by placated sound-bytes and big money."
"It’s unfortunate that the Christian Right, once again, is being lured from the deep and rich possibilities of their faith
by placated sound-bytes and big money."
The following is a sermon preached by Revs. Mark Sandlin of The God Article, and J. Zac Bailes of Crazy Liberals and Conservatives. The sermon was presented at Vandalia Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. The sermon text is John 6:1-14. Special thanks is given to Bryan McFarland – please find his song "...until all are fed" below as it was this inspiration for the worship service and sermon. If you would like a transcript, please email J. Zac.
The following is from Guest Blogger: Mark Johnson Senior Minister at Central Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky.
A member of the congregation was recently complimenting our hosting a first ever joint Thanksgiving Service with Muslims, Jews and Christians for the Lexington community (this Sunday at 7 p.m.). She noticed how the Jews and, more particularly, the Muslims she knew personally were not the stereotyped image of a group of whom to be suspicious and afraid. “I have found them all to be impressively compassionate,” she related.
I responded, “So, would it not be tragic, if we, the Christians were discovered to be the least compassionate of the group!”
I don’t mean to be smug with this comment. But it grows out of another sentiment I have encountered among Christians when planning collaborative efforts with others in the interfaith community. It is the compromise they question by asking if support of another’s faith is not somehow also being disloyal to their primary fidelity to Jesus. They sincerely ask, “Doesn’t acceptance of another’s non-Christian faith imply an endorsement of that very same faith?”
This question grows out of a legitimate struggle and deserves deeper reflection and a clearer articulation, for honestly, I have wrestled at this very same place in my own Christian journey. One part of this journey remains consistent: I believe and trust in the saving witness and work of Jesus my Lord. In him, I have placed my faith. Even more so, I am more than willing and interested to discuss this faith with anyone and everyone I encounter.
What has changed over the years is how I believe this exchange is best accomplished. First, I must acknowledge the uneven history of times when the Christian message has been twisted and demeaned by a record of some very disturbing non-Christian behavior. This covers the range of the self-righteous irony portrayed by the character Hilary Faye in the movie Saved! who throws a Bible in a fit of frustration by shouting, “I am filled with Christ’s love,” to the far more sinister story of the Crusades and the Inquisition when Christians witnessed by way of armed battle, terror and torture.
Shamefully, when Christians have been in the majority, they have often persecuted minority communities of differing faiths, including at times, other Christians with whom they have disagreed. This record brings dishonor to Christ and erodes the power of our message.
The other approach is an authentic love and respect for others that is willing to listen, relate and befriend the person who is different. It requires a confidence in the validity of one’s faith without an anxious need for its constant endorsement. It seeks to build bridges of friendship, not walls of separation. It is willing to address the weaknesses and failures, as well as the strengths of one’s faith. It mostly affirms that people are not argued into belief in Christ, but called by God through being loved into the kingdom by God’s people.
Our joint service is not an overt proclamation of Christian faith. We have plenty of services and programs to accomplish that purpose. This is an opportunity to be a neighbor and a friend while we respect others who share our common Abrahamic heritage. For if you are going to build a bridge, you have to start on both sides of the divide.
On this episode, Mark and Zac discuss the "Political Church," Capitalism and the Church, and the most interesting part, "The Sacrament of Conscience." TCLC welcomes the music of Daniel Bailey.
I've heard people all my life tell me that I need Jesus. I have heard old men, and young women tell me that Jesus is the way to go. I walk into the Church, and see a man hanging on a cross. Or, maybe I see a painting on the wall with a beard I know I'll never be able to grow. I hear about the Jesus of revolution, but I've never known revolution. Jesus was immaculately conceived, but I wasn't even naturally conceived. Suffice to say, I can't find my Jesus.
I read about a Jesus' birth, a few events about his childhood, and then the story picks up in ministry - three years later, he's dead.
I'd like to know what went through his mind, his heart, and his body. I'd like to know what he wondered about, what he cared about, how it all worked out. How did he argue with his family? How did he live day-to-day. I'm not concerned about the divinity, but the humanity of Jesus. My Jesus doesn't wander around in heaven playing croquet. My Jesus doesn't wonder about the intentionality of walking from Judea to Jerusalem, but wonders what the Jordan River will feel like when the Baptist dunks him.
My Jesus isn't afraid to meet the powers that be, but doesn't use violence, only love. Yes, he will toss some tables, but that's in the Temple. I think Jesus recognized that political power mixed with religious piety trumps empire everyday. For violence only begets violence. Jesus knew it's not what God is doing in the world that hurts people, its what we do with God in the world that hurts people. My Jesus makes a way in the middle of suffering to utter profound theological statements, but care enough to make sure his mother is comforted.
But that Jesus doesn't show up day to day, doesn't show up in the coursework, the classes, the prayers. I wonder why? I wonder why we are hesitant to push the brim of humanity we find in Jesus. I wonder why we can't find a Jesus that asks the deeper questions, not of the political regime, but of the religious regime. Often times we are so focused on telling other people about Jesus we forget what Jesus is telling us. The Gospel of Matthew spends an entire chapter on the dangers of religion, the dangers of piety.
Does our piety cloud our judgment so much that we cannot see Jesus beckoning us forward, out of the pew, and into the streets? Jesus will look different depending upon social class, geographical location, and life experience. But, that doesn't mean we can't listen to what Jesus tells us now. That doesn't mean that we can't be transformed. Different "Jesus" doesn't mean that our work in this world must end, but that we must be opened up to what that Jesus is saying.
Tell Jesus who you think he is, and I guarantee you, he'll deconstruct it.
Tell Jesus what you think she does, and I guarantee you she'll re-imagine it.
Tell the world what Jesus is, and I guarantee the world will refocus it.
My Jesus hasn't shown up yet. Maybe my Jesus will. Maybe my Jesus isn't mine at all, but ours. Maybe still, Jesus isn't what we think Jesus is. Perhaps, Jesus is the voice of the Imam, the voice of the Buddhist, or the voice of the Atheist. Maybe. We must look. We must seek. You will find Jesus where you least expect it, in the place you least imagined, in the face you reluctantly engaged.
My Jesus can't be found. In all I do, no matter what I say, Jesus shows up. It's just a matter of where I'm looking, to whom I'm listening, and where I'm walking.
When I was little, I often wondered what prayer meant. Prayer never took hold. I was told to pray and give my life to Christ – I just said what the card told me to say. Prayer became a wish list – God give me eternal life so that I don't burn. Funny, though, to think about it now. Yet, I struggle more and more with prayer: does it work? Do our prayers affect God?
Some say prayer reflects our theology. Some say that if you don't believe in God, you shouldn't pray; others say if you don't pray, you don't believe in God. I don't think God can do anything God wants - God only does what God can in any situation. Sometimes, the best prayer is the prayer not for healing. Sometimes, the best prayer, is the prayer with the most anger. We pray liturgies, we pray personal prayers, we pray deeply constructed prayers. Sometimes, the only prayer, is the prayer we cannot pray.
I don't always pray to God...it becomes difficult. Yet, I think that maybe, just maybe, God in whatever divine disposition of love we see God as, will be affected. If God won't be affected, can't grieve with humanity, then I don't want God. If God came to me today and told me that God didn't care about the suffering, I'd suffer burning flames forever over that God. Yet, God cannot be hurt by our anger, for God shares this anger, this fact that suffering occurs. God shares in the joy. God shares.
I study theology, and write a fair amount. I'd like to think that each moment, each theological discourse is a prayer pleading for understanding. Yet, so often understanding seems so far away. So, we pray and we write so that some clarity will be given, and then we move forward. When I pen a word, it's a word dripping with questions and assurance that maybe on the other end of that word God will be listening. I don't think God will give me whatever I want, but it helps me to know that when I face the difficult and smooth times, God does too.
I chatted with a friend this afternoon. We talked about what God does in this world, who/what God is, and I came to a startling conclusion: God is many things, of which I don't know, and we're all trying to figure out, but God is, if anything, a kernel of love. When I pray, write, chat, I'm trying to understand God. I don't doubt my conservative friends think the same - trying to understand God.
And, a whisper.
God - Divine Charity - Mystery
If you dare, show up, resurrection and life
Bring with you every "no" you regret, and know,
to love, you must be loved.
CRUCIATUS IN CRUCEM
Join Us. Worship with us. Love us as we love you.
Don't walk ahead of us, we may not follow.
Don't walk behind of us, we not lead.
Walk beside us and be transformed.
Prayer. Sometimes it's all we have – the best of our doubt,
the greatest expression of faith,
and the unending demand to be loved.
When the words cease, prayer does not. I'd like to think that my theology is superior than that of most - that is logically impeccable and receives agreement among many. Yet, all theologies are an attempt to explain the experience or lack of experience of God. Neither conservatives nor liberals hold prayer, we all do. At the end of the day we only hope that what we say actually has some kind of truth, in the face of doubt. Amen.
I’m an absurd pacifist. Allow me to explain:
Albert Camus’ essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus” is certainly one his crowning works. This is an essay that outlines his philosophy of the absurd, and the inability to find meaning. He says, “There is but one truly philosophical problem, and that is suicide.” Instead of this end, we must revolt. So in the final chapter he addresses the character of Greek mythology: Sisyphus. To conquer death Sisyphus must roll a rock up a mountain, forever. He is freed to realize the absurdity of his situation by accepting the futility of his task. He is not hopeful, but content with his situation. Here again, Camus:
I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.
I have recently started reading, Janine di Giovanni’s Madness Visable, a chronicle of the Balkan people during the continuing breakup of Yugoslavia. In one section detailing the refugees in Durres, Albania she says, “There’s a tenth-century Byzantine church, neglected, because there is more important business going on here…” In the midst of war, guns blazing and bombs exploding, questions of God are all too often placed on the back burner.
I would like to consider myself a Paciphus. The attempt to explain a pacifist position, in my opinion fails. Ideologically there will always be issues, and with arguments they can always be defeated. Yet, I still hold that a pacifist position is what I am called to. Yet, I feel at times I have made a deal with God to accept a position that is needed and yet impractical. Being an American, we measure the greatness of something by its practicality, not it’s peace-ability. So, I push a stone up a mountain called pacifism, and hold it in highest regard. That the powers and principalities will not find it suitable, nor the family that has endured great horror a just resolution.
Yet, I find myself content. I find myself listening to the stories and horrors of war and past wars, and I roll my stone harder. I find myself at the impasse that calls out for a prophetic voice, one lost in the wilderness. Whereas in the past society looks for the great voice that has united a people, today we look for the united people that will unite a world. This world does not need a 10th-century Byzantine chapel, what it needs is a chapel of humanity, a safe harbor from the guns and bombs. What we need are individuals that called themselves a Paciphus, committed to rolling a stone that is great and heavy, but worth the strife.
A Paciphus knows neither creed nor color, neither bold ambition nor quiet discontent, neither silver linings nor steel resolve, but a commitment to that which a mountain of blood and tears could bear to hear. To quote Paul from All Quiet on the Western Front:
“But now, for the first time, I see you are a man like me. I thought of your hand-grenades, of your bayonet, of your rifle; now I see your wife and your face and our fellowship. Forgive me, comrade. We always see it too late. Why do they never tell us that you are poor devils like us, that your mothers are just as anxious as ours, and that we have the same fear of death, and the same dying and the same agony–Forgive me, comrade; how could you be my enemy?”