Living Alongside

September 17th, 2020

It isn’t about taking some loud, blustery stand against sin, it isn’t about how much we pound our pulpits or how loudly we condemn or the cultural battles we wage. It isn’t about drawing some moral line in the sand. It’s about our willingness to be with people and live alongside them.

This is why the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the body of Christ is so important in these days, and why it is one of the hills worth dying on for me as a pastor, because it is one of the greatest opportunities we have to set the kind of table Jesus set for the believers he entrusted to carry the message forward. It is an opportunity to show the watching world what Christ looks like by emulating him. The Church’s resistance to and persecution of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning men and women is a push against the Holy Spirit because it runs in direct opposition to the heart of Jesus as reflected in the Gospel biographies and the book of Acts. It isn’t just shrinking the table: it’s walling off the table from those who desire to be present. And the answer isn’t offering some tentative, heavily conditioned token tolerance as a compromise. (If that were the case, Jesus’ table gatherings would have been very different.) It is to be fully obedient to Jesus’ command to love another as oneself. The straight Church doesn’t need to tolerate or pacify or throw scraps to the Christian LGBTQ community, it nees the LGBTQ community for the same reason it needs all those seeking and walking in faith regardless of their gender or skin color or sexual orientation — because these folks are breathing sanctuaries of the Spirit of God and because without them any version of the Church is still inferior and incomplete. Until the queer Christian community is received fully and welcomed and included without caveat or restraint by the institutional Church, the Church will continue to be less grace-filled, less rich in its complexity, and less in the image of Christ than it should be. When Christians attempt to exclude any group from the table, they distort the Church because they deny the heart of Jesus for all of humanity. Discrimination hinders people from finding community, and it robs the Church of the tremendous gifts that diversity brings.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 138-139

Photo: View from Burgruine Koppenstein, Germany, September 19, 1998

The Way of Forgiveness

September 12th, 2020

So is the blood of Jesus precious? Yes. Of course! But it is more precious than most of us have ever realized. The blood of Jesus did not pay some sort of debt in the divine bank account for our sin. No, God had already taken care of that through His gracious forgiveness from all eternity. The blood of Jesus is precious because it reveals to us the most important truth of all, which is a truth we could never have seen or understood on our own. The blood of Jesus reveals to us that God does not want or demand blood sacrifice, but that we want and demand it. We require blood to alleviate our own guilt and solve our own problems. But by coming and dying as a scapegoat on the cross, and then rising again and refusing to retaliate, Jesus revealed that there is a different way. Jesus revealed the way of God, which is the way of forgiveness.

While sacrificial violence does bring a temporary peace, it comes at the price of the life of another. Forgiveness, however, brings a better and more lasting peace and one that does not require us to take the life of another, but invites us to unite in love and harmony with one another, just as God in Christ unites with us. How thankful we can be that Jesus suffered and died at our hands and for our bloodthirsty desires, to reveal to us that we do not have to live this way any longer. Like God, we too can love; we too can forgive. Only in this way will the world finally find peace.

Nothing else reveals our sin to us like the violent death of Jesus on the cross. All other sacrificial and scapegoat victims we could justify. They deserved it. They truly were guilty. We were just treating them the way they treated us. But not so with Jesus. He was “sinless” and knew no sin, but we killed Him in God’s name anyway, thereby proving that this is also what we do to others when we feel justified and righteous in killing them. Only the innocent blood of the Lamb of God could reveal this to us and also call us to put an end to it through forgiveness. For of all victims throughout history, only Jesus would have been justified in retaliation and vengeance against those who wrongfully accused and killed Him. But instead He forgave us. This shows that we too can forgive others. We can forgive as we have been forgiven. We can love as we have been loved. The way out of sin is to see how Jesus dealt with our sin against Him. Nothing and nobody else could have so clearly revealed this to us.

— J. D. Myers, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, p. 264-265

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 12, 2020

God Unwrathed

September 11th, 2020

The Cross reveals God unwrathed — nonviolent, self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love. And this — impossibly, amazingly — is how he overcomes evil with good. God in Christ draws all the evil, all the sin, all the violence and the resulting suffering into himself. And the Light of his love overcomes the darkness so that from that moment, “It is finished” also means “It begins!” What begins? “Behold, I am making all things new!”

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Way, p. 169

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, August 24, 2020

Restorative Justice

September 7th, 2020

It’s time for Christianity to rediscover the deeper biblical theme of restorative justice, which focuses on rehabilitation and reconciliation and not punishment. (Read Ezekiel 16 for a supreme example of this.) We could call Jesus’ story line the “myth of redemptive suffering” — not as in “paying a price” but as in offering the self for the other. Or “at-one-ment” instead of atonement!

Restorative justice, of course, comes to its full demonstration in the constant healing ministry of Jesus. Jesus represents the real and deeper level of teaching of the Jewish Prophets. Jesus never punished anybody! Yes, he challenged people, but always for the sake of insight, healing, and restoration of people and situations to their divine origin and source. Once a person recognizes that Jesus’s mission (obvious in all four Gospels) was to heal people, not punish them, the dominant theories of retributive justice begin to lose their appeal and their authority.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 142

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 7, 2020

Sharing Life

September 4th, 2020

As people watched how they lived, how they faithfully cared for one another, how they embraced diversity, how they lifted one another up, they noticed that they resembled Jesus. The believers began to claim ownership of the name Christian and to redefine the word and themselves, precisely because of their bigger table.

This was far more radical than we can really appreciate today. In a culture reinforcing the sharply drawn lines between people — the lines of religion, ethnicity, nationality, and gender — the followers of Jesus were erasing the lines, knocking down walls, and pulling up chairs. The incredibly narrow “chosen people” of the Old Testament tradition was now giving way to a far more expansive new “kingdom people” based solely on their faith in Jesus. As the apostle Paul would describe, in their tribe, there were no longer any divisions that mattered more than what grafted them together in redemptive community (Gal. 3:26-29). They were one body with disparate but equally necessary members. Their primary commonality was Christ. He became their peace. To be Christian meant to willingly cast aside any idea that another was unworthy to share in fellowship; it was to give up the moral evaluations and preconceptions they may have had before. When we look back at the table of Jesus, this early Christian community really shouldn’t surprise us because he was pointing toward this day the entire time, as he met with lepers and Pharisees and tax collectors and street people. The early Church wasn’t doing anything in its infancy other than replicating his life together with those in their midst. In the two thousand years since then, we’ve added a great deal around this idea, cumbersome layers of tradition and doctrine and pageantry, and yet these are the things we could easily discard and still have the essence of the Church. We would still have people sharing life.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 134-135

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, September 4, 2020

The Blood of Jesus

September 2nd, 2020

The blood of Jesus does not purchase forgiveness for us, pay the penalty for sin, or appease the wrath of God. God didn’t need the blood of Jesus as any sort of payment or appeasement. God does not desire blood and death. The blood of Jesus has nothing to do with any of those things.

No, the blood of Jesus is the solution to the problem of human sin because it both exposes the true nature of our sin to us, and then calls us to no longer participate in these practices. The blood of Jesus calls us away from scapegoating and violence, toward love and forgiveness. In this way, the blood of Jesus truly does save the world from sin. It saves us, not because it buys redemption and reconciliation from God, but because it reveals to us the truth about our sin and calls us to live toward others as God has always lived toward us: with nothing but love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. When we live this way, all the world will know that we have been saved from sin.

— J. D. Myers, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, p. 259-260

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, August 30, 2020

Taking Up the Cross

August 29th, 2020

Humans tortured and crucified Jesus. Abba didn’t. For Jesus, taking up his cross describes his self-giving, radically forgiving, co-suffering love response.

— Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike Way, p. 148

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, August 23, 2020

One Caring Foot

August 28th, 2020

The Spirit seems to work best underground. When aboveground, humans start fighting about it.

You can call this grace, the indwelling Holy Spirit, or just evolution toward union (which we call “love”). God is not in competition with anybody, but only in deep-time cooperation with everybody who loves (Romans 8:28). Whenever we place one caring foot forward, God uses it, sustains it, and blesses it. Our impulse does not need to wear the name of religion at all.

— Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, p. 100

Photo: South Riding, Virginia, August 23, 2020

Agents of Healing and Change

August 22nd, 2020

In this way, the spiritual eyes through which we see the world change everything. If our default lens is sin, we tend to look ahead to the afterlife, but if we focus on suffering, we’ll lean toward presently transforming the planet in real time — and we’ll create community accordingly. The former seeks to help people escape the encroaching moral decay by getting them into heaven; the latter takes seriously the prayer Jesus teaches his disciples, that they would make the kingdom come — that through lives resembling Christ and work that perpetuates his work, we would actually bring heaven down. Practically speaking, sin management seems easier because essentially all that is required of us is to preach, to call out people’s errors and invite them to repentance, and to feel we’ve been faithful. But seeing suffering requires us to step into the broken, jagged chaos of people’s lives to be agents of healing and change. It’s far more time consuming and much more difficult to do as a faith community. It is a lot easier to train preachers to lead people in a Sinner’s Prayer than it is to equip them to address the systematic injustices around them.

— John Pavlovitz, A Bigger Table, p. 125

Photo: Isle of Staffa, Scotland, July 13, 2003

All People Were Always Welcome.

August 21st, 2020

The violent death of Jesus on the cross revealed the truth about the great problem of human sin and violence. The truth is that such violence comes from us; not God. When we see this in how we killed Jesus, His violent death on the cross reveals that God never wanted or needed blood sacrifice or sacred violence of any kind in order for people to draw near to Him. All people were always welcome. We can draw near to God simply because we have no reason to stay away from Him. He has always loved us, and always forgiven us. One group is not more or less sinful than anyone else. All are invited in. All are welcome. The blood of Jesus has brought everyone near, by proving that no one was ever kept at a distance. All divisions of men are nothing more than man-made divisions, and now Jesus has torn them all down, giving us all equal access to God and equal standing before Him.

— J. D. Myers, Nothing But the Blood of Jesus, p. 246

Photo: View from Stirling Castle, Scotland, July 2003