to rule under God’s power, the one aspect they had to demonstrate above all is humility.    Jesus understood humility to not be an inner sense of unworthiness or lowliness, because he considered himself the next emperor of the world.  Rather, humility is accepting a low standing and allowing God to give you a higher one.  Jesus had to accept the lowest place, the station of ultimate shame and rejection, and then God would establish him on high.  In Jesus’ time, the lowest station he could take on is to be hung in shame on a cross.

6.       Kick the Bums Out
“The vine-growers said to one another, ‘This is the heir, come let us kill him…”
Like David before him, there were already God-appointed rulers over God’s people: the Sanhedrin and the priests of the temple. Jesus couldn’t establish a revolution and kill them, for that would prove him to be unworthy of rule.  Instead, Jesus had to demonstrate the unworthiness of these rulers, and then God himself would take them out of power.  So he established a situation in which they would kill someone making a claim that was true.  That despite their laws and focus on justice, they would kill God’s representative because they didn’t like his claims.  Jesus, of course, put himself in that situation.  He declared himself king by riding on a colt into Jerusalem with followers honoring him as a great conqueror.  He undermined the high priest’s rules by kicking businessmen out of the temple.  He publicly declared them killers of the innocent.  And then, only to them, he admitted that he was king and would be judging them in God’s name.  That was enough for them to crucify him, causing them to be set aside as rulers.

7.       Establishing a new nation
“This is the new covenant in my blood.”
After delivering the people of Israel from slavery and giving them a new law, God asked for an eternal agreement between him and his people.  On the day of ratification, Moses had a number of bulls sacrificed.  Moses read the law of God and said, “God wants to be your king and you will be his nation.  Do you agree to these terms?”  All the people agreed.  So Moses had a number of bulls killed and the blood was put in a basin.  Moses then sprinkled the blood on God’s altar and then on all the people.  He said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you.”  Jesus used the same words, speaking of his own blood which was to be spilled on the cross.  Jesus made it clear that he was re-establishing the kingdom of God, a new nation established on the dust of the old, with Jesus as the king.  This is a kingdom whose law is love, who gives an opportunity for repentance, who gives the Spirit to empower one to love.  And Jesus’ blood is the ink with which the constitution is written.

8.       Risen
“He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things… and be killed and after three days rise again.”
All of this was contingent on God’s response.  Jesus had said all along that his death was significant only if God raised him from the dead.
If God raised him from the dead, then Jesus was truly the King, as he claimed.
If God raised him from the dead, then the many scriptures that said God would raise the humble would be fulfilled.
If God raised him from the dead, then the path for the oppressed to live a new life in God is established.
If God raised him from the dead, then the sentence of death upon Jesus is reversed.
If God raised him from the dead, then the old system of temple, priests and elders are declared unworthy and set aside.
If God raised him from the dead, then the law of love is established.
If God raised him from the dead then the new covenant is accepted and the new kingdom of God is established.

God did raise him from the dead.  There is a new nation without abuse or oppression.  It is not led by the church, but by Jesus himself.  And anyone who follows Jesus’ path of humility and mercy to the needy can be a part of it.  All nations are set aside, rejected by anyone who lives in this new kingdom.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

A School of Fools

Today is April Fool’s Day, the day of jokes, pranks and attempts to deceive.  A “fool” on this day, would be considered the butt of a joke, the one who is deceived or pranked.  In the range of meaning of “fool” we would include the uneducated oaf, the intelligent person who is unwise in everyday matters and the one who ignores the path of everyday society, usually to their own detriment. 

Paul called himself a “fool for Christ”, not in the sense that he was uneducated, but that he ignored the wisdom of the world to embrace a philosophy and a way of life that was damaging to himself and his very life.  He recognizes that there are those who would be “wise” for Christ, those who walks a careful path not to disturb either their religion or their society.  He was never like that.  He jumped in, both feet, into the abyss that is Christ, not looking to escape with his life.   And so he changed the world.

He was not the first.  Peter spoke out against the powerful body that killed Christ, was arrested, threatened and eventually killed.  Stephen spoke boldly before his enemies who brutally and immediately killed him.  James was arrested and killed, mostly on a whim.  All this within a year of Jesus’ death.  To continue on this path of martyrdom was foolish, but these early followers of Jesus were passionate and determined to bring justice into a world that did not deserve it.

The path of foolishness did not end with this generation.  Although the movement became more than a group of fools, there were always the minority of extremists who pursued the cross, who swam in the pond of non-conformity.

The Pilgrim
An anonymous, barely literate peasant wandered throughout villages of Russia, begging for his bread and praying a single prayer every minute of every day.  “Jesus, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me a sinner.”  Although he seemed uneducated and worthy of mockery by some, others saw him as a fount of wisdom and his inspirational biography is read to this day.

Francis of Assisi
He began an order of monks who would own no money or possessions.  You might think, “Well that was easier in the 13th century than today”, but it was not.  Francis was just more determined, and his followers lived in caves and what churches would allow them to sleep in pews.  He would beg for himself and for his fellow monks, singing and preaching foolishness. Occasionally Francis would be invited to a dinner and he would not even sit down at the table, but find the proudest bishop and beg that man for food, as the wealthy one sat down to eat. He finally died of open wounds that he begged from God so that he might be more Christ-like.

Ignatius of Loyola
A disciplined soldier who was injured in war, he was in bed for months with nothing but a bible and a book of saints to focus on.  He dedicated himself to Christ as his master and attended classes at the University of Paris for years, while he lived in the fields, homeless.  He collected a few followers who began the Jesuit order.

Damien of Molokai
Determined to help the needy, this Belgian priest served at a leper colony on the island of Molokai.  He cleaned wounds, buried his friends and created a joyful community.   Of course, he died of leprosy.

Anthony of Egypt
Ashamed of the “Christian” society that developed in Alexandria, Anthony chose to live in a cemetery instead, and eventually left the safety of the city altogether and lived in the desert. Some would come and seek counsel and then others came to live his hermit-like existence in nearby caves.  His foolishness became the Christian monastic movement.

Keith Green
A rock star who dedicated himself to Jesus, he sold his albums for what people could afford and wrote radical Christian articles for his very popular newsletter. He sang and spoke of radical hospitality and of self-sacrifice.  On a private plane in his organization’s property in Texas, he overfilled it with his children and friends and they all died.  But millions were inspired by his powerful message and music to follow Jesus.

So many in the cloud of witnesses we could name: Martin Luther King, Jr., Conrad Grebel, Mother Theresa, Meister Eckhart, Maximillian, Vincent Van Gogh, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Grandma Moses, Claire of Assisi, Stephen Biko, Mimosa, and more that time does not allow me to speak of.

I am proud to call myself a minor fool for Christ beside these martyrs and saints.  I will not boast but in my idiocy, my poor attempt to follow the path Jesus created on his way to death.  I quit my job, making me and my family homeless for months in order to better appreciate and serve the homeless.  My life was threatened and my body was attacked for wanting to serve.  I held poorly attended services, proclaiming the peace, love and power of Christ, which few wanted to hear.  I gave opportunities to serve to the poorest of the poor, some of whom were felons, drug dealers, prostitutes, addicts and thieves.  I invited some of these to live in my home. 

One of my great projects over the last few years was to transform a mostly empty church facility into a vibrant community center for the homeless, immigrants, poor and destitute.  Four separate church groups, of different denominations, met there, and for many hours a day there were showers, food, clothes, garden, shelter, work opportunities, and contacts with other services.  It was known as RedBarn (because of the large red barn on the property) and it was loved by those who used the services.

But the project was hated by many who lived around it and the police, for they saw the poor as reducing the value of their homes, as a center for criminals to gather, as enabling the very people they wanted to drive out of their community to remain.  A few worked for years to drive us out, reporting us to the city for crimes they could not actually see. 

Eventually, one of the people I helped get off the street located his drug distribution business on the property, bringing in the very criminal element that the neighbors and police were so concerned about.  I shut it down, and the city eventually fined the property 3000 dollars for not cleaning it up quickly enough.  I quit managing the property due to the stress of managing the expectations and needs of the poor, the city, the denomination who owned the property and my vision of the peace of Christ. 
I understand now.

There is a reason that the community of Christ is a community of fools.  It is because to fight to meet the needs of the outcast is to declare war against an entire society, and they will not accept it.  They will fight and eventually kill you.  If they can’t tear you down quickly, they will do so slowly.

So I will follow the command of Christ: when they persecute you in one place, go to another.  I will rest, and gather my wits.  But I have not given up on the outcast, who need support.  And I have not given up on foolishness.  No, I am in a lull, but I already feel the foolishness of Christ rising up in me again.  Watch and see.