You are probably not surprised to hear that I am a disciple of Jesus Christ and have been for some time now, but I am very uncomfortable talking about “the blood of his cross” which is language used in this focus text from Colossians for today. Blood sacrifice of Jesus is a very important part of some Christians’ faith and so be it. Sacrifice as “a thing” has a long history in religion. The focus of faith for me is more on the Resurrection however. I naturally gravitate to the cross with flowers all over it on Easter morning and the pictures of a baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by his parents, the ox, the lamb and the lowly shepherds during Advent to Epiphany. So, I guess you could call me a middle of the road kind of Christian. How about you? It’s clear from the Gospel that the man Jesus was terribly persecuted and crucified for political and religious reasons. We all know how political churches can be and it wasn’t any different in Jesus’ time. Jesus was human and therefore subject to all the creaturely needs we all have, which isn’t to say he wasn’t divine! Divinity is the great mystery of our faith and the only way to find out the truth of it is when we pass through the white light tunnel of heaven. I don’t need to know the truth of everything in order to have an active faith in God, but I choose to have it through my understanding of the Bible and that’s stuck to me all my life. In spite of my natural human tendencies to question authority, I find I need my faith in God and in the miraculous power of Christ’s healing presence more now than ever. Since the election last week and the chaos that has ensued, I am groping in the dark, looking for answers from smart people, from my faith foundations and from God through Jesus the Christ. We are told in the text today “11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.” That’s so nice. Personally, I might swap in the noun “Creator” rather than “Father” in order to take the gender bias out of it, but in the end it is THE Creator we are thanking, so I’m good with it. Not only are we made but we are made strong by the power of our Creator! Things in this world can really be dreadful but if endured, we are told, we will share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. My theological understanding is that the light is the presence of the Creator whom many have described as a great white beam of shining radiance. There is one problem with this - my enduring suffering is minimal when held up against the suffering of a child orphaned in war-torn Syria or the pain of a parent who has lost family and home in an earthquake and hurricane in Haiti, or the ostracism felt by a person who is transgender raised in a Fundamentalist Christian home. Why those cruel inequities exist I don’t know, but that is where the practice of faith that really means something comes in.
One of the truths in Christianity is there are many different views on the same theme. Having been raised in not one but two Trinitarian traditions, I am perfectly comfortable with the Creator, Son and Holy Spirit concept as being aspects of one God but I know other people of deep faith who do not buy in to that, at all. Some Christians feel we are scripture bound to be pacifists. Others feel we should defend the borders of our country, claiming it to be “under God” even unto to the incarceration of God’s own people. Some Christians believe a pregnancy should never be terminated because all life is sacred, yet feel Capital Punishment is acceptable. Other Christians believe the health and welfare of an adult carrying a pregnancy should take precedence and some question whether that is a governmental issue at all. There are so many examples of how different people, who consider themselves faithful, think and feel about these issues and who come at it from diverse perspectives. The existential question is can we, nevertheless love one another as Jesus asked us as disciples to do.
One of my favorite clergy friends is a Conservative Rabbi named Aviva Fellman with whom I serve on a group called Worcester Interfaith. I doubt Aviva is more than 30 years old yet her faith is honed and true. The other day she surprised me by posting a declaration that though she is a devout Conservative Jew, if Muslims in our community were ever required by the government to register as Muslims, she would be the first in line, declaring herself an adherent of Islam. Imagine that? Aviva feels strongly it is intrinsic to her faith to stand up for those who are oppressed and persecuted. Jesus would surely approve. We Christians do not have a corner on the market of compassion or doing good.
This coming Sunday is known by some as “Reign of Christ” Sunday. It engenders an understanding of Christ come to earth as a King and that concept is unsettling. We don’t really like Kings here in America. Or do we? Sometimes it seems like money is the King. The more wealth you have the more power you have and almost all of us have been trained to revere those who have it and to pity those who don’t. So, I try not to get hung up on the image of Jesus or God as a King. I would rather envision God, through Jesus Christ, as reigning over my heart, as corny as that may sound. I like to think of Jesus as giving me the tools to know the experience of compassion or empathy, which is rarely easy. Mother Teresa, Saint of Calcutta I’m not! Just a middle class white woman practicing faith in a so-called mainstream Church, a term with diminishing legs. Faith makes me fully aware that I can be out of touch with the needs of others. I’m in a privilege bubble that only Faith can pop me out of. The Old Testament scripture from Jeremiah in the lectionary today also extols the King language we are focusing on, saying; 5The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.” Kings and Judges, Rulers and warring kingdoms were all those folks knew. They did not know about Liberty, Freedom and the Pursuit of Happiness. And so the scripture writers teach us not only about God, but about the society in which they lived and the governing authorities under which they were oppressed. My prayer for today? That we be in a better place than our religious ancestors and refuse the absolute power of monarchy or dictatorship. When there is a clear imbalance of power and resources, suffering increases. Let us rather, as Christians, emulate Jesus’ reign of love, reign of compassion and reverence for the worth of all of God’s people. Now that would be a meaningful kingdom in which to operate, finding strength to do so in the example of Christ.
I am part of an online ministry called “We Stand with Love” which sends out a daily devotional. The other day the wisdom sent from this ministry, was from Dr. Elisabeth Vasko in her book Beyond Apathy: A theology for Bystanders. In it she says; “to be Christian is to take sides with those who are marginalized, dehumanized, subject to violence. Whether we like it or not, neutrality isn’t an option. In the face of violent activity, to hide behind the mirror of ignorance is to take sides with the powers that be.” It’s going to be ever more challenging to be Christian in the days to come. I hope however, you will continue to choose Christ over the chaos. I’m available if you need a friend on that journey. Amen.