Wise men honor the Christ child

SERMON SCRIPTURE: Matthew 2:1-12

Jesus has friends everywhere, not only within his own tribe. Jesus’ enemies may also be found among those we would hope to be his staunchest supporters. People’s cultural, national or even religious affiliation does not dictate their opinion of Jesus nor their willingness to come to him, to honor him, and to be transformed by the experience.

Wise men from the east…

Who are these men, and why are they important to Matthew’s telling of the Gospel story? Why would they have mattered to Matthew and his community of first century believers? Why might they matter to us?

What do we know?

Everything we think we know about them beyond what is here in this text of Matthew 2:1-12 comes from later traditions. As hymns become a primary teaching element for the faith, we might consider our Christmas Carol “We Three Kings.” The gifts they bring would have highlighted the threefold ministry of Jesus as King, Priest and Sacrifice. The gold is a sign of Christ’s royalty, the frankincense a sign of priestly prayer, and the myrrh a sign of sacrifice. The carol helps us understand what the gifts represent as symbols of Jesus’ identity. As to the identity of the men themselves though, this is not from scripture. “Oriental” arises from an earlier use of that term to refer to the Near East – India and Persia – not the more common current usage of the Far East – China, Japan, Vietnam and Korea. As such, we locate them in the region around Babylon.

They were not kings in the sense of political rulers like Herod or Caesar or King David. The Greek word “magi” refers to a philosopher/astrologer/priest, such as those of Zoroastrianism which originated in Persia and was broadly known in Babylon during the time of the Jewish exile and captivity there (2Kings24; Jeremiah29). When Cyrus king of Persia conquered the Babylonian Empire, he released the Jews and helped them return to and reestablish Jerusalem (Ezra1). This experience would have further connected the Jews to an experience of the Persian religion and a high regard for these Magi.

The Magi came because they had seen a star rising, which was widely taken as a sign of the birth of a king. The star is thought by some to have likely been an asteroid, or perhaps a planet like Venus, which to the naked eye appear as a star and travel across the sky. It may also be that the Magi were exposed to the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah, and so anticipated the coming of a Messiah King to the Jews. Zoroastrianism also includes a story of a coming savior – in fact Zoroastrianism has several parallels to the Christian understanding of Jesus as the Jewish messiah/savior/king.

Who are they for Matthew and his community?

Culminating the return from captivity – For Matthew and his community, the visit of the Magi might represent the Jewish messiah being honored by the Persians who had helped reestablish Jerusalem, and thus pave the way for the Messiah generations earlier. This epiphany, or appearing, represents the culmination of that weaving of traditions. Perhaps Jesus represents the fulfillment of Zoroastrian hopes and prophecies along with those of the Hebrew bible. Jesus is, of course, the savior of the World, not only of the Jews, and not specifically through the Jews, as is evidenced by Peter and Paul’s work to confirm that Gentiles need not become Jews in order to follow the Messiah.

Blessing contrasted with cursing – The Magi are also set in contrast to the violent hatred of King Herod, himself a Jew who misunderstands what the Messiah represents for his people and for the world. It is through their hopeful inquiry that Herod is alerted to the presence of this potential rival to his family reign. Their arrival sets into motion additional fulfillments of prophecy that Matthew references – the slaughter of the innocents and the flight to Egypt (Matthew2:13-18). Thus, for Matthew and his community, the Magi are essential though secondary characters who advance the plot and fulfill the messianic hopes.

What might they mean for us today?

Nothing is simple. Even God has to take the bad with the good. – We see that bad and good are mixed, even in the living of our faith. The coming of the messiah is good, yet along with it comes suffering through responses of rejection. It seems that this is unavoidable, even as God is working out the divine will among us. The Magi come to honor the new born king, yet their arrival alerts others who would seek to destroy him. How often are we faced with choices in life that have both positive and negative outcomes, and we have to weigh the potential and likely consequences? We give people with deadly diseases treatments that also can be fatal. People have to decide, is the hoped for cure worth the risks of treatment? The coming of the Magi to visit the Messiah reveals that even in the working out of salvation history God faces such choices with mixed results. God acts to bring blessing and good, but bad things also result. This might suggest that we cannot escape such complex and ambiguous outcomes. This is not a matter of “the ends justify the means” but it may mean “the ends justify some undesired negative consequences.” I suspect we could find numerous other examples of this in scripture.

Other faiths also honor Jesus and are allies. – The visit of the Magi to the Messiah can be a model for us of an interfaith dialogue. Here we have people who are not Christians in any traditional understanding, and yet they come to Jesus, worship and serve him, and leave transformed (literally “by another way”). How might we see this as a model for engaging with people of other faith traditions? Can we convey the Good News of Jesus in such a way that people of other faiths are drawn to him, honor him, and are changed by the interaction, even if we do not see them abandon their own faith as a result? Can we accept that as something to be celebrated, as Matthew seems to do? Islam, for instance, affirms Jesus as a prophet worthy of honor. So perhaps in the Magi we see a foreshadowing of those like the Muslims who would honor Jesus, and even support kingdom work with their gifts, though they be not fully converted to traditional Christian orthodoxy.

Non-religious belief systems can also find room for Jesus. – The Magi may also represent non-religious spiritual, philosophical and scientific traditions. Many people give to Christian ministries out of their shared sympathy for the cause and respect for the way the kingdom work is conducted. They are not thereby manifesting Christian faith, per se, but are “leaning into Jesus” being drawn toward him and honoring him, not as their own king, but as a king nonetheless. If we as Christians will properly represent Jesus to the world, many will respond as the Magi did – coming to him, honoring him, and being transformed by the experience. This, Matthew suggests, is something to affirm, even if they are not fully converted. We can honor them, because they honor Jesus, even if they do not recognize all that we would about him.

Proclamation of the Gospel includes affirmation of people with diverse beliefs. – The Christianity of Matthew’s day found itself increasingly embroiled in theological and political conflicts. Tensions between Jews and Christians were rising after the destruction of the Temple by the Romans. Within Christianity there were liberals and conservatives, Gnostics and Ascetics, Judaisers and Hellenists, strict literalists and those who embraced a free and open theology. Paul’s writings are filled with his responses to such struggles, attempting to articulate a middle position between all of these – both grace and works, word and spirit. Paul even notes that he is the apostle to the gentiles, while Peter is the apostle to the Jews – ministry moving in two very different directions, among different communities with diverse cultural, national, and even religious perspectives. All of these things were still true as Matthew wrote his gospel emphasizing how Jesus was the fulfillment of promises found in the Jewish scriptures. And within that story, Matthew included this narrative of the Magi, Persian philosopher priests who were likely of the Zoroastrian religion, who came to honor Jesus and bless and serve him with their gifts.

Jesus has friends everywhere, not only within his own tribe. Jesus’ enemies may also be found among those we would hope to be his staunchest supporters. People’s cultural, national or even religious affiliation does not dictate their opinion of Jesus nor their willingness to come to him, to honor him, and to be transformed by the experience.

Even kings may come and worship the King of kings.

Evangelical Godly living

A friend of mine sent me a New Year’s greeting email letting me know he was thinking of me. That’s nice, I thought. He said that what brought me to mind was listening to an online broadcast of a very popular evangelical preacher who was talking about the importance of, and means of, living a godly life. The friend went on to offer some encouraging words for the year ahead and to muse on the past year’s transitions.

Yes, it is nice to be thought of. So, though I had some hunches, I decided to go listen to the broadcasts mentioned to see if I could determine what particularly had prompted his reflection.

I want to say at the outset that I went in knowing I’m not a fan of this particular teacher. You’ll soon learn why. And, though I disagree with him substantively, I also claim the label evangelical, though I do not mean by that word what many others mean.

The word evangelical (lower case e) comes from a Greek word meaning “related to the sharing of good news”. In common Greek, it can be used about any telling of any good news – if you just got a raise, or got engaged, or learned you are going to have a baby, then you might become evangelical about that.

From a Christian and Biblical perspective, the word relates to the good news, Good News, or Gospel, of/from/about/regarding Jesus. (Prepositions in Greek are somewhat ambiguous when being translated over into English.) The Gospel gets articulated in multiple ways in the New Testament (and often those are with allusion to the Hebrew Scriptures – First or Old Testament). In its essence, I believe, the Gospel is that in and through Jesus of Nazareth, the one called the Christ, humankind encounters God’s restoring and reconciling love. This love is described as proclaimed by Jesus (Luke 4:16-30, quoting Isaiah 61), embodied in Jesus (John 1), and accomplished through Jesus. The Christian Bible, as we have it today, is a human record of the faith experiences, blessings and struggles prompted by encountering Jesus. John 10 records Jesus saying these words, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

The Good News is a rich, full, abundant life that is revealed and accomplished in/through Jesus and received/ experienced by believing in him. An abundant life as described in Luke & Isaiah (the Hebrew word is “shalom”) means freedom from captivities, the ability to provide for one’s family and participate in the community, and the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) which is like setting an economic and social reset button – debts canceled and the lost restored. Jesus consistently named this incoming reality the Kingdom of Heaven or the Kingdom of God. It often brought a reversal of fortunes – those who were rich and powerful were brought low, and those who were poor and lowly were elevated. I think this is a vision worth giving one’s life for – it is the vision that Jesus gave his life for – the restoring and reconciling of humanity to one another and to God in creation.

Now, to be fair, our unnamed preacher was working from Paul’s writing, not the Gospels. In particular, he focused on Romans 12:1-2 – “1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Said preacher then proceeded to spend an hour talking about how the sinfulness and debauchery in our country is increasing compared to his memory of days gone by. His almost exclusive illustration of this was sexual immorality. Though he did not identify any particular incident, to my ear he was stirring the crowd in response to recent news and pop culture stories.  I don’t know this for sure, but that’s how it felt to me.

Either way, I think his viewpoint is unfortunate and in error. I am a proponent of sexual morality, and even of the church teaching people how to think about what it means to live out our sexuality in healthy, God honoring ways. That said, using the bible as our ONLY source of information and guidance is naive at best. The vast majority of marriages described in the bible were polygamous, and were understood as economic exchanges rather than a loving covenant between equals. I’m not sure that’s the foundation upon which we want to build today’s marriages or families. And I agree with him that the more crass illustrations of sexuality in our popular culture do have a negative effect on relationships – I am well aware of their impact on me as an adolescent, and we work hard to help our children live thoughtfully in this regard.

Here are my concerns, though, with his message as I heard it (not in priority order, necessarily).

1)      Misreading scripture, or more accurately misspeaking for scripture. Paul describes explicitly what he means in Romans 12:1-2, and he does not mention sexuality at all. Instead, he says this:

3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. 9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10 love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11 Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13 Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16 Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18 If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

He sounds to me like he is talking about how we live in community, in relationship with one another, and using our talents, abilities and spiritual gifts to be a blessing and work together. Paul calls us to not exalt ourselves above others, but rather to live out what the prophet Micah says in 6:88 He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

2)      Circumscribing a narrow circle of ‘truth’ around only a portion of what concerns and interests God as revealed in the Bible.  He speaks as though “a Godly and pure life” were only about sexuality and private moral failings like, “spending too much time at the bar,” which he says at one point. While healthy sexuality and avoiding destructive and addictive personal behaviors (like alcohol or other chemical additions) are important, they are by no means the only or even the primary concerns of scripture. Simply read the prophets, the Psalms, Proverbs, the Mosaic law, and the four Gospels. The primary concern is Justice. Rightousness – i.e. right-relationship-ness, is about living a humble, honest and just life in community. You can be pure as the new-fallen snow sexually and still be as wicked and corrupt and ungodly as any of the worst kings in Israel.

3)      Misremembering history – While sexuality is more public, and even aspects of it that he and I would agree are destructive to individuals and families and thus society, these things are by no means new. Men objectifying and using women is unfortunately not new, though now it seems more visible, which likely affects its impact. Promiscuity is not new, though it certainly is more acceptable to discuss openly and even admit – again, I would agree that this is a negative thing. These things being true, the world is not going to hell in a hand basket and we are not racing headlong to become Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19). We are increasingly becoming intolerant of sexual relationships that include abuses of power, whether by an abusive spouse, rape by a stranger, or sexual molestation of a child by an acquaintance. We are gaining courage in speaking about these things, shining light in dark places, and empowering victims to become survivors and thrivers.  In addition to all these gains specific to sexuality, vast improvements have been made in the areas of justice – though we arguably still have a long way to go.

4)      Conflating God and Country These two messages from our preacher sounded very much like patriotic concerns as much or more than faith concerns. I am a patriot, and I love my country. I do not believe that we are in any way God’s special nation, nor that the fortunes of the United States or US culture are to be equated with the increase or decrease of God’s “kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Our primary citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) even while we may celebrate and support our earthly nation-state. While one can love both, we are called to love God and God’s kingdom more. Confusing the two leads to dangerous loyalties that can make us blind to the justice claims of our neighbors and the love claims of our enemies (Luke 6).

5)      Using fear to motivate – Fear is a strong motivator, and a powerful rallying cry is built around US versus THEM arguments and harkening back to the good old days. The problem is that this is the same argument used by the Hebrews when they wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt rather than forward into God’s blessings. Would the journey forward be difficult? Yes. Would there be dangers and challenges? Yes. Did Moses or the prophets or Jesus use nostalgic fear as a motivator? No. Honest assessments of the future risks of the current path? Certainly. But always with hope and promise of blessing and peace.

6)      The presumption of exclusive truth – The preacher explicitly said, “They will come to us, because we have the answers.”  The implicit presumption here is, “If you disagree with us, you are wrong, because we are right about everything.” To his credit, he did earlier state, “Many things we may never fully understand…” Why then presume to say that he is right about what he thinks he does understand. Obviously, if I hold strongly to a position it is because I believe it to be true – this is logical. And yet, I can hold to my understandings in such a way that room remains for me to be humble before the truth claims and understandings of others. I heard none of this humility.

Ultimately, Godly living as witnessed to in the Christian Bible is holistic in nature. It will encompass every aspect of life. No one sermon can address all of this. However, any sermon that presumes to address “Godly living” certainly needs to clearly acknowledge the breadth and complexity inherent in the concept. Now that I think about it, perhaps my friend sent me the link because he does not know what I believe about these things – because I have failed to speak clearly and consistently when called upon to speak the truth as I understand it. Or, perhaps he does know, and is concerned for me because I hold these views. Either way, as I said, it is nice to be remembered. And I am grateful for the prompting to think critically about these issues, attempt to articulate my positions clearly, and to enter into conversation about them. I only pray that this energy and effort put forth might serve to edify and build up those who seek the shalom which God has always intended for us. God’s dream is our wholeness, and the entire biblical witness reflects this dream and human encounters with God’s efforts to work with us to bring this dream to fruition. And, finally, that along with our best and in spite of our worst, God will redeem, restore and renew us all. We will dwell together in perfect harmony with self, others, creation and God. And that, my friends, is Good News. See, I’m and evangelical after all. Who knows, I might even reclaim the big E!

The First Supper – (11042012)

7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. 14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. (Exodus 12)

Your children will ask you,
“What do you mean by this observance?’
You shall say, “It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord,
for he passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt,
when he struck down the Egyptians
but spared our houses.'”

Any foreigner residing among you who
wishes to keep the passover to the Lord
shall do so according to the statute
of the passover and according to its regulation;
you shall have one statute
for both the resident foreigner and the native.

12 On the first day of Unleavened Bread, when the Passover lamb is sacrificed, his disciples said to him, “Where do you want us to go and make the preparations for you to eat the Passover?” 13 So he sent two of his disciples, saying to them, “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the owner of the house, “The Teacher asks, Where is my guest room where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 15 He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there.” (Mark 14)

I tell you, I will never again drink
of this fruit of the vine until
that day when I drink it new
with you in my Father’s kingdom.”
go into the main streets,
and invite everyone you find
to the wedding banquet.’

They gathered all whom they found,
both good and bad; so the wedding
hall was filled with guests.

Jesus’ last supper
Our first
He says good bye
We say hello

His ending
Our beginning
His consummation
Our initiation

The Passover Meal
The Eucharist
The Paschal Lamb
Is the center of the Kingdom feast

We receive Him
Until he receives us
His death
Our life

Today, here, at this table
We enter into God’s glory
He promised to be with us

This is no last supper
This is the First Supper
This is our welcome
This is our entrance

This is God’s great hospitality
And on that day the King will say
“Well done, good and faithful servant.
Enter into the joy of your master.”

Our Vision as Disciples of Christ

Our Vision as Disciples of Christ:
To be a faithful, growing church,
that demonstrates true community,
deep Christian spirituality,
and a passion for justice.

“Learning to see the kingdom in the church with God’s eyes.”

Vision is about what we see as we look into the distance, out onto the horizon of our faith and future. The weather report often includes “visibility = 7 miles” which is really about how far pilots can hope to see while still below the clouds. How clear is the view? Can you glimpse the shining city of God in the far distance, or only the middle and near geography? Vision is less about what we are, than what we aspire to be – a snapshot, a “future story.” Its like asking the questions, “What do we want to be when we grow up?” only the focus is on God’s will and desire for us – we want to be whatever God has created, called, and charismed us to be.

At the beginning of the restoration movement which birthed the Disciples of Christ was a vision for unity of the Body of Christ – a vision born from reading and praying through the scriptures and hearing the call of God in the words of John 17 and Ephesians 4. Seeking this unity, Thomas and Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone joined with other reformers of the church in quoting: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” The question remained, of course, “What are the essentials?” They practically concluded that the most practical answer was the narrowest, focusing on the simple profession of Jesus as the Christ to be the cornerstone of shared Christian faith. Agreeing that there certainly must be more to say, however, these early reformers proceeded to emphasize a focus on a scholarly study of the scriptures, believing that if faithful people would study the New Testament, they could come to agreement on its meaning. This proved to be naïve.

The early divisions in the movement were over church practice and structure, specifically whether to organize for mission and whether to use musical instruments in worship – as neither of these are specifically prescribed in the New Testament. One group sought to do only that which is commanded or expressly permitted, while the other believed faithful practice included avoiding those things expressly prohibited, and using reason to discern those things neither commanded nor prohibited. These groups began with the same vision, and took the same approach toward it, but ended up with very different conclusions on how to live out their faith. Only since the 1990s are these two streams of tradition coming back together for dialogue and growing in mutual appreciation.

While we as Disciples of Christ continue to aspire to the vision of Christian Unity, we also have an increasingly focused vision through which to pursue that calling:

true community,
deep Christian spirituality, and
a passion for justice.

True Community: The biblical witness to God’s work in the world focuses on the formation of a people set apart. Beginning with the call of Abraham and Sarah (GN 12) this peculiar people (1 PTR 2:9) understood their role as receiving blessings so as to be a blessing to the world. They grew to understand that this was not a gift and calling given to each individual, but a shared ministry and mission given to the community. Only as we grow to be “true community” are we able to fulfill our mission – “to be and to share the good news of Jesus Christ, witnessing, loving and serving, from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth.” Jesus said that the way we love each other will be a direct witness to the world of Jesus’ active presence in our lives (JN 13). Paul talks at length about serving one another (1 PTR 4:10), honoring one another (RM 12), bearing with one another (COL 3), submitting to one another (EPH 5-6) out of love for Christ and each other. I think these virtues are particularly difficult to practice in cultures that are so individualistic and highly valuing of privacy and autonomy. We do not want other people in our affairs, and frankly would just assume stay out of theirs in the particular, even if we like to prescribe rules for others generally. The precondition for the specific submission of any one person to another is the shared commitment to practice mutual submission (EPH 5:21). Jesus models this submission for us in the incarnation itself, submitting his divinity to our humanity (PHL 2) and by the Master coming as a servant (LK 22). This service is foundational for our shared life as the Body of Christ (1 COR 12) as exemplified in the Last Supper when he washed the disciples’ feet (JN 13).

Deep Christian Spirituality: Many of teachings found in Exodus through Deuteronomy focus on how people are to treat their neighbors (LEV 19). Still others focused on how the people were to relate to God – i.e. to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and strength” (DEUT 6). Israel was given religious rituals, worship forms, acts of sacrifice, and prayers to shape their practice. Most of the Christian community has assumed that the specifics of those laws are left behind under the new covenant, though their spirit remains. The New Testament only has a very few specific mentions – such as the end of keeping a kosher diet (MK 7; ACTS 10), and the removal of the need for sin sacrifice with the death of Jesus (HEB 10). Many other spiritual practices are left for us to discern – prayer, fasting, study, singing, offerings of first fruits, tithe, devotion and vow. Jesus teaches on some of these, for instance in MTW 6 and LK 11. A deep Christian spirituality follows the example and teaching of Jesus, and is consistent with the spirit of the practices of Israel and the early church, even if it is not identical. Jesus regularly went to worship with others (LK 4) and regularly took time by himself to be with The Father in prayer (MK 1, 6). There is room for much variety of opinion regarding how we are to practice these spiritual disciplines. What is without doubt is that we are to take this aspect of our lives seriously and that our practice is to be both individual and communal.

A Passion for Justice: The bible recognizes a difference between helping those in need and doing justice. Both are called for. LEV 19 focuses on both by legislating that the fields must not be picked clean so that the poor have some access to gather food, and that business practices must be fair and impartial, not oppressing one group or favoring another. Economic practices that oppress the poor and favor the rich were apparently so common that these themes are repeated in DEUT 25, PROV 20, MIC 6, The two main sins of the Israelites, were idolatry, and oppressing the poor (2 Kings 21 & ZECH 7). In ISA 58 we hear the people complain that God does not honor their prayer, fasting and worship. The prophet names their sins of idolatry and oppression as hindering them from receiving God’s blessings – “9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.”

Though the church seems to have been unable or unwilling to maintain the practices with the same intensity, the descriptions offered by Luke at the end of Acts 2 and 4 are often held up as models of how the church should look, of a vision of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. Luke said this:

ACTS 2: 42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

ACTS 4: 32 Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. 33 With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. 35 They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

We might ask ourselves why the church has not maintained this way. Whether we are meant to live our shared faith in quite that way, we certainly are called to be a peculiar people set apart through our faith in Jesus Christ to offer the world a new way to live in covenant love with self, God and one another. As we seek to grow to maturity in Christ, we will

become true community,
practice deep Christian spirituality,
and live our a passion for justice.

Gilkes’ need to find a place for the four loves

In perusing FB today I came across a post by an acquaintance who has one Anglo parent and one Indian parent. She speaks and writes about the experience of being bi-racial. Her post comments on a blog post by A Breeze Harper  On Buddhist Sanghas, Divesting in Post-racial Whiteness, and Nina Simone. Harper describes…  “what Katherine McKittrick refers to as a black female socio-spatial epistemology. See her book Demonic Grounds and she will break down how we develop our knowledge-base (epistemology) through our embodied experiences in racialized-sexualized spaces in the USA.” Later she asks: After spending the whole day there, I realized how ridiculous it is that I have spent so much time in largely white dominated spaces in which I physically and emotionally exhaust myself trying to explain what “racism is”, how “whiteness operates”, and that, “No, I’m not making this sh*t up in the head.” I have been depriving myself from these types of healing space my nearly entire life. At the end of the day of that retreat, I really asked myself, “What would happen if I stopped participating in certain spaces in which I can never just be ‘me’? What would happened if I shifted and just focused on spaces like the ones today?”

I was struck by how this connected with my experience reading Cheryl Townsend Gilkes’ “The ‘Loves’ and ‘Troubles’ of African-American Women’s Bodies (p81). Gilkes makes liberal use of Alice Walkers advocacy of the “four loves” as “ethical positions associated with a good womanist.” (89) These loves have to do with affirmations of self, embodied experience, and overcoming racial/sexual violence and the external valuing according to white essentialist norms. What Jha and Harper describe is the exhaustion they feel when trying to explain white privilege and the experience of being “colored” (to borrow the term Mary Church Terrell advocates) and the freedom found in a place where one does not need to explain or advocate for self. Yet Gilkes suggests that African-American women in particular often have to justify their existence and work even in their own community partly because of this very diversity in skin color, hair and body type. Given these tensions, how do we work together to create safe space, and what if any role does a middle class straight white male play in that formation? How can I use, sublimate, or relinquish my privileges for the sake of this formation? Can we all embrace the four loves or are they the explicit gift of the Womanists?