Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eternal Life Now


I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16:12-15

When I hear the stock market has fallen,
I say, "Long live gravity! Long live
stupidity, error and greed in the palaces
of fantasy capitalism!" I think
an economy should be based on thrift,
on taking care of things, not on theft,
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.
My purpose is a language that can make us whole,
Though mortal, ignorant, and small.
The world is whole beyond human knowing.

Wendell Berry

This week's Gospel lectionary passage, read in many Catholic, Protestant & Anabaptist church settings all over the world, is wedged in Jesus' closing block of teaching at his last meal with the disciples. Jesus' ministry of energizing the underdog while criticizing the elites was about to come to an end. The elites, the guardians of the System, had heard and seen enough from this prophet. Jesus had been announcing the long-awaited "age to come" ("eternal life" in John's Gospel) through his mission of teaching and healing, but things were about to drastically change. He was preparing the disciples, those bold enough to embody "eternal life" in the present evil age, for what life would be like after the System would put him up on that cross. Jesus was inspiring and guiding them to receive his very own spirit and do the very things that he did during his Time on earth.

This passage in John is a morsel of a much larger block of teaching about the role of God's Spirit in a post-crucifixion mission. Here are the few verses immediately preceding (John 16:8-11):

And when [the Spirit] comes, he will prove the System wrong about sin and righteousness and judgement: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgement, because the ruler of this System has been condemned.

The Greek "kosmos" is translated as "System" here by Walter Wink (and others) to emphasize what Jesus was specifically referring to. Most English translations read "world," but that too-general-term misses Jesus' task of prophetically critiquing the powers-that-be that suck so many of us into counterfeit, addictive and oppressed lifestyles. The System, in Jesus' day and today and all over the world, rewards the already wealthy and powerful with a whole complex system of policies and mores and assumptions that are rarely questioned without a prophetic imagination. This is the most compelling way to translate Jesus' words to Pilate (Jesus 18:36): "My kingdom is not from this System." Jesus' way of "eternal life" was about...

Abundance
Advocating
Compassion
Cooperation
Dialogue
Diplomacy
Discipleship
Empathy
Equality
Enemy Love
Forgiveness
Humility
Justice
Liberation
Listening
Nurture
Obedience
Perspective of the Periphery
Presence
Service
Sharing
Unity

Jesus' alternative way of "eternal life" contrasts an establishment System (government, business, media & forms of religion that legitimates it) characterized by...

Acculturated Christianity
Advertising
American Dream
Anxiety
Arrogance
Civil Religion
Competition
Consumerism
Cult of Celebrity
Domination
Ecological Degradation
Ethnocentrism
Gossip
Greed
Hierarchy
Homelessness
Image
Insecurity
Materialism
Militarism
Nationalism
Patriarchy
Redemptive Violence
Revenge
Scarcity Mentality
Self-Absorption
Sexism
Suburban Insulation
Triumphalism
War

Today, the Spirit of Jesus, our Advocate, guides us into carrying on his legacy in a System that...

...bails out banks and financial institutions while oppressing people of color.

...allows the President of the US to strip away habeas corpus indefinitely from suspected terrorists in military bases on foreign soil.

...uses remote-controlled drones to kill innocent civilians in Pakistan 50 times more than suspected terrorists.

...glorifies "charitable giving" from corporations that makes profit the "bottom-line" over a living wage and health benefits for its workers.

...refers to an environmental and economic disaster caused by greed, de-regulation and carelessness as an "act of God" or "an accident"

...places ultimate hope in militaries and markets

Those of us who pledge allegiance to embodying Jesus "eternal life" commit to boldly imagine a "whole new world" (II Corinthians 5:17) through both personal responsibility and systemic policy change. We pray for it and creatively enact it in all of our diverse settings "where God has sent us into exile" (Jeremiah 29:7). Let us pray with Walter Wink who was committed to Exposing and Engaging the Powers:

God, help us to refuse ever to accept evil; by your Spirit empower us to work for change precisely where and how you call us; and free us from thinking we have to do everything.
________________________________
A few final thoughts on our lectionary passage:

1. "I still have many things to say to you": God still speaks to us. There is always more to hear from the Divine, who is a lot more mysterious and dynamic than most Christians imagine.

2. The "you" (uμiν) is plural in the Greek. This is a call for communal discernment of what God is up to in our lives. The Spirit works when we sharpen each other intentionally. C.S. Lewis wrote, "You might say that when two Christians are following Christ together there is not twice as much Christianity as when they are apart, but sixteen times as much."

3. "[The Spirit] will take what is mine and declare it to you": Christ's life, teaching and mission are now ours. Christianity is a lifestyle rooted in a historical tradition, not a personal belief system or guarantee of individual salvation. There is nothing better than being a part of something far bigger than ourselves.

4. But how exactly does the Spirit make Christ's life, teaching and mission ours? This is the most challenging question for us because it demands so much intentionality and effort. Let me conclude with this short meditation from Rev. Dale Fredrickson, an EasyYolk contributor, an excerpt taken from an essay he recently wrote on the importance of the Church for his United Methodist ordination:

The Church develops ‘Gospel’ people in several ways. The Church unashamedly invites people to the Gospel’s call to world-transformation. The ‘Gospel’ is an opportunity to become a part of what God is doing to transform the world. It’s a call to “deny yourself and take up your cross.” It’s a call to service and through this service to find your true self—your real identity in God’s global plans. The Church develops people by the creative teaching of Gospel stories through song, sermon, and liturgy. We must ground ourselves in the Bible. The Church also must learn the ancient Gospel habits of prayer, silence, solitude, lectio devina, fasting, spiritual direction, and others. The Church must work creatively in order to reduce the barriers to remaining attentive to God. Only by a commitment to these habits can we sustain Gospel vision. The Church must also cultivate Gospel Love. John 15 reminds us of the organic connection or lifeline that we have with God. As we grow in dynamic relationship with God, we follow Jesus’ command, and offer continual and constant love for our brothers, sisters, and enemies. We learn to share with those in need and to bear with one another in love. The church also develops ‘Gospel’ people through a commitment to the Gospel Virtues laid out in the Sermon on the Mount. A community ethos must be developed where people strive to emulate and imitate the virtues of humility, meekness, righteousness, compassion, mercy, purity, and perseverance. And lastly, the Church must consciously encourage Gospel Resistance. The church develops people of backbone, people who stand up, confront injustices, and seek creative solutions to violence. Just like Jesus in the Temple. The Gospel, or God’s Dream for the world, invites us all to active participation. But, only through the Church can we be shaped, developed, formed, to exhibit the courage, hope, and love of Jesus to a world in need.

--Theological Autopilot

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