Friday, July 13, 2012

Making Disciples

One more post on the 77th General Convention and then I shall return to my "regularly scheduled program." This one relates to all of those final-day resolutions on national and international concerns such as healthcare, terrorism, and immigration.

Faith must never be associated exclusively with one political ideology or party. God is not a Democrat. God is not a Republican. My bias is that when a preacher (or a General Convention) enters the political sphere, we need to be very careful about how we do that. It is not that we should not dare to do this; we must. But it is too easy (and very tempting) to misuse our power and to act in (unnecessarily) divisive ways when we do. It's easy to confuse our politics and our theology.

I do not worry that we might offend "the world." Rather, I know as a pastor that faithful Christians disagree on issues like healthcare policy, immigration policy, war and peace, and who should be elected president. I serve a parish whose parking lot has a wide variety of bumper stickers on their cars and I value and honor that. I don't want to serve "the Democratic party at prayer," I want to be among a people who have lively, holy, insightful debates and conversations about the issues we face as a nation and as God's holy people. And so I am impatient with political agendas that divide us unnecessarily - even when I mostly agree with them politically. I therefore think we must be care-full about our language in these kinds of resolutions, which sadly tend to come in a flurry at the very end of Convention, as people are eager to head home. 

But the Church can, and must, speak. And we are called especially to speak up on behalf of those whose voices are otherwise not heard. The Church is called to be in (even if not of) the world. And it is disingenuous, in my mind, to say that the Church must only ever speak about "spiritual" matters. That is a modern version of gnosticism and it is an ancient heresy that I unfortunately heard expressed more than once yesterday by so-called conservatives at Convention who felt that no such resolutions should ever be passed (or even before us) because they are "political." One deputy suggested that we should focus solely on how we will share the gospel of Jesus Christ. I guess that means accepting Jesus into our hearts, but never allowing him to change our lives.

But that is heresy! The good news of Jesus Christ is good news to the poor, after all (and not only the poor in spirit.) The deeper issue here is about our theology, about the Incarnation; about the fact that God comes to us in Jesus not only in "our hearts" but in body, mind, and spirit, and that God-in-Christ comes into a sinful and broken world to redeem it. The gospel is not only about telling people about Jesus, but about forming them and raising them up into the full stature of the crucified and risen Christ. (See the Five Marks of Mission,) We, the Church, are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ who live in the world as salt and light and yeast.

We cannot, therefore, shy away from the hard moral and ethical questions of the day: questions about human sexuality, economic justice, international concerns, and yes, healthcare. Indeed, there is a moral imperative for the Church to be a part of that public conversation about justice, and to do so especially on behalf of the "widow and orphan." 

How can we do that more faithfully? We can and should encourage Christians to pray, learn, lobby, and ultimately to engage; not only with the world but with each other. The Bible, as it turns out, has a whole lot more to say about how we are called to treat immigrants among us than it does about human sexuality. If we mean to be followers of Jesus (and to engage the Bible as the living Word of God) then we cannot help but to discover along the way that Jesus really does call us love all the little children of the world as God does.

The Presiding Bishop's sermon at the closing Eucharist of the 77th General Convention offers some guidance in this area, even if her words are (appropriately) more descriptive than prescriptive.

 [Swedish Lutheran pastor, theologian, and Archbishop of Uppsala, Nathan ] Söderblom is remembered most distinctly for starting the modern ecumenical movement, with the Conference on Life and Work in Stockholm in 1925. He insisted that personal spirituality made no sense if it was divorced from work for justice in the larger society, and he repeatedly called on Christian leaders to make common cause for world peace. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1930.

Peace begins with loving one another. Start with the people in this room. This body has done a pretty good job over the last few days. We’ve seen quite a few leaps beyond old spheres of safety for the sake of the other. Each person who has stepped out has done so in order to meet another. And we have discovered a new place, a third way beyond what either one knew before.

Take what you have learned here about deep hospitality and keep moving toward the other. Maybe we can even figure out how to love everybody in this church. This reconciling work isn’t like BASE jumping – finding a thrill by stretching some rubber band that ties you to the earth. God’s mission is real faith work, the kind of trusting vulnerability that knows there’s only one rule to keep us safe, the spirit’s tether that will draw us into the arms of a Friend on the other side of that chasm.

So step on out there past this narrow ledge of safety and love one another. Step out there and expect to find your Friend on the other side. Cross the chasm and you will find the other – and every single one of them will bear the image of God. Trust the wings of the morning, and take a flying leap! Take a flying leap into the future, and toward the other. The bridge is there – we call it the Light of the World.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Rich for your insightful "ruminating" especially during GC. Though I was not able to be there, your words helped me chew on some of the goings on. Gracias!