Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Rebellious Child and the New Church

Note: While Abby is away this week, you get me (Jeremy). Don't worry - it's only temporary and I'll keep it brief!

A Bible study brunch at Broadneck is a lively thing. Lots of good questions, thoughtful folks sharing ideas, and (of course) plenty of tasty food to help fuel all of this. Maybe it is these things which made me think of Passover and the Seder - a time of re-living faith stories and questions around a shared meal. As we looked at this week's passages (John 20:19-31 and Acts 2:14-32), Abby invited us to think about how these visits from the resurrected Jesus and Peter's speech to a mocking crowd might have influenced the development of the early church. Paraphrasing the rebellious child (one of the four children used as symbolic questioners during the Seder), I wondered, "What's this mean to all of you?" Or, as Jolly put it last week, "What's it to ya, bub?"

I think this is a great question that Abby raises, and it's one that Stephen (our former interim and member) raised, and I think it should be in our thoughts anytime we try to think about our life together as community. By looking at the diversity and challenges within early faith communities and churches (!) and how they were addressed, there is a lot we can/should learn and ideas that we should continue to reflect on if we are to embody Jesus in the world.

So, what do I sense in these passages about the disciples, community, and following Jesus? Quite a few things, actually, some of which might be interesting to you, some of which probably aren't, and some that might be useful in a broader context. Briefly:

1. Just as we see his humanity throughout Jesus' life, we see honesty in emotional reactions in both the Easter scriptures and in this passage in John. Joy, fear, apprehension, awe, guilt, anger, relief, and a dozen other feelings are expressed here. Everyone involved - even the initially mocking crowds - illustrates how diverse reactions were to this new angle of relationship with God. In the passage from John (and in the resurrection texts), Jesus spends quite a bit of time just trying to calm folks down and get them to really see a new reality. Peter seems to attempt to do something similiar, illustrating that Jesus is trying to free us from fear of death. Just as God didn't abandon Jesus to the Pit/Sheol/Hades, neither will God abandon you. For all our supposed enlightenment and rationality and logic, seems to me that we are just as driven by our emotions and still in need of peace in order to begin to understand the reality of life around us.

2. Connected with these emotions, we see a spectrum of faith. In my reading and experience, there's a tension between faith and a "need" for proof that, it would appear, has been pretty consistent through quite a bit of human history. Jesus appears (at least twice) in a locked room next to some already freaked out disciples and has to show them his wounds. Hearing about this from people he trusted with other vital things wasn't enough for Thomas - he has to touch to believe. Where are you on this spectrum? How and why does it change from time to time? Why are some things so easy to take "on faith," but others require tangible evidence? I don't think this tension is a bad thing, entirely - just a part of being human. But how to live with it? Last point on this issue: Not one disciple called Thomas a jerk/heathen/unbeliever for expressing his honest doubts, or kicked him out of the group. Interesting, no?

3. Peter's speech wasn't just for the culturally recognized leaders (elder men). He addressed slaves, women, men of Judea and all the various peoples of Jerusalem. This supports Jesus' message and actions of equality and of changing how we perceive and interact with and value others.

4. When Jesus' empowers the disciples here in John to forgive, is this really a new thing, or just drawing attention to the power we all hold? I invite you to read the different translations side by side of John 20:23 here. The question isn't what is retained or held, but who does the holding. The Greek tenses and words used seem to indicate a duality between continual retention and instant release (as well as who does the retaining) that isn't exactly clear in most translations. In any case, it doesn't seem to say that God cedes power of ultimate forgiveness to the disciples, and instead points out that it's up to them if they want to carry around another person's sins. Obvious a statement it may be, but I think it shows a struggle that we experience daily in how we approach forgiveness. How much do we hold onto the wrongs of others, and why? Are we going to approach forgiveness as a transaction, a "gift" that must be reciprocated, and which isn't truly a gift? (see Miroslav Volf and his book "Free of Charge" on this one, if you like, or some Marcel Mauss on "The Gift")

What's all this to you, oh rebellious child? What's this to you, oh church?

Peace to you all from a rebellious child,



Stephen said...

First of all, Thank you Jeremy for tackling such a broad range of material and pulling it together so well.

What I got from you is this: Jesus' resurrection allows us to let go of the fears that make us focus on our differences (male/female, slave/free) and allow us to focus on what it truly means to follow Jesus into the New Creation. One of the primary ways that we follow Jesus is in imitating his forgiveness of others.

This kind of empowered living, as you point out, is an earth shaking thing. It topples systems, it takes on empires, it changes lives. When these powers are threatened they respond with their favorite threat which is, "we will kill you." God's raising of Jesus from the dead pulls the fangs on that threat because Jesus conquered death.

Thank you for reminding us (me) of this. There is so much that needs to be done and we (at least I) can be so overwhelmed with fear when we're called to take on some system or power.

Jeremy said...

Right on, Stephen, right on.

In some ways, taking on a system or power is easier than "smaller scale" forgiving someone that has hurt someone you really love (vs. the general love we are supposed to have for everyone, right?) or embracing someone you fear or hate (maybe with good rational reasons!)...

But that is the different sort of reality God calls us to, I think. A love that doesn't make a whole lot of sense to us...much like God's love for us (individually and collectively).