Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Church's Struggle for a Story

This Sunday is the day where the Church (capital 'C') all over the world is going to celebrate the Ascension of our Lord into the heavenly realm. The church has celebrated this occasion for almost two millenia. Unfortunately, I think the American church is going to miss it.

And in missing it, they're really going to miss it.

This year I refrained from my usual Patriotism rant. My rant about patriotism taking over the church. My rant about how I think the church is almost idolatrous with the flag and glorifies violence when Jesus specifically lived and taught a counter-example. I refrained from it because (1) it is such a hot button issue in the church that I have destroyed relationships over it. This is an atrocity to which I pray for restoration, and (2) I feel there is something much bigger at stake.

Patriotism is just a symptom. We, as humans, long for significance and meaning. We long for a story that defines us, that brings meaning to our actions. We desire a story that dispels meaninglessness and solitude. We long for something that we can hold on to, to tell us that is ok to be... us, just as we are.

Unfortunately the church needs the same thing. We need identity.

God is great at shaping identity. The Old Covenant is filled with stories about God setting up feasts and holy-days and rests and fasts. God made a calendar around his saving actions to help us remember and to create us as a testimony through our identity.

I learned about the word 'remember' from a wise man and mentor. We have lost the cultural significance of the word re-member. The Jews definitely have a better understanding of it. They read the history of their people as if they were there. "Then God parted the Red Sea for us..." and so on. They re - member, they piece it back together. A human body can be dismembered. We do the opposite when we re-member. We restore the ideas, the events, and apply them to our lives, because it is the same God and we are his people. Thanksgiving is probably the closest thing we have to this, gathering like the pilgrims for a feast of Thankfulness, though still not exactly.

We have lost our ability to remember. We are losing our identity as God's people. We are scrambling for a life story, for a cultural story. And I am afraid that the church is filling it with patriotism. Patriotism is safe in the world's eyes. Every one wants to be seen as patriotic. No one wants to be accused of being unpatriotic. Patriotism and Memorial day and Veteran's day and the Fourth of July and the Flag all have great significance. Their meaning is huge and their sacredness is almost palpable.

I am not a super-patriot. I don't get worked up over National things, but one time I had to put some flags up around the church for Memorial Day. You should have seen me fumbling to not let the flag touch the ground. I didn't know if I was allowed to touch it with my hands. When it was time to take it down, I didn't know how to fold them. I had to research flag rules on the net. I was a wreck. This thing has great significance. The problem for me was that a month earlier, I had to put up some crosses for Good Friday and Easter and I didn't have near the meltdown or even handle them with near the respect. I had a lot of soul searching to do about why I do the things I do. Why I am not worried about standing to worship but stand every time, without thought, for the national anthem?

Patriotism is the second best substitute for our story. It has tons of meaning. It has tons of sacredness. It is a noble thing. But it is not our story.

Our story is not about a military who goes in guns-a-blazing and wins by might. Our story is about a King who sacrificed incomprehensible riches to take on the flesh of man forever, to win the war that wages in this world and in our souls by sacrificing his life on the cross. Our story is not about a military who loses some good men and women along the way to victory and calls them heroes. Our story is about a King who purposely lays down his life, not as a casualty, but victoriously. Our story is not about an empire who desires to see all its enemies crushed, but about a Kingdom who desires to see all its enemies loved.

Our story is about a King who rises from the grave and ascends to Heaven in bodily form to sit at the right hand of God. The Ascension has great meaning for us:

Jesus' physical departure means that God can come live in us, all of us.
  • "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father...'" (John 14).
    • Through Jesus' leaving we get the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that we are to rejoice at his departure because God now dwells in us.
Jesus uses the Ascension as his crowning proof of his divinity on trial for his life...
  • "The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you, from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
    Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’" (Matthew 26)
Jesus' ascension means assurance in a reconciled relationship with God...
  • "For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!" (Romans 5).
Jesus watches over us and guide's us as we spread his light and love and welcomes us home in times of peril...
  •  "When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him... While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep." (Acts 7).
Jesus is now in charge of EVERYTHING, there is no greater authority for us, then or now...
  • "God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1).
Jesus is the go between for us and God, he is the one who guards the New Covenant of Grace...
  • This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all
    —this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying)..." (1 Timothy 2).
  • "But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises" (Hebrews 8).
Jesus' ascension is vitally important. It is the hope to which we were called, and validates our life story. It defines us and gives us the boldness and courage to live the adventure we have been called to in his Kingdom. Patriotism, of any country, pales in comparison to the salvific work of our Lord.

Until we define ourselves by God, his Kingdom and his work, we will always substitute something that is second best and miss what God has called us to. We need to look at God's calendar. We need to reorient our life so that our heroes are the ones who sacrificed for His Kingdom; our examples are the ones who made it their goal to look like Jesus.

What is your story? What defines you? What tradition or history gives your life boundaries and meaning? Is it one that is wrapped up too much in the things of this world or is it one that will not spoil, rot or fade?

In two weeks we should all celebrate Pentecost. Do some research as to why it is important. Incorporate a little of the significance into your worship tradition and/or sabbath. Decorate your house accordingly, even if it is a candle at dinner.

Blessings on this journey!

3 comments:

  1. Wow, this was a great article and really got me thinking. There was so much in it that spoke to me I printed it up so that I can go over it more thoroughly, pray about it and journal. I will let you know how it goes.

    I too have lost relationships over patriotism. I have struggled with how to fit patriotism into my life with Christ. I am truly surprised at how important patriotism is in the Church and I struggle as a parent with how to go about incorporating it into my children's lives. They are faced with issues regarding patriotism more than I am and I want them to have a healthy view of it. I struggle with American exceptionalism and seeing the world through Jesus' eyes. I want my children to see everyone through the eyes of Jesus and the best way for me to give them that viewpoint is to look at the world that way myself. It has been an incredibly humbling way to see people and I have been truly honored and blessed by the people He has brought to me. I am thankful for the ability to see past another person's nationality and see the person that Jesus loves and holds so dear.

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  2. Great post. I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who struggles with American patriotism. I'm re-posting this on my Facebook feed :)

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  3. @Terri-Anne - Thanks so much... I have heard bits of your testimony about this subject and I really appreciate the example you are providing and especially through the sacrifices your making...

    @Freemethodistfeminist - I am pumped you love this since your blog is like one of my all time favorites. Blessings!

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