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The story of the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus is at the core of Christianity. We believe this story is the great climax of history; it is the hinge point of all things because it is through Jesus that God brings new creation.

Easter speaks a better word than any other. Easter declares life, not death is God’s future, the reign of God is here. Easter proclaims that God is faithful to creation, and all of creation will be put right as the waters cover the sea. Easter sits at the center of the Christian story because we believe Easter is the salvation all of things.

But the logic of the Christian story does not begin and end at Easter. Ours is a story that follows the way of suffering. Holy week takes us to places we would not expect. We will follow Jesus to the upper room with a betrayer and the garden where the mob finally gets their man. The crowds will crowds cry, “Crucify Him,” and the crown of thorns will sink into Jesus’s head. Holy week leads us to cross, and demands that we look upon the tomb.

And the cross of Christ is a big deal. Jesus’ death was for us. On the cross, Jesus took our iniquities and atoned for our sins, but that is not all.

The writer of Hebrews reflects on the suffering and death of Jesus,

“And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Holy week reminds us that we are not called out of this earth; instead, we are called to follow Jesus outside the camp.

Douglas John Hall says, “Unlike religions that draw their converts away from the world, a faith informed by a theology of the cross constrains the community of discipleship to enter into its historical situation with a new kind of openness, attentiveness, and compassion.”

We are called right into the midst of the world, to be part of it. The crucifixion of Jesus was not simply a transaction for us; it is the heartbeat of our movement. We are to follow the way of crucified Messiah.

I am not sure what this looks like for everyone. It might mean standing with a friend against cyber-bullying. Or it might be volunteering your free time at a food pantry. This way of life might call you to full time ministry or maybe you will teach in an underperforming school. There are a million ways to move this into your life, but the logic of the Christian story runs this path. It demands that we suffer with those who find themselves outside of the camp. We can go here because we believe ours is a city that is to come.

This is faith. It is when you know deep in your bones that life is found outside the city with the outcast and the lame and the poor and the broken and the war tore and the homeless and the dirty and whoever has been pushed out by society. As Jurgen Moltmann says, “The theologian of the cross is led by the visible nature of God on the cross. He is freed to love that which is different and other.”

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Hipstianity

I remember the first time I showed up to school and noticed several people with dark smudges on their foreheads. Just as I was about to say something to my baseball coach, I noticed someone else with the same marking. I wondered if an epidemic was around the corner or maybe this was one of those high school theme days and I had missed the memo. Image

I was not raised in a tradition that celebrated lent, so ash wednesday and lent were foreign to me. My congregation celebrated Easter, but the forty days before were no different than the forty days after. They were ordinary calendar days where people worked and played sports and followed the news. But one Ash wednesday in Graduate school I joined a friend for an ash wednesday service, received the ashes, and have been a regular ever since.

There are a couple reasons I take…

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Yesterday, I read Jonathan Merritt’s article in the Daily Beast. In it he makes a strong argument against the new Bill in Arizona that has made headlines over the last week. The bill allows business owners the right to refuse service to gay people because of their religious beliefs. Merritt pushes against the logic of the bill. Rarely, he points out, do people assume the baker or the florist has a stake in the wedding they serve. The cake is not an affirmation of the wedding. More, the article argues that if this practice is indeed necessary, then the stance must be uniform across all “unholy” marriages. The logic holds up, and I am glad Jonathan spoke up, but I think the Christian faith goes even further. Let me explain.

Our religious beliefs should not demand we withhold business from others; it should compel us to serve everyone, including people that are different than us. Christian faith does not give us grounding for discrimination. LGBTQ people deserve our welcome not our refusal because they are created in the image of God.

Jesus tells a story about a man who is on a journey. He packs a bag and heads out on foot when all of a sudden he is blindsided by a small group of people. They rough him up, take his belongings, and leave him injured on the side of the road.

Rather quickly, a man of the religious elite happens to be walking in the vicinity and notices the man lying near the road; however, he walks to the other side of the road and fixes his gaze on the horizon leaving the man to suffer in the street. Later, another person happens upon the injured man. This second person is a well-known leader in the town for his generosity and philanthropy, but he too walked by the injured man. Finally a third person, a Samaritan, approached the man lying in the ditch. He notices him, scoops him up in his arms, and hurries him to a place where he can receive care.

Many of us know this parable Jesus told. He tells the story in response to an important question. Who is my neighbor? It seems from his story that everyone, even our very enemy is our neighbor. Somehow this way of life is often not supported by the actions of Christians.

It is interesting to me how different Jesus’ practice was than our Christian agenda. Jesus was regularly questioned about those he hung out with. The text tells us in one place that some described Jesus as a drunkard and glutton because he was spent so much time with those kinds of people. Elsewhere, Jesus is said to eat with tax collectors and sinners, place his hands on lepers, and welcome other outcasts. It seems to me Jesus’ religious faith demanded a radical way of life; it was just a way of life that was the exact opposite that we live by.

Our religious affiliation often has us excluding not including. I do not know where we have misunderstood Jesus’ central teachings. We believe in the God who gave his life for us all, but we are not willing to find our place in his story. Romans says, “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” More, God created and continues to pursue us out of the overflow of love. In view of this, we must rethink our posture to the world. We must act out of the overflow of God’s love. We should be known for our radical embrace, not our exclusion.

Even Christian business owners should serve our neighbors because Jesus’ life and death teaches us that holiness looks different than we expect.

We are Holy as God is Holy not when we follow a set of laws or stand against what we assume God hates. We act as a Holy people as we participate in the love and welcome of the Crucified Messiah. Christian faith does not call for discrimination because we disagree with others; it calls for a radical love because this way looks like Jesus.

Notice how Jesus responds when questioned by the Pharisees in Matthew 9:10-13.

10 While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. 11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’

Jesus calls his critics to learn mercy, and I think these words should ring through our lives. Our songs and sermons declare the mercy of God, yet we do not move that forward into our lives. Our religious beliefs call us to a particular way of life; one that learns each day what mercy looks like. We must learn live out mercy for our families, friends, neighbors, and enemies (even our ideological enemies).

The Arizona Bill and similar bills working their way through other state legislatures do not reflect the religion I practice. Christian faith calls for a different way of life. This practice believes that we should not be known by anything but our love.

 

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Many of us know the sweeping narrative of Scripture. Many of our congregations have done a wonderful job telling a Clif’s notes version. It goes something like this:

God created and his creation was good. Humanity sinned, a break in God’s plan. This sin changed everything and the wages of sin is death. Because of God’s great love for us, God sent Jesus into the world as a man. Even though humans were still sinners, Jesus died for us. His death was a substitution for us, so that we might be rescued from our sinfulness. God saves us through Jesus’ blood, if we place our faith in him. Through Christ we are adopted into God’s household and given eternal life with God in Heaven.

This telling is grounded in scripture; however, this short telling of God’s story is a narrow telling. From this angle, the cross is simply about individual salvation. It seems the whole story of God’s engagement with the world is about me. This is not the case. We are individually drawn into God’s saving action, but God’s salvation is not simply about us. God is up to salvation, but its shape is larger than our individual lens allows.

This short flyover view of Scripture slanted towards personal salvation is often a person’s faith beginning. It is the first thing they learn about; it is of first importance. The problem with this is the whole of Christianity then is read through the lens of personal salvation. Our morality, ethics, and justice are pulled in this hermeneutic, so as we talk about Christian morality it is weighted towards our interests. In a sense, morality becomes a process in holding our position or status. Salvation, though we have learned is not our doing, is slanted towards right actions. We learn a long list of rights and wrongs. For my heritage, we learned to speak when the Bible speaks and be silent when the Bible is silent. When our starting point is personal salvation, we often find ourselves in personal piety.

The problem with this practice is it keeps us from the fullness of what God is doing. Scripture read toward my needs and problems has a way of dulling us to the great human quandary. It is difficult for us to understand how the God’s salvation confronts the systematic injustices of the world. We cannot see how the Crucified Messiah is much more than a personal Savior, ushering in something new. This new thing is much more about a right relationship with me. It is about how God is making all things new.

Romans 8 says, “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.

All it takes is a quick glance around us to see the places where the world is groaning. 1 in 5 children in our nation go to bed hungry each night. The space between rich and poor in our country continues to widen. We now live in a world where a small group of people has a great majority of the world’s wealth.

Racial and gender injustice rage on while we turn a blind eye because we believe these issues were solved long ago. We hold onto tired excuses and false statistics to continue our agenda. The reality is injustice reigns in many different forms in our nation and throughout the world. A kind of injustice that the Gospel of Jesus Christ calls us to die for, yet the lens of personal salvation holds us captive.

It is easy to lose interest in working for justice and peace if they are viewed as nice things to do once the real work is tended to. Social justice, however, is not a subset of the good news of God, it is the central work of God. A theology that dismsses this as of second importance does not understand the fullness of the Kingdom of God.

We stand in the midst of the greatest story ever told. It is a story of a God who would not let us go.. God so loved the world, not just you and I, that God sent Jesus into the world to bring about salvation. This death and resurrection is the climax of history. It changes everything because it is not just an answer to how I get saved; it is the promise of God’s new creation in every person, place, and thing.

Salvation is the work of God to make things right. The salvation Jesus describes offers a new order of things. The salvation Jesus has in mind is Eternal life, which means the age to come. The time when God would bring heaven and earth together, when Gods kingdom would come and will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.

So we have to find a way to see past our own concern. Christian morality is much more than a practice of a set of “holy values.” It is the practice of the faith of Jesus, a faith that sent him into the very depth human experience to confront the principalities and powers. The evil systems that kill, steal, and destroy. So he teaches us to love our enemies and to treat others as you would like to be treated. But this is more than the tolerance of classic liberalism, it is a call to come and die for others.

I like what Leslie Newbigin says, “It is impossible to give a faithful witness to the gospel while being indifferent to the situation of the hungry, the sick, the victims of human inhumanity.” The Gospel of God is good news for you and it is good news for the world. Christian faith is worth fighting for if it is a faith that looks like Jesus. A faith that takes up the project of putting all things right.

Write what you know, otherwise there is no fire between the words. As I looked back over my journal these words struck me as I thought about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Today, we celebrate the great man whose fire for justice and peace rushed through his words. Dr. King’s prose was powerful on its own, but it was strengthened by his resolute pursuit of justice for all. There was a fire that rushed through his words and touched the very practices he lived out. ImageIn his final speech, “The question is not if I stop to help this man in need what will happen to me. The question is if I do not stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to them, that is the question.”

Dr. King understood something about justice. As I listened this morning to the “Mountain Top Speech” in its entirety, I was taken aback by how powerfully King spoke on the eve of his death. The justice he was fighting for was not restrained by fear. The justice King was fighting for was driven by the call of God. King knew things were not right in the world. He knew there was trouble all around. He, just as we all have, had seen the darkness, but he also believed something was afoot. He said, “It is only when it is darkest that we can see the stars.” He continued, “Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world.” Dr. King was certain God was on the move, and God’s kingdom was breaking in.

The past day as I have listened and read Dr. King, I am forced to think about what is going on in my world. I am forced to look at my life and my church. N.T. Wright begins Simply Christian talking about justice. He says, “Those who follow Jesus are committed to, as he taught us to pray, to God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. And that means God’s passion for justice must become ours, too.” This passion for justice has become muddled in my mind because so often I fall back on what is just for me. I am driven by my thoughts, my values, and my rights. This is not the call of Jesus and this is not the justice of God.

Why I find King’s above quote powerful is because it paints a picture of real justice. If we are going to be extremist about justice then we are going to have to be driven not by our concern, but the concern of the other. We must learn to ask what would happen to my neighbor if I did nothing.

When the sanitation workers went on strike they chose a simple but powerful slogan, “I Am A Man.” The strike was not simply about fair wages. It was not only about benefits, it was about their humanity. The leaders understood the only way change would happen was if Memphis—and the rest of the world—recognized them as human beings. This slogan is not only the cry of the strikers in 1968, it is the cry of injustice everywhere. “I Am Human.” Justice begins when we are able to see the other person as a human being. It is easy to dismiss injustice through the eyes of objectification, but if we learn of the humanity of the oppressed, we will be moved. We follow a God who sees, hears, and acts to save.

When it comes to justice it is easy to see the pain and hear the cries of the people but be paralyzed at the vastness of the task. It is also easy to bury our heads in the sand, to pursue lives that do not come in contact with injustice. But neither of these responses will do. Rev. Samuel “Billy” Kyles, the preacher who stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel when King was shot said, “Yes, you can kill the dreamer, but no, you absolutely cannot kill the dream.” We carry the dream of men and women like Martin Luther King because they have shown us the way to follow Jesus. We are the people of God who live and pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

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