Tuesday, September 18, 2012

September 16, 2012 - Reflection by David

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost

One of the tasks I had to perform when I was studying to become a minister was to pretend that an alien had landed on earth and wanted to know about Christianity. We had to tell this alien what Christianity was all about in as few words as we could. It was meant to be a fun task and not particularly serious. I remember the laughter, but I don't remember what any of us said; most of rambled on trying to sound profound.
I wonder if, in this little story from Mark, Jesus was trying to get his followers to think about what they were about. He focused on who people thought he was, starting generally. Jesus' followers thought he was John the Baptist or Elijah or one of the prophets. He had a prophetic tone, affirmed life, and called people to live justly, love compassion and walk humbly with God. Elijah was the prophet par excellence, who was expected to make an appearance before the Messiah returned. It would be like someone saying of an up and coming politician, "He's a real John A. MacDonald" or "he's a real Pierre Trudeau."
Perhaps piqued by what they were saying, Jesus made it very personal, "But who do you say that I am?" Now it gets interesting. I imagine a lot of silence, an avoidance of eye-contact. If you don't want the teacher to direct a question to you, or you don't want to be put on the spot, what do you? You look everywhere else, but at the teacher. I imagine there was a lot of that going on. And then Peter, dear heart, blurted it out: "You are the Messiah." There it was out; out in the open. Perhaps what they'd all been thinking for some time. Perhaps they were holding their breath, daring it be true. There were, after all, lots of so-called Messiahs out there. This was a time of religious foment; people hated the Romans who held them in captivity. They wanted their land back; they wanted to be in control of their own destiny. Surely the Messiah would lead them in victory over Rome. The leader who inspired other Jews to hold off the Romans at Masada so long was thought to be the One.
And then Jesus burst their bubble. Jesus dashed their expectations. The Human One will undergo suffering and will be arrested, humiliated and hung on a cross to die. But after three days, he will rise again. Peter, dear heart, again rebuked Jesus and swore that this would never happen to him.
Jesus then used this opportunity to speak about who he thought the Messiah to be and what course of action the Messiah would take. It was all about humility. It was all about compassion. It was all about vulnerability and it was about love. We humans might want political autonomy and riches, but God is about love, compassion, hope, equality, freedom, peace. When you seek to live out these values, you bump up against the might of Rome which doesn't want to hear them, or the corrupt religious leaders who didn't want to lose their nest egg. Jesus read the times well and knew that he'd be arrested and probably crucified if he continued on the track he was currently on. But he also knew and trusted in God's gift of life that life will triumph, that God will prevail.
In my most recent edition of The Christian Century (September 5, 2012, pages 20-25), the feature article is "The Gospel in Seven Words." Some American scholars were asked to write the gospel in 7 words and then, in a sentence or two, say what they mean. Here are some of the 7 words:
  • From Carol Zaleski, "He led captivity captive." In other words, she said that Christ has broken the bonds of death.
  • From Brian McLaren, "In Christ, God calls all to reconciliation." For McLaren, Jesus opened the way for enemies to be reconciled, for a common wealth to be lived by all.
  • From Beverly Roberts Gaventa, "In Christ, God's yes defeats our no." Our no to justice, reconciliation, health and wholeness are given a resounding yes in Christ.
  • From Donald W. Shriver, "Divinely persistent, God really loves us."
  • From Mary Karr, "We are the Church of infinite chances."
  • From Bill McKibben, "Love your neighbor as yourself."
  • From Martin Marty, "God, through Jesus Christ, welcomes you anyhow."
  • Nadia Bolz-Weber says, "We are who God says we are."
  • Walter Brueggemann says, "Israel's God's bodied love continues world-making."
Interesting. What if you had to say in ten words or less, what Christianity was all about, or who Jesus was/is?
Our Purpose statement is 13 words, "We dare to live the way of Jesus, embodying the love of God." I think I would say something like, "God's embodied love works through us in Christ." For me, we all embody God's love in some fashion and, because Jesus embodied God's love, Christ is in us and works through us to further the gift of love in the world. Under love's guise, I see justice and peace, freedom and hope. Love is about wholeness and fullness of life. It is about welcome and opening one's self to one's neighbor as sister and brother. God's embodied love works through us in Christ.
Even though we might face ridicule or persecution for living gently the gifts of love; even though we might face the wrath of others because we choose to embrace those who have been cast aside callously by society. Even though we might face anger and fear when we quietly speak words of justice and hope or raise questions about ethics and integrity, we do so because we are not alone. God's embodied love lives in us; God's self is embodied in us. Christ lives in us and we live in each other. And from that place, we live and speak blessing and know the world to be blessed. And we live the Gospel!

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