Sunday, March 06, 2005


I've been writing a lot about economics and politics on this blog lately. I want to take (a much needed) break from that. I find myself falling back into old habits of arrogance and impatience that doesn't befit a conversation amongst the people of God. So today I want to take a different tack that may have something to say to those issues, but I'm hoping not to directly discuss them. My goal is much more practical and pastoral (for myself mainly), than theoretical.

Today, at assembly, the pastor talked about "modesty" in the sense, largely, of humility. He talked about that passage where James and John are fighting over who will sit at the right and left hand of Jesus in his glory. Jesus replies that God has already chosen who will sit at the sides, so human posturing really will avail nothing. My pastor brought up the distinction between the "theology of the cross" and the "theology of glory" postulated by Luther. Afterwards, we talked a bit and I brought up a little of exegesis from NT Wright about how the other place where "right and left hand" of Jesus and who is at them is during the crucifixion, when the political rebels are the ones at his sides (one believing, one not). I thought it was an interesting tie in between the usually disparate theological strands: the cross is the glory. The Kingdom is shown exactly at the point when all is thought lost and subverted. Instead of being about power, it is about weakness, about submission in the hardest way to tyranny, etc.

That always makes me think. Even though I do not make a lot of money, I live a comfortable, semi-middle class lifestyle. I do not have any political enemies, except in the sense of being classified as "American" with all the enemies of that somewhat mystical entity. There isn't much suffering that isn't self-inflicted (not balancing the checkbook or something like that).

What has Jesus called me to in my life, then? "Take up your cross and follow me..." Wow. Hard. This week I've been reading The Climax of the Covenant, with some helpful insights about what exactly the Church's role in this is. It is too often, I fear, that we view our Christian walk and our Church existence in individualistic terms. Wright really does a fine job bringing an ekklesial focus to the problem:
...And when the church really turns to face this task [evangelism by means of properly understanding Paul--you'll have to read the book for a better explanation], as it must if it is to be ture to its vocation, it will find...that its role is Christ-shaped: to bear the pain and shame of the world in its own body, that the world may be healed. And with this we realize...that there is no room in this hermeneutic for a Christain or ecclesial triumphalism, which is precisely what Paul is opposing in Romans 11. The church is called to do and be for the world what the Messiah was and did for Israel. All that has been said so far must therefore call into question a good deal that is done in and by the church in pursuit of its own security and self-importance. The church must find out the pain of the world, and must share it and bear it.

When that taks is done, then Paul's theology suggests that what we call 'natural evil' will also, finally, be undone. God's covenant purpose was to choose a people in and through whom the world would be healed. That purpose, reaching its climax in the Messiah, is now to be worked out through his people. The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and come to share the liberty of the glory of the children of God; and in the meantime the Church is to share the groaning of the world in the faith that her own groanings are in turn shared by the Spirit. The Spirit thus accomplishes withing the church what, mutatis mutandis [I have no idea what that Latin phrase means], the Torah accomplished within Israel. Just as the sin and death of the world were concentrated, by means of Torah, on Israel, so now the pain and grief of the world is to be concentrated, by means of the Spirit, on the Christos [in Greek font in the original], the family of the Messiah, so that it may be heald (Romans 8:18-30). This is the very antithesis of all Christian triumphalism or imperialism. (256)

How can the ekklesia do this? I notice in myself the desire to not suffer, to not "fill up in my flesh what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ" (Col. 1:24). There is so much affluence, so much classism, so many Western idols that clog my mind and my heart, my whole being, that it is difficult to want to suffer. It brings out a longing for those days of complete consummation of God's purposes when "every tear shall be wiped away, etc.". However, it is there that I notice the suffering of God's people to be at its height. In Revelation 22, it talks about the Gentiles (erroneously, I think, translated "nations" here) of those who are saved and the kings of the earth bringing the glory and honor of the Gentiles into the city, meaning that they are outside of the city. It also talks about how no thing that defiles (i.e. no hardened sinners) come in but are also outside. It talks about how the tree of life provides leaves for the healing of the Gentiles. All these things speak about pain and suffering, especially the Church (the New Jerusalem) bringing the healing to those Gentiles. No utopia here, just more work, more mission, more struggling to bring about God's purposes.

Ekklesia, the world needs you. We need to start praying where the world is in hurt. We need to start emptying ourselves (Philip. 2) where the world wants. God help us. Jesus help us. Spirit help us. Lord have mercy.

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