Continuity, or Denial?

Is “what happens at church” on most Sunday mornings – the opening up, the elements of the worship service, the connecting with other worshippers, the coffee & conversation for a bit afterwards, the locking up – more about “continuity” or more about “denial” of what’s going on outside of church? I don’t honestly know the answer to that question.

I incline towards the “continuity” pole, no doubt at least in part because I appreciate being able to go on a Sunday morning to be with other people and devote some time to the specific activity of worshipping God with other people. Which is something people have been doing week in and week out, or actually day in and day out in some communities, through better and through worse, through richer and through poorer, in sickness and in health, and in every season and natural condition and in every political moment, however it made them feel, for a long, long time.

Because worshipping God transcends all that temporal context. Really. We believe that, I think. I believe that.

And, worshipping God forms us into the kind of people who can live through better and through worse, etc., better – more responsively and more responsibly and more purposefully and more joyfully. We believe that, too, I think. I believe that.

On the other hand, I also think that human life, and history, matter to God. And they certainly matter to us. So worship really ought to be able to gather all of what’s happening in the moment – the better and worse and rich and poor and sickness and health and seasonality and politics and personal circumstances – and bring it into focus for us in the light of the presence and the activity of God. We are meant to be bringing our actual lives, our whole actual lives, in their realness, before God. I’m not sure we always live up to that demand, which is the genuine spirit of the “collect,” as well as we are called to live up to it. And that awareness pulls me towards the “denial” pole of the answer.

Karl Barth may have told us to preach with the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other, but there are still topics most people seem to want to avoid bringing up in worship.

Knowing that people disagree on temporal matters, and disagree so passionately, entails knowing that mentioning those matters in the context of a worship service is probably going to at least annoy, maybe enrage, at least some people. Maybe everyone, in equal measure. Provoke the usual vacuous statements like “politics doesn’t belong in church,” which is just an ignorant thing to say, because “politics” is as intrinsically human as breathing, but by which people mean “I don’t want to have to think about that in church” and “I sure don’t want the preacher to tell me what I ought to think about that, because no one tells me what to think.”

Even though the preacher should be telling people what to think about … well, some stuff, right? Stuff that’s in the Bible, for instance. And which of the things that we think are in the Bible aren’t, too. Ethics. Which is nothing if not political. How to live in community as Christians. Ditto. What we owe one another as neighbors. Double ditto. What God wants from us as faithful people living in an actual world with other people here and now, as best we can tell from … [Starting to sound like a broken record.]

Love is political. It is.

Especially in public.

And even in the eternal scheme of things, it’s still the case that what we do right now in our little lives matters. I think we believe that. I believe that.

But in that eternal scheme of things, any one of these individual episodes of better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness, health, season, national issue or crisis or struggle or challenge, is bound to appear differently to us when we see it in its fuller context …

Maybe the point is that in worship we focus on things we have – and maybe this seems ironic – more certainty about. God. The great, great love of Jesus. Rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit.

All of which does matter for the passionate intensities and the lack of all conviction and the things falling apart of the world that is floundering in whatever anarchic blood-dimmed tide has currently been loosed upon it. Not exactly, even, “not specifically.” Just, differently.

There’s a continuity – or, there’s supposed to be – that matters.

Tell the truth. In love. Do justice, love kindness. Work out what that means for our lives together with fear and trembling. The neighbors matter as much as we do.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

John 13:34-35

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Image: “Dahlia ‘Delilah’ 01,” AfroBrazilian: Aleksandrs Balodis, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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2 responses to “Continuity, or Denial?”

  1. Thanx, HAT.

    I think Jesus is political. He makes a bid to be King of the Jews. Herod did that, and it was slathered in every ugly political stunt there is. And it worked. He became King of the Jews.

    Of course this wasn’t done with the same KIND of politics as today. Probably the same spirit but not with voting, with campaign ads, and so forth.

    Politics could be, and often was, a bit bloodier. Even in Rome, emperors were assassinated, all manner of ploys to replace one… but not voting by the masses.

    In fact, all the messiahs of the first century, and they are a dime a dozen, are running around Galilee (and other places) drumming up support, but often (not always) that looks a little like Maccabees shouting a war cry, running to the hills, and throwing a revolt. And by far, most, if not all, were put down, the “messiah” in question ceremoniously killed, and that was the end of it.

    Herod knew that you could not be King of the Jews (in those days) without Rome’s say so. He sends a delegation to Rome to ask to be installed as puppet king. It works. It’s political.

    He builds the temple and it’s political. In fact, it is his way of establishing himself as king in “the hearts and minds of the people” since they all know he is a half-breed, and installed on Rome’s say. So, if he can rebuild the temple, he will establish credibility with the locals.

    None of that is a “vote” style politics, but its all politics.

    What does Jesus do?

    He runs a campaign too. He drums up “support” after a fashion, though in the end, that is not really what it is. However, to those involved at the time, it looks like it and feels like it. Jesus even “cleanses” the temple, which in the tradition of Josiah and others legitimates him with his multitudes. He feeds five thousand a fish for a day, and this looks a little like G.W. flipping pancakes and speaking Spanish. John says afterward, the crowd wants to make him king by force.

    And that points to that other discussion with Pilate. “My kingdom is not of this world, if it were, my servants would fight…”

    So interesting.

    The politics are still there, but not the vote and the source is elsewhere.

    David was anointed in mysterious intrigue too. There was another “King of the Jews” running around with God’s anointing when David, subversively was anointed too. I like to think that Saul was “the people’s choice” because even though God chose him, he is described as particularly “fitting” for the job in some political sense.

    Some of us think some of Trump’s tactics are not “presidential” – whatever that is. Well… Saul was exceptionally Monarchial. David was so unremarkable as a candidate that even his own daddy didn’t produce him before Samuel until all the other brothers had been presented AND still had to be prodded to produce the boy.

    Then David runs around for 16 chapters of Bible (years? Idk) as a most wanted fugitive from justice before God finally puts him on the throne.

    That’s politics NOT from this world or my servants would fight.

    David does not fight Saul. When the young lad brags to David, falsely, about killing Saul, in hopes of reward?, David kills him in some kind of zeal because he laid a hand on “the Lord’s anointed.”

    Anyway… I am bogging down in that story now. Point being, I think it is political too. But it’s a politic NOT OF THIS WORLD. That’s what I see.

    I don’t see it clearly, but I see it.

    I am reminded of Brueggemann telling us the towel and basin are “the tools of the church.” There are others, worship itself included, but he is right, and he set me on the path to look for this tool box.

    When Israel goes into exile, they yearn to go home. They yearn for revolt. They yearn for God to come save them from bondage.

    Eventually, they go home, but the return to the land is not really the end of exile (Thanx to N.T. Wright for teaching me this). So, they yearn for “the Day of the Lord” a great coming judgment when the pagan overlords are thrown off, and Israel emerges as God’s true human race to rule with the Dominion of Adam and Eve.

    But while in exile, God tells the people to settle down, plant a garden and get married.

    It’s so counter intuitive. But such is salt and light which God in his own way behind the scenes is working with these same people to advance his Abrahamic promises. Jesus before Pilate, and then on the cross, is the lynch pin to all of this.

    Church today is political. And I think you CAN vote, if you really want to, but I am thinking that is probably redundant at best. Let us be about the politics NOT of this world. They are FOR this world, but not from here.

    God gives me a towel and basin, a patch to garden, a group with whom to worship as God does his big thing mysteriously through our little things. Our little things are not as little as they seem. Our humility, holiness, trust and love all matter GREATLY, in the real scheme of things, but it is not ours to lord it over the gentiles.

    Even Joseph in Egypt is lifted up all the way to second only to Pharaoh, and it is even said he is LIKE a FATHER to the king, but he is always a notch below. Must find his impact in humility, in slavery and prison. God gives the victory; we do not create it. We cannot steal his election or fake it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this, X.

    I would agree 100% that Jesus was political, and all the others, and that politics takes different forms – widely different, in different contexts. I used to be a political scientist, as a matter of fact, and in those days I formed the opinion that “politics” is less some separate human activity [as you say, about votes and elections and a few of the things we watch on the evening news] as much as it is a dimension of all human activity. I have written about this on this blog, too, as a matter of fact, for what that’s worth. It’s here:

    John Howard Yoder has fallen sadly from his human admirational pedestal, but it seems to me his theology is still important, and The Politics of Jesus, in particular, is still an important book.

    Emma Goldman agreed with you about voting.

    Reasonable people can differ. I myself am not quite that radical, or separatist, or whatever it is, because it seems to me that voting is in precisely the same category as building houses and living in them and planting gardens and eating their produce and marrying and having children and generally speaking being part of contributing to the common good as best we can. Well, really, more like “the least we can do.”


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