A Christmas Day message not delivered

Christmas Day 2016

They couldn’t believe what they were seeing! A giant roadside billboard of Luke’s version of the nativity scene. For some it was shocking and troubling. It looked nothing at all like their beautiful nativity most imagined. The sign painter had painted a simple cardboard shack with a contemporary Joseph and Mary who looked very much like the street people who lived in the park a few blocks from the church.

Baby Jesus was wrapped in rags and lying in a tattered disposable diaper box. There were no shepherds or wise men, no angels with gold-tipped wings. There was only a bag lady and a cop who had come by on his horse. They were both kneeling in front of the diaper box, and the babe appeared to be smiling at them.

And underneath the picture were painted the words:

This will be a sign for you:
you will find a child wrapped
in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

How do you think you would react to such a sign? Surprised? Disappointed? Cautiously approving? I know my first reaction would definitely be one of surprise. Shock, perhaps.

Our nativity scenes are the picture of serenity, not poverty. I normally don’t think of homeless, poor people today as those closest to Mary and Joseph’s situation that night — even though that’s likely the truth.

Jesus promises to come be with us today through this Holy Supper we are about to share. He comes to feed us this Christmas Day, so that every day he might be present with us, guiding us with his Holy Spirit, which some might name the Christmas Spirit: the spirit of giving; the spirit of holding every human life as worth the same, as worth saving.

He came that first Christmas as a vulnerable, poor, and homeless child that we might learn to hear him say to us this Christmas Day,

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Fidelity that matters for a world in pain

Parties in a relationship – God, self, and the neighbor which includes the planet – flourish in fidelity that is recognized by these marks:

1. Fidelity requires face-to-face address that sounds like oath-taking and uses direct speech as the medium to communicate.

2. Fidelity entails making and keeping promises, and requires commitments of reliability into unforeseen futures.

3. Fidelity pertains to the common good, a prospect that pertains to all parties, where the common good exists under the banner of shalom.

4. The common good is experienced in bodily shalom, never tilting toward simply “spiritual”, and always concerned with the political, social, bodily well being of all the members of the body politic.

5. Fidelity is grounded in unmocked holiness that checks profanation, for this is the God before whom shoes are taken off, and where profanation is most fully understood in Ezekiel 16:49-50: This is the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughter had pride, excess food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did abominable things before me.

*Adapted from God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good by Walter Brueggemann.

Even the Crocus

Isaiah the prophetic imaginer (Did you notice how I said that?) offers a poem to express the world he sees coming:

The desert and the parched land will be glad;

   the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.

Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;

   it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy. (Isaiah 35:1-2)

The crocus; the very crocus. Think about that – how the poet, Isaiah, the prophetic imaginer, really means everything, everyone will burst into bloom, which seems like an apt description of a vital faith – one just bursting into bloom. That’s what I’m going to start telling people when someone asks me what First Christian Church is like. I’m going to tell them, “This church is just bursting into bloom.”

We have yet to see the how beautiful this faith can be.

Retributive Justice is Stoopid.

There is a thing called justice.

Being Open has led me to grow clear on something inside of me. Part of what became clear was that the thing inside of me was there all along. It makes sense because I am a creation of God, the offspring of a very loving Parent. A loving Parent.

The thing that was there inside of me all along is that God has no commitment to or interest in retributive justice. I imagine God thinks retributive justice is boring. Retributive justice is plain and simple: You mess up, God gets the rod; You straighten up, God embraces, while keeping a close watch on you; Ready with the rod when you mess up again. God has no commitment to or interest in retributive justice. I think it’s stoopid.

That’s not to say, You mess up enough times, there’s no consequences. As we tell our children, “Look, you don’t study, you just can’t expect high marks on Gradespeed.” When I taught humanities at Milligan College, I told my students something. Here they were first year, right out of high school, away from home for the first time, some of them palpably scared to death. (It was my first time teaching on a college level; I was way more scared than they were … but I didn’t tell them that.) I can remember the moment in the beginning of my first class when I saw that fear on half their faces. And I told them, “Look, this is all built for you to succeed. Show up for class. Read your material. Participate in the discussions. Ask questions. It’s all built for you to succeed.” But we all know what’s on the other side of that, don’t we? You don’t participate in class, or read the material, or just show up, you’re going to fail. This can’t be all one way. You’d never learn anything. But, Jeez!, that’s a far, far distance from retributive justice that puts the rod in the hand of God, a loving Parent!

What was inside of me that was there all along is distributive justice. Distributive justice is just as plain and simple as retributive, just way more interesting. I imagine God thinks distributive justice is pretty cool. Distributive justice is simply the freely chosen desire to distribute resources so that all people, all living creatures have what they need. Read that again, and think globally.

One of the distinctive marks of the early church described in Acts is captured in chapter four. Take this one slowly:

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. [I bet they did!] And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all [I bet it was!] that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. (Acts 4:32-35)

This is really amazing, when you give it some thought. It’d be amazing for a person to sell property and give it away. That’s pretty amazing, in and of itself. But what is really, really amazing – as in awe-inspiring – would be a person who sold a piece of property and gave it to the church to distribute. I mean think about that for a moment. That says a lot about the church described in Acts. Can you imagine the level of trust and deep relationship required for someone to turn over a bunch of proceeds to the church, a church who must have also been in deep communion together with God and the Spirit. That’s a community I’d be a part of.

That’s anything but boring!