Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Suiting Up In The Battle For Shalom

One of the passages that I'm using this week is Ephesians 6:10-17.  When I was growing up (many, many years ago) this was a very popular passage of scripture.  More recently it has fallen out of favor.  I suppose it is because it lends itself to a militant view of Christianity that does not match our sense that we are called to peace making and the creation of Shalom.  And I can understand that; really I can.  Especially when those of us in America remember that we are the new Empire.

I also imagine that many of Paul's hearers (since most of them couldn't read and had Paul's letters read to them in the various house church and worshiping bodies in which they gathered) weren't too keen on his use of a metaphor that reminded them of their Roman oppressors.  Perhaps that was part of the point; to shock folks into paying attention.  Jesus did this all the time.  Maybe the meaning (and I am only projecting my own thoughts here) would translate to something like this:

You have a job to do.  We are at war with powers that seek to deliver death and fear and oppression.  But we have been given the tools to fight this war.  Look at the Roman soldier.  Think about how effective he is in mortal combat.  You and I are called to be just as effective in the combat in which we are engaged.  Look at what you have.  Salvation, truth, justice (righteousness), the word of God which is in Torah and the prophets, and the Good News of God's shalom (peace) which we are called to prepare. This is your armor.  Claim it, use it.

Maybe it's time that we reclaim this passage.  Not as excuse for aggression, but as a reminder that we are not sent into the fight unarmed or unprotected.  And we will need all the help we can get.  Bigotry, hatred, oppression, financial exploitation.....principalities and spiritual wickedness in high places....these are our enemy.

Perhaps we need to find a new metaphor.  There is nothing sacred about this one.  But let's not, in the process, lose track of the reality that we're in a fight.  The reign of peace and justice that is God's Shalom will not just waft it's way in on the breeze like some kind of spiritual aroma therapy.  We will need to stand up and risk and fight. 

You may be asking why I sound so abrasive.  Perhaps it is to get my own, and your, attention that the time for standing by is quickly coming to an end.  Maybe it comes to an end every day. Or in every generation.  But the political rhetoric, and the accompanying realities of both our own country and the global situation: refugees, politicians who say (in essence), "I'm, a businessman, of course I want to make money off of people becoming homeless," and ethnic/religious hatred make me think we need to stop and think.  Maybe as Christians it's time to suit up and quit leaving it to the "Red Letter" folks (who I love) and the "radicals" and realize that this battle is one we all have to fight.

Friday, May 13, 2016

When Many Languages Are Better Than One

This Sunday is Pentecost.  I find that particularly exciting because it speaks of new beginnings and new challenges.  Pentecost marks the beginning of the Church and the move outward from being just a sect of the Jewish faith to a Way that would welcome everyone.  It won't be long before Phillip is sharing the Good News with an Ethiopian eunuch who would not have been barred from the Temple because of his physical condition even if he had converted; and Peter will initiate the welcome of Gentiles into the Church saying that he would not stand in the way of the Holy Spirit.

This is incredible stuff!  Sometimes, those of us who have grown up in the Church hearing these stories miss just how incredible it is.

But I'm also taken with the OT passage that I'm using this week.  It is Genesis 11:1-9.  This is the story of the "Tower of Babel."  In it we're told that all the earth spoke one language.  This was, obviously, very effective for getting things done.  It enabled the people in the story to begin building this incredible tower (probably as ziggurat) and "make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth."

Above is a picture of one of these Mesopotamian temple towers.  You can see how the people could feel that by building one that "reached into the heavens" they would make their culture and their city permanent.  They would never be scattered.  They would be "a great nation, a really great nation" to paraphrase a contemporary politician.

Having one language is good for technical stuff, building and such.  But their is no nuance.  There is no room for difference of meaning.  One language is a structure for control.  It is a tool of domination.

How often have we seen and heard theologians and politicians insisting that we "speak only one language."  They tell us that there is only one way to read the Constitution.  Only one way to read the Bible (which in my mind is an even worse declaration).  And, of course, they have the right way.

When God says, "nothing will be impossible for them" before confusing their language, is it possible that what God is talking about is not accomplishments to rival Gods (after all, God made the galaxies and the Milky Way); but that God was referring to their claiming a right to dominance that no human being has a right to in God's good creation?

Then along comes Pentecost.  With all it's fear and confusion and remarkable sharing of the Gospel in so many languages.  And every language has it's own nuances for hearing this Good News.  I remember reading once that the Eskimo language has some incredible number of words for the English word "snow."  Spread that out across all the earth for words like "God," "savior," "redeemed."  And just as the Eskimo language would have something to teach us about the many facets of "snow," each of these languages has something to teach us about the endless facets of faith and life in Christ.

On Pentecost the Great Wind of the Holy Spirit blew the doors off of the room where the disciples were hiding and shoved them out into the world to tell the Good News of God's love for everyone in Jesus the Messiah.  They were freed from being trapped in one language.  God, through the Spirit, was loose in all the world just as the Power of God had been loose in the local world of Galilee through Jesus.

Perhaps part of the call and invitation of Pentecost is to not get trapped in one "language," but to be thrust into a world of incredible variety and nuance; all part of God's good creation.  A world in which ways of seeing, believing, sharing, and being people of faith in Jesus are as varied as the languages of the earth or the flowers that bloom around our world.