A Grace-filled Remnant

Romans 11:1-6          
1 So I ask you, has God rejected his people? Absolutely not! I’m an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God hasn’t rejected his people, whom he knew in advance. Or don’t you know what the scripture says in the case of Elijah, when he pleads with God against Israel? Lord, they have killed your prophets, and they have torn down your altars. I’m the only one left, and they are trying to take my life.[a] But what is God’s reply to him? I have kept for myself seven thousand people who haven’t bowed their knees to Baal.[b] So also in the present time there is a remaining group by the choice of God’s grace. But if it is by grace, it isn’t by what’s done anymore. If it were, God’s grace wouldn’t be grace.  
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

So, now that the Christian Church has become solidly established, a question remains: Can the Jews continue to call themselves the people of the covenant, the special people of the God whom they know as YH**? Or, as some of our Christian brothers and sisters seem to think, have the Jews been rejected by God in favor of the followers of Yeshua? The simple answer is that, as within Christianity, there is a grace-filled remnant within Judaism…  and also within Islam; and within Hinduism; and within Shintoism; and within Buddhism; and within Bahai; and within Taoism; and… That is the grace of the divine mystery we call God, the Ineffable One, Allah, … If it weren’t so within the religions of the world, it wouldn’t be grace.

Beginning the Good News

Mark 1:1-3         
 1 The beginning of the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, happened just as it was written about in the prophecy of Isaiah: Look, I am sending my messenger before youHe will prepare your way, a voice shouting in the wilderness: “Prepare the way for the Lord; make his paths straight.”  
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Here we begin sharing the Good News about Yeshua, the catalyst of the messianic. Isaiah gives us a clue: “There will be a messenger who comes first, a voice speaking to the desert and wilderness areas within. He will be paving the way for the Lord to stage a different kind of entry.”

The Bread that Satisfies

John 6:24-35        
24 When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and came to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus replied, “I assure you that you are looking for me not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate all the food you wanted. 27 Don’t work for the food that doesn’t last but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Human One[a] will give you. God the Father has confirmed him as his agent to give life.” 28 They asked, “What must we do in order to accomplish what God requires?” 29 Jesus replied, “This is what God requires, that you believe in him whom God sent.” 30 They asked, “What miraculous sign will you do, that we can see and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”[b] 32 Jesus told them, “I assure you, it wasn’t Moses who gave the bread from heaven to you, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 The bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said, “Sir,[c] give us this bread all the time!” 35 Jesus replied, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.  
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

The crowd, having just been fed, went looking for Jesus. They had to go across the lake to find him. “What are you doing over here?” they asked. “You don’t fool me,” Jesus said to them. “You are not really hungry for a new word about what God has in store for you. You just want your bellies to be full. There is a spiritual food provided by Humanity’s Child that can satisfy your deepest hungers.” They asked, “So, what then must we do to in order to get that spiritual food?” Jesus responded, “Simply trust the one God has sent into your midst.” They reacted quickly. “Why should we trust you? What spiritual food are you handing out. After all, Moses found manna (heavenly bread) for our people in the wilderness. Top that!” Jesus answered, “Actually, it wasn’t Moses; it was God who fed our people in the wilderness. God still wants to feed you.” “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said, “Friends, listen to what I am telling you about the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice. That is the bread that feeds and satisfies the deepest hungers of life and quenches your thirsts.

Learn to Live in Forgiveness

2 Samuel 11:26-27         
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband Uriah was dead, she mourned for her husband. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her back to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son. But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes. 
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Bathsheba was in mourning for her husband, Uriah Little did she know that his was caused by David. David, wanting to show how decent he was, waited the prescribed amount of time for a period of mourning to pass before summoning Bathsheba to his house. He married her and she bore a son. While David was attempting to make a show of decorum and propriety, he’s actions were a sham. The prophet Nathan came to confront David. He did so by telling a story: “Two men — one rich, the other poor — live in the same city. While the rich man had huge flocks of sheep, the poor man had only one lamb. He treated that lamb as if it were his child. When the rich man, hosting a  distinguished traveler, needed a lamb for a feast he took the poor man’s lamb and had it slaughtered for the feast.” Upon hearing the story David was livid. “That man deserves a punishment worse than death. Let me know who he is and I will make him pay the poor man at least four times what he took from him. Shameless!” Nathan said simply, but directly, “You are the one! You have been given everything — king over Israel, a palatial home, many wives, and if you need more you would have gotten it. But what have you done with your privilege? You have abused it! You schemed to have Uriah killed so you could take his wife. You will reap what you have sown. Your own household will be your undoing. What you have done in secret will be returned to you publicly. David was shaken, “I have sinned; broken trust with God.” Nathan responded, “Forgiveness in the name of God is yours. You must learn to live in that forgiveness.”

 

Catalyzing New Life

Nehemiah 1:1-4          
1 These are the words of Nehemiah, Hacaliah’s son. In the month of Kislev, in the twentieth year, while I was in the fortress city of Susa,Hanani, one of my brothers, came with some other men from Judah. I asked them about the Jews who had escaped and survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem. They told me, “Those in the province who survived the captivity are in great trouble and shame! The wall around Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been destroyed by fire!” When I heard this news, I sat down and wept. I mourned for days, fasting and praying before the God of heaven.  
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Nehemiah was in Susa, the winter capital of Artaxerxes’ empire. His brother brought news of the Jews who had escaped captivity and still remained in Judah. They were in distress. Jerusalem was in shambles — the wall broken down and the gates destroyed by fire. Nehemiah went into mourning. He fasted and prayed day and night — coming clean on Israel’s wayward ways. He admitted that he and his family had also failed to be faithful to the provisions of Israel’s self-understanding of their covenant relationship as a people of God. He acknowledged that Israel’s waywardness had led to their being defeated and scattered to the winds. Nehemiah was also aware of a deep inner insistence in the name of God. Perhaps. It will be his call to re-gather the people of Israel together as a covenant people. God was the healing symbol that could catalyze that new life.

Proper Prayer

Matthew 6:5-15         
“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you. “When you pray, don’t pour out a flood of empty words, as the Gentiles do. They think that by saying many words they’ll be heard. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows what you need before you ask. Pray like this: Our Father who is in heaven, uphold the holiness of your name. 10 Bring in your kingdom so that your will is done on earth as it’s done in heaven. 11 Give us the bread we need for today. 12 Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us. 13 And don’t lead us into temptation, but rescue us from the evil one. 14 “If you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins.  
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

Don’t let your praying be superficial or hypocritical. Don’t pray in order that you will be seen praying. When you pray, find a quiet and somewhat secluded place, go deep inside and pray something like this: God, your insistent call is remarkable, able to give life. May I respond to that insistent call in a way that honors and advances the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice, making it a living reality that is as vibrant and lively as the hopes of our people have been. May those hopes feed us day by day. We are constantly facing trials; may we be strong enough to integrate both the light and darkness — the good and the evil — of those trials, finding the Way that is commensurate with the Commonwealth, the Way of compassion and forgiveness.

Resurrection — a Process

The church’s traditional resurrection story just doesn’t make sense any more…  If I read it as poetry and metaphor, it is a beautiful story. If I am compelled to read it as history, it leaves me cold. And yet, I have to admit that there was something in the story that compels me to listen. I have joined with others in searching and reading – picking up fragments of the story from here and there, and then piecing our stories together in a coherent way. (Perhaps this is similar to what the early church did.) In this process, we have garnered the wisdom of many different people – that is, those who have learned to tell their stories in a different voice as good story-tellers do!

Our experience had been in conflict with the traditional story we inherited from the church.  That traditional story seemed upside down and we couldn’t stand on our heads long enough to make sense. Enter John Caputo, Elizabeth Boyden Howes, Herman Waetjen, Walter Wink, Richard Rohr, and others. As we engaged their stories, the scales started dropping from our eyes. The scales were the church’s overlays – containing some biases (anti-Semitic, anti-Catholic church, anti-science); favoring violence and empire over the poor, heavenly after-life over the here-and-now, individual salvation over distributive tender justice. It was as if we were being liberated from faith as a series of propositions to memorize.

James Alison (Knowing Jesus, 2012 ed.) suggests that the resurrection was “the irruption of a happening into [the first Christian’s] lives and one that could be experienced in a variety of ways.” (page 8) We tend to forget that the crucifixion of Yeshua must have had a devastating effect on Yeshua’s followers. From our vantage point of almost 2000 years of distance and from our mis-reading of the Christian scriptures as historical accounts, instead of witnesses to such a transformative irruption, we only seem able to ask the question “Did the resurrection happen, or not?” “Do you believe in the resurrection or deny its existence?”

Those questions assume resurrection to be either a simple historical fact or a hoax – a line in the sand determining who is IN and who is OUT! Deny the resurrection and you aren’t a Christian.

The resurrection is in fact a complicated process that developed over time. Alison suggests that understanding the process contains three separate movements:

First, the resurrection was seen as something that happened to Jesus. … Then, second, it revealed something about God … a new and completely unexpected and radical insight into who God is. … Third, the resurrection began to transform the lives of the disciples … to rewrite their lives from an entirely unexpected new vantage point.” (page 12)

I agree with Alison and I want to re-arrange the three movements. I believe that we need to begin with the transformation that was happening in the lives of those who had followed Yeshua. Something was afoot (an “irruption” forming inside them) as they began to put their lives back together in the Galilee – back to fishing, back to being spouses and parents, back to being neighbors and members of the local community. It seemed that Yeshua, who had died on the cross, would not leave them alone. The things that Yeshua had tried to teach them were now beginning to make sense. Those new understandings were changing them, causing them to view the world in which they lived in a new way.

The disciples began to see that Yeshua’s mission was based on an upside down, topsy-turvy understanding of the world grounded in “the intelligence of the victim” (Alison, chapter 2) – which I prefer to call the “wisdom” of the victim. Yeshua’s life and teachings opposed the victimization fostered by Rome and Temple. His death was not a ploy in some cosmic accounting system to balance out the sins of humankind or an exemplary display of God-infested moral courage. NO! His death was the result of his solidarity with the poor and the victims. Yeshua had become the iconic victim.

So, the irruptive experience of Yeshua’s followers after his death led to the realization that they were able to experience resurrection in their own lives because it had already happened to Yeshua in his life, mission, and death. Resurrection, in and through the disciples (and in and through you and me) only happens because resurrection already happened to Yeshua. The acknowledgement of Yeshua’s resurrection led the early church to a new understanding – namely that Yeshua was the long awaited messiah, but not messiah that had been  expected. Israel had expected a military messiah overthrowing Roman rule or an apocalyptic messiah riding in on the clouds to establish a new world order.

Now the disciples began to understand a little of Yeshua’s experience in the wilderness – namely, that he had sorted through Israel’s messianic expectations and realized that he was not called into any of those images. Instead, Yeshua experienced his calling as solidarity with the victims and was training of a cadre of men and women to join with him as God’s people in solidarity with the poor and the victims of society.

This led the early church to a radically new understanding of God, the third movement of this resurrection process. God was not some supreme ruler of the universe who dictated from afar. Instead, God was somehow much nearer – Yeshua called God “abba,” dad. God didn’t inhabit some ethereal heavenly abode. God was in the hearts and minds of all people – taking up residence in the ghetto slums, in the fields with migrant workers, in the overcrowded apartments of immigrants, in the cells of debtor prisons, in the people living under the oppressive regimes of bully dictators, in leper colonies, in the waiting rooms of public hospitals, …

If Yeshua is the iconic victim, God gives voice to the wisdom of the victim – a voice that bubbles up within me, irrupting into my comfortable life, calling me into solidarity with the victim, the poor. God’s “preferential option for the poor” is not a dictum, not a dogma, not a theological conclusion. Instead it is an insistence that effervesces within us, a ferment that changes our being from the inside out, a calling toward an expansion of my viewpoint, a nudge toward a radically new form of action. Resurrection is God’s invitation for me to live a life of love, in solidarity with the least, the lost, the last, and the left out.

Resurrection happens to Yeshua – raising him from the obscurity of a charismatic teacher and social rebel to being the iconic victim who lived his life and died in solidarity with the wisdom of the victim. Resurrection happens to God – raising God from a moral injunction to care for widows, orphans, and strangers into an internal presence that gives voice to the wisdom of the victim. Resurrection happens to us (individually and collectively) – raising us from narrow self-interest and parochialism to a life lived within the parameters of that wisdom that is being voiced within.

Losing Perspective

Luke 22:31-34         
31 “Simon, Simon, look! Satan has asserted the right to sift you all like wheat. 32 However, I have prayed for you that your faith won’t fail. When you have returned, strengthen your brothers and sisters.” 33 Peter responded, “Lord, I’m ready to go with you, both to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster won’t crow today before you have denied three times that you know me.”  
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

How easy it is to lose attention to what’s important. Opposition to the intentions of the commonwealth of peace and justice continues. Whenever the spotlight is on God, all the followers of God are being tested as well. The hope and prayer is that we may remain steadfast. Like Peter, we tend to respond,” Prison…  death…  bring it on! I am ready.” Yeshua rejoins, “Don’t be so sure of yourself. I suspect that, when you are put to the test, you will deny association with me — multiple times.” And we do!

Hope for the Church?

Colossians 1:3-6    
We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you. We’ve done this since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and your love for all God’s people. You have this faith and love because of the hope reserved for you in heaven. You previously heard about this hope through the true message, the good news, which has come to you. This message has been bearing fruit and growing among you since the day you heard and truly understood God’s grace, in the same way that it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world. 
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

What is the most we can hope for from a church? Surely it is that the Christian community is constituted by an inner wisdom and understanding that bears the fruit commensurate with the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice — a strength that partners with the weak, a gentle tenacity to see things through, a joyous and grateful spirit, an integration of the light and darkness within you, and a willingness to “sell all” for the Commonwealth. This inner wisdom is its own reward, sowing the seeds of wholeness and compassion. It is the definition of the messianic, the God-process, within you and in the world.

Foolishness, Indeed!

Psalm 14:1-2         
1 Fools say in their hearts, There is no God. They are corrupt and do evil things; not one of them does anything good. The Lord looks down from heaven on humans to see if anyone is wise, to see if anyone seeks God…
[Scripture taken from the Common English Bible®, CEB® Copyright © 2010, 2011 by Common English Bible.™ Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.]

It is foolishly mistaken to say, “God is on our side and will take care of all our problems.” Instead, God is on the side of those who wisely hold their tongues and seek God within. Those who talk the talk without walking the walk are debilitating and handicapping themselves and the church. They stuff themselves at church pot luck suppers but do not dine on the bread of life. They pay scant attention to the poor who have God’s close attention. When the church comes to its senses, discerns insistence in the name of God (perhaps), pays attention to the real teachings of Yeshua, and acts in conformity with the Commonwealth of Peace and Justice, then the whole creation will take notice – the mountains will rejoice, the trees will clap their hands.