March 26, 2009

What Got Jesus Killed: The Kingdom of God

A sermon for Lent:

What Got Jesus Killed: The Kingdom of God

Tonight we continue to explore what I believe to be one of the most important questions for us during the season of Lent-

Why did Jesus die on the Cross?

A few weeks ago Ann preached how Jesus was killed for equating himself with God: “I and the Father are one.”

While it is true that Jesus made these claims, Rome could have cared less about the theological quarrels and quibbles of the Jews. As a matter of fact, Rome was more concerned with political zealots like Judas Maccabeus. The time of Jesus had grown increasingly volatile, the Jews hungry for justice and freedom from 500 years of oppression.

There were rumors the Messiah was on his way, meaning Jews everywhere on the edge of their seat waiting for his call to overthrow the hands of its current oppressor: Rome.

The cross was not only reserved for guys like Barabbas, remember the violent, political traitor Pilate released instead of Jesus, but the cross was invented as a means of control, a reminder that Caesar was Lord, the Prince of Peace and if you didn’t like his Pax Romana then crucifixion was your fate..

Jesus died then, the death of a political traitor, someone forming a movement that countered the ways of Israel and Rome.

So, I want to begin with the end, I’ll give my answer for Why Jesus died on the cross, then work from there. So my answer to this central question is: “The Cross is the unavoidable cost of God’s mission.”

So what was this mission that got Jesus killed?

IN our reading from the Gospel of Luke, we find Jesus’ mission statement. Jesus, like every Jew of his time, read and reread the prophet Isaiah, because this was a prophet pregnant with hope, much like the nation of Israel.
As a matter of fact these words in Luke 4 came directly from Isaiah 61. Yet Isaiah didn’t invent these words or concepts. Rather, the mission of God found in Isaiah, quoted by Jesus come to us all the way from Leviticus 25: the year of Jubilee.

Jesus arrived in the first century scene with this message and mission: I am the jubilee.

Jubilee was the sort of hope every Israelites’ imagination was full of. Under Roman occupation, Jews throughout the Empire dreamed of Jubilee. Established under Moses, Jubilee was created as an economic institution within Israel where all debt was forgiven and every slave released on the 50th year.

In the very simplest of terms, Jubilee can be described as God’s holistic mission. The Jubilee revealed that nothing, absolutely nothing was more important than humans created in the dignity and image of their Creator, no economics system, debt, or injustice could hold people under oppression. Israel was to be a witness to God’s restoring justice by instituting the Jubilee.

And under the vicious violence of the Romans, freedom and restoration is exactly what Israel longed for. So, when Jesus came making this claim that in him, God’s rule was coming on earth, just like he had taught the disciples to pray, “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus wasn’t making mere spiritual statement about the state of your soul when you die, he was making political pronouncements:
In me God’s restoration is occurring, the hope that you wait for is now in your midst.

Basically, Jesus was making the claim that exile was over and God’s kingdom, his rule of was present among them.

Now that’s good news to captive Israel, right?

From some Jewish writers from the 1st and 2nd century, we find that “repent and believe,” terms Jesus used to build this Kingdom movement, meant he was asking for nothing less than full allegiance, allegiance to himself as the way of Jubilee.

But every group found something didn’t like & wanted Jesus dead over. He was either too radical or he wasn’t radical enough.

This last week, I heard a condemning statement that said, “if Jesus came down and lived among us now, we wouldn’t crucify him, we’d laugh at him.” For the same reasons those in the 1st century killed him, we in the 21st century mock him.

One such group, is the ever recognizable Pharisees.

For the Pharisees, what got Jesus killed was their religion. Now I know everyone gives these guys a bad wrap, but I think if we were being honest ourselves then we’d most likely identify with them. See, the Pharisees were the common people who preferred the familial and communal worship of the synagogue to the Temple. These were the guys who worked hard to keep their faith intact while the Greeks propagated their culture everywhere. If it wasn’t for the Pharisees, who knows, orthodox Judaism may have been lost to Hellenism.

Eugene Peterson, the author of the Message Bible says that if Jesus was looking to align himself with a group, it would have been the Pharisees, grassroots, common people.

Where the Pharisees wanted to divide and define life by what was sacred and what was not, Jesus’ very presence collapsed their system of religious boundaries. The sacred became the secular and vice versa.

Jesus makes this claim on our lives: to follow Jesus means to give your life in every way. There is no part of you or your life that is separate from God. Yet, we still like to exclude God from our daily lives.

The same as the Pharisees, we hide behind our religion.

We think as long we go to church, serve on a committee, teach Sunday school, sing in the choir; we’ve fulfilled our allegiance to Jesus.

Jesus’ call to put our allegiance in God’s Kingdom means orienting our entire lives, our jobs, families, and careers, and even our church around him. It’s not the separate and definable Law that interests Jesus, but the living relationships of loving God and neighbor.

Does your life reflect the Kingdom of love and justice?

Another group that murdered Jesus was the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the affluent and aristocratic types, they were the priestly class.

For the Sadducees, what got Jesus killed was their nationalism. Because of bad theology, the Temple had become the single sign of God’s presence for Israel, therefore God was on their side. It was the Jewish hope that the Messiah would come and destroy all of Israel’s opponents.

Somehow Gods kingdom had become reduced to a single location, a single theology. The Sadducees forgot that Israel’s existence was not for themselves, but for others, for God to bless the world through.

A few weeks ago, one of our countries most important leaders said:
“The United States is the Last Great Hope of the World.”

The same as Caesar’s claim as Prince of Peace and Lord of Lord, and the Temple’s claim on God’s presence, we tend to make nationalistic claims reserved only for Jesus.

And the reason we do this is we don’t trust that Jesus’ ways are the best ways. We say we believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord bringing in Jubilee, but we trust our nation for our salvation and freedom.

For Jesus, the means did not justify the ends because in God’s Kingdom, the means become the End. The final eschatological hope, the hope Israel had been waiting for, of God’s final Jubilee came through Jesus’ ministry of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, enemy love, service, and self denial.

To follow Jesus means pledging allegiance first and foremost to God’s kingdom: a Kingdom here but not yet. We tend to put our trust and salvation not in Jesus’ ways (which by the way we’d rather ridicule), but in our nation’s way, the pursuit of the American dream.

Which last great hope of the world do you truly trust?

Another group couldn’t stand the means of Jesus. This group always justified their means with their ends.

For the Zealots, what got Jesus killed was their propensity toward violence. This was the group, inspired by the Maccabean revolution and filled with deep passion for the Jubilee -for freedom and restoration, that fervently worked to bring in God’s reign by overthrowing Rome.

Jesus’ mission statement from Isaiah 61 is remarkable for not only what it includes, but also what it excludes. Jesus says the Spirit is on him to preach the Gospel, proclaim freedom to the captives and release the oppressed (important to the zealots), and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Then he stops, and rolls up the scroll, certainly stealing the thunder from anyone with a tendency toward violence in the room. See in Isaiah, that final sentence reads:

To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God;

Obvious enemy love and forgiveness wouldn’t go over to well with this crowd, it may even get you thrown off a cliff. Jesus trusted this commitment to nonviolence all the way to the cross.

Do you pledge allegiance to a Kingdom where the means are the ends?

Many other names and ways of approaching life could be mentioned, both 1st century and 21st. Ultimately though what lead to the cross was Jesus’ ways for bringing about the Way.

For Jesus, the means are the ends. The kingdom had come and is coming. NO nation, church, or religion has the absolute right to claim God on their side.

The Kingdom shows up in glimpses when we feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. The Kingdom reveals itself when we find our lives intersecting with God’s life in the world.

Jesus was killed for fulfilling his mission statement- for creating a movement of people within Israel and beyond who trusted his ways over the worlds.

What got Jesus killed was his call for allegiance not to God’s Kingdom, but God’s way of bringing about that Kingdom:
For the same reasons Jesus was killed in the 1st century, we mock him in the 21st-

“If anyone wants to follow me, he must pick up his cross and deny himself.”

March 25, 2009

A Culture of Anti-Materialism

The problem with our culture of consumerism is that it leans toward the power of docetism. Consumerism is never the drive to gather and store up our goods, it is the drive to replace our current goods with something else. Consumerism in essence denies material reality by always pointing beyond the product toward images and the insatiable desire to be clean, fresh, new, healthy, young, bold, smart, funny or whatever else we are told we are lacking.

Hear Rowan Williams', Archbishop of Canterbury's words (go here to listen or read in full):
'..... far from being a materialist culture, we are a culture that is resentful about material reality, hungry for anything and everything that distances us from the constraints of being a physical animal subject to temporal processes, to uncontrollable changes and to sheer accident.''
The economics of consumption are based on a belief in progress. Thus, for example, when our country and world face the first shrinking global market since WWII, we must realize that this is inevitable and necessary. Do you really believe that we can create a market that will be ever increasing, ever profitable, ever growing?

There seems to be an ontology based on the myth of progress that produces the epistemology that says we can overcome aging, dying, sickness, disease, poverty, etc. Sure these are all well and noble pursuits (obviously some more than others), but reality doesn't seem to work this way. We must work toward solutions to the above mentioned problems, not by trying to defy the reality of the world and ecological economics, but by living faithfully within the means given to us on this planet. An ever expanding market is unsustainable. Rising tides raises all boats, good for the boat owners, and drowns all boat builders.

For every summer there must be a winter, for every birth a death. The market must shrink, it must go up and down in ways that are meaningful. Shrinking is part of the ontology of earth, the seasons, the tide, the ebb and flow. Markets, governments, and people die to make room for new ones.

Other notables from Rowan Williams "Ethics, Economics, and Global Justice:"

We are delivered or converted not simply by resolving in a vacuum to be less greedy, but by understanding what it is to live as an organism which grows and changes and thus is involved in risk. We change because our minds or mindsets are changed and steered away from certain powerful but toxic myths. ...the state that promises maximised choice and minimal risk, is in serious danger of encouraging people to forget two fundamentals of economic reality – scarcity as an inexorable truth about a materially limited world, and concrete productivity and added value as the condition for increasing purchasing power or liberty, and thus sustaining any kind of market. The tension between these two things is, of course, at the heart of economic theory, and imbalance in economic reality arises when one or the other dominates for too long, producing an unhealthily controlled economy (scarcity-driven) or an unhealthily hyperactive and ill-regulated economy (based on the simple expansion of purchasing power). But forget that tension and what happens is not stability but plain confusion and fantasy. We have woken up belatedly to the results of behaving as though scarcity could be indefinitely deferred: the ecological crisis makes this painfully clear. Implied in what has just been said is a recognition of the dangers of 'growth' as an unexamined good. Growth out of poverty, growth towards a degree of intelligent control of one's circumstances, growth towards maturity of perception and sympathy – all these are manifestly good and ethically serious goals, and, as has already been suggested, there are ways of conducting our economic business that could honour and promote these. A goal of growth simply as an indefinite expansion of purchasing power is either vacuous or malign – malign to the extent that it inevitably implies the diminution of the capacity of others in a world of limited resource. Remember the significance of scarcity and vulnerability in shaping a sense of what ethical behaviour looks like.

Patience, trust and the acceptance of a world of real limitation are all hard work; yet the only liberation that is truly worth while is the liberation to be where we are and who we are as human beings, to be anchored in the reality that is properly ours. Other less serious and less risky enterprises may appear to promise a power that exceeds our limitations – but it is at the expense of truth, and so, ultimately at the expense of human life itself. Perhaps the very heart of the current challenge is the invitation to discover a little more deeply what is involved in
human freedom – not the illusory freedom of some fantasy of control.

March 23, 2009

A Society Controlled By Google?

In some wonderfully illuminating writing, Katie McGowan reflects on Google's ability to reshape or (re)Make the human ability to think. We use our technology, then our technology uses us. Using Foucault and Lyotard, she wades through the value claimsto get to the internet's ability to supposedly offer up unlimited (and correct) information at our finger tips. The article is worth reading in its entirety, but I've collected some quotes I thought were interesting:
In the instance of the Internet and Google’s search engines, it is our minds that are up for grabs on the auction block.

...‘we are not only what we read…we are how we read’, and is concerned about the Internet’s preference for quick and efficient information gathering at the cost of deep textual analysis and attention spans.

Such shifts in the way we think are not new phenomenon, says Carr. When humans began using the clock on a wide-scale basis, we began to change our internal habits of eating and sleeping based around the times of the clock.

Do these systems of knowledge transmission reflect systems of power and control, or is the Internet as we know it truly a semiotic democracy?

Carr points to this tension between the economics of the mind and that of the Internet. He argues, “The faster we surf across the Web — the more links we click and pages we view — the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements

The relationship between knowledge and power then is “indispensable” in their relationship to systems of production. Google’s ability to increase production of knowledge through scientific and mathematic experimentation and algorithms creates a system of power, control, and knowledge in the image of its creators.

According to Lyotard, such “administrative procedures should make individuals ‘want’ what the system needs in order to perform well” (62). By giving us what we “want” through individualization via isolated and controlled environments, we are supporting the performance and economies of the Internet.

March 21, 2009

How about a Sweet Video

Left last week for Beaumont with some students from my faith community and have been vacationing from here for the last week, so to excuse the silence here's a great rendition of "Little Ride Riding Hood." Oh, by the way we dry walls an entire house in 2.5 days and got to see just how great our students are.

SlagsmÄlsklubben - Sponsored by destiny from Tomas Nilsson on Vimeo.

March 13, 2009

This Ain't Your Momma's Christianity...

Merehope posts up some interesting research from church historian, Mark Noll:

First, the magnitude. In order to grasp the current situation of world Christianity concretely, consider what went on last Sunday. More Roman Catholics attended church in the Philippines than in any single country of Europe. In China, where in 1970 there were no legally functioning churches at all, more believers probably gathered for worship than in all of so-called “Christian Europe.” And in Europe (as reported by Philip Jenkins) the church with the largest attendance last Sunday was in Kiev, and it is a church of Nigerian Pentecostals. Last Sunday, more Anglicans attended church in each of Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda than did Anglicans in Britain and Canada and Episcopalians in the U.S. combined. And several times more Anglicans attended church in Nigeria than in these other African countries. In Korea, where a century ago there existed only a bare handful of Christian believers, more people attended the Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul than all of the churches in significant American denominations like the Christian Reformed Church. In the United States, Roman Catholic mass was said in more languages than ever in American history. Last Sunday many of the churches with the largest congregations in England and France were filled with African or Caribbean faces. As a final indication of global trends, as of 1999 the largest chapter of the Jesuits was in India, and not as in the United States as had been the case for many decades before.

In a word, the world Christian situation is not what it was when your grandparents were born, or even when you were born.

March 12, 2009

Googling the Bible- De-Signs of the Times

In staff meeting a few days ago, we were talking about the lectionary reading for the fourth Sunday in Lent, which contains John 3:16. So I shared the story about Tim Tebow, the QB for the national champions Florida who put John 3:16 under his eyes, and that day "John 3:16" was the top Google search. Check it out yourself here and here. The implications being that enough people, in fact several thousand people didn't know and had to google John 3:16 to find out what it means. Yes, the staple verse that every person slightly familiar with the church knows had to be googled.

I think I was more surprised that the staff was surprised that so many people didn't know what John 3:16 means. I posted a few days ago about this study which revealed the fastest growing religious population in the USA are the "Nones" (see CNN"s coverage here).. Via Alan Hirsch's blog post on this subject, I was tuned into some interesting thoughts by a missional leader:
In sum, the findings show or lead to the conclusion that:
1) Religion and Christianity are on the decline in the US;
2) Protestantism is doing worse than Catholicism due to Catholic immigrants;
3) Mormonism is keeping up with population growth, and Islam and New Age/Wicca are exceeding it;
4) Atheism, while still a small percentage of the population, is on the rise; and
5) "Spirituality,"--or non-organized belief in God--is still vibrant in the US.

What implications does this have for the church in the US?
- Attractional methods alone will have decreasing effectiveness, though they will reach some.-
- Not only theologically, but pragmatically, we must make the structure of the church be missional in nature and make dramatic changes in how we allocate our resources. This might mean moving all "Bible studies" off site, in coffee shops, Starbucks, homes, schools, meet people where they are. With antagonism and apathy towards religion, fewer will show up because we have better programs. And those that do will already be Christians.
- We need to train our members in knowledge of other faiths and resurgent atheism and methods to reach these adherents.

We must make dramatic changes. Sadly, however, most churches will do almost nothing to respond to these cultural changes. Those that do respond will respond incrementally only. With a shrinking pool of Christians, there will be an increasing competition amongst churches for members. This will, ironically, put more pressure upon church leaders to shore up "programs" to attract church members to shore up the decreasing member base.

In the midst of all of this, it is unbelievable to me that our fellowship is consumed on all sides with "doctrinal issues"--meanwhile our nation is hopelessly lost. And the resistance to making practical, methodological changes, such as replacing Sunday night worship or Wed. night classes with outreach and service, moving "classes" off site, planting new churches, changing times, making budgets missional, etc., is quite simply, absurd.

What do you think of these findings? How should the church respond to the changing (a)religious landscape of the US so that we can reach people today?
These are great thoughts and questions to ponder honestly in our cultural climate of religious change. There are doctrinal issues that are important, like how we read the Bible when dealing with women or homosexuals; but the church must start asking questions about true change. Yet, I wonder as I reflect upon my experience in staff meeting, if the church is capable of asking these questions. It seems, at least in my context, that the anomalies are just arising and when anomalies first pop their ugly heads our paradigms and plausibility structures have ways of ignoring them. What are the methodological, ecclesiological, budget, staff, small group, community development, worship, discipleship...what are the changes you see that we need to make?

Oh, and here are some other good thoughts on this article.

March 11, 2009

Who's the Fastest Growing Religious Group in the US?

Would you have guessed Mormons?
Mormons have increased in numbers enough to hold their own proportionally, at 1.4 percent of the population.
What about Muslims?
The Muslim proportion of the population continues to grow, from .3 percent in 1990 to .5 percent in 2001 to .6 percent in 2008.
Baptists, of course?
Baptists, who constitute the largest non-Catholic Christian tradition, have increased their numbers by two million since 2001, but continue to decline as a proportion of the population.
Then it must be the New Age folks, like the Wiccans?
Adherents of New Religious movements, inc luding Wiccans and self-described pagans, have grown faster this decade than in the 1990s.
“The percentage of Americans claiming no religion, which jumped from 8.2 in 1990 to 14.2 in 2001, has now increased to 15 percent. Given the estimated growth of the American adult population since the last census from 207 million to 228 million, that reflects an additional 4.7 million ‘Nones.’ Northern New England has now taken over from the Pacific Northwest as the least religious section of the country, with Vermont, at 34 percent ‘Nones,’ leading all other states by a full 9 points.

‘Many people thought our 2001 finding was an anomaly,’ [Ariela] Keysar said. We now know it wasn’t. The ‘Nones’ are the only group to have grown in every state of the Union.’”
The Nones? Yes, that's right, the Nones according to the American Religious Identification Survey from only a few days ago . So it could be very possible that:
"It looks like the two-party system of American Protestantism--mainline versus evangelical--is collapsing," said Mark Silk, director of the Public Values Program. "A generic form of evangelicalism is emerging as the normative form of non-Catholic Christianity in the United State s."
What to do in the flood of change, abandon the sinking ship, repair the ship, or build something else that'll float in the flood waters?

March 9, 2009

Supercessionism Revisited

C. Orthodoxy has a great post for revisiting supercessionism, and it makes me wonder if the church isn't in the same boat as we wait upon the coming Christ. Israel was no more the telos or goal of God on earth than the church. The purpose or goal is always Christ and the reconciliation he brings to earth.

March 6, 2009

Lent & Globalization

Lent is a refreshing time, refreshing in the sense that we are driven back, reminded, and disciplined toward that which gives us life: God. Traditionally, Christians practice a certain discipline that removes one activity, not because it is necessarily "bad," but because that activity or thing distracts us from the real source of abundant life. Fasting gives us time to feast, as WWJE (What Would Jesus Eat) reminds us here and here,

Lent always awakens my imagination. What can or do I need to fast from? What would be meaningful? What can I focus or feast on: prayer, Bible memorization, service? Much of my thought as of late as been on economics, consumerism, and globalization. Today I thought, "what would it look like to fast from globalization, and what would I feast on?"

In case your unsure what that -ization word means, here's Gerald Daly's definition that sums it up well: globalization "is characterized by the concentration of economic control in multinational firms and financial institutions, worldwide networks of production, exchange, communication and knowldge, transnational capital, and a freer flow of labor, goods, services, and information."

So, as I was pondering what it would look like to fast from the above, I's inescapable. I can't fast from globalization, it's not simply a personal choice but rather a national way of doing life. I could not buy any new consumer products and buy all my food local, but realistically this is not disengaging completely from globalization. All my past commodities, my car, the house I rent, the clothes I wear, the roads I drive on, the places I shop, the building I work in, everything has been produced my the grand narrative of globilization.

Driving this narrative is the myth of progress. With the crises of ecological disasters, global economic breakdown, exclusion of the poor, and the rise of conflicts because of resources we've seen that "progress" is unsustainable. Our markets, businesses, churches, communities, the "American Dream' is about sustaining the unsustainable all for the myth of progress.

As my Lenten reflection has lead me, the solution to globalized progress cannot simply leave behind the system, it's inescapable. Even my quest for a solution is driven by the narrative of progress..."what's next, how do we solve this problem?"

Maybe the recent economic meltdown is a reminder of how life actually works, not in progressive steps but in seasons, cyclical seasons of life and death, joy and pain, ups and downs. A civilization, a global village cannot exist on a story that does not embrace life through death, but rather does all that it can to ignore death, aging, and anything non-young.

My Lenten reflection leads me to think that solutions to globalization and a culture of progress cannot be as simple as "dumping" the system, but must provide real world answers in real world economics. This may mean compromising for the best possible solution at the time. Whatever it means, it means feasting on a God who invites us into seasons, Lent, Advent, Death, Resurrection. Truly the only way to live alternatively is to live within a different narrative, thus for Lent we should fast from progress and feast on reality.

March 2, 2009

Everything is Amazing yet Nobody is Happy

Comedy seems to one of the amazing ways of truthtelling.