God, in the Gathering

18 02 2020


I was sure I would never fit in!  I’m easily one of the youngest people in the group, and I’m a guy.  What could I possibly learn from, or have in common, with this group of 20+ older women and the occasional 3-4 older men?

Little did I know!

I’ve been participating and leading Bible Studies for almost 40 years; but never before have I been in a Bible Study like the VIC (Ventures in Community) Bible Study in the Mount Vernon section of Alexandria, VA.

Led by retired Episcopal Priest Jonathan Bryan, and held at Good Shepherd Roman Catholic Church, this Thursday morning Bible Study is easily the most stimulating two hours of my week.  And no two hours of my week gives me more hope for the Church of Jesus Christ.  Episcopalians and Catholics, Methodists and Lutherans, Quakers and Presbyterians, all come together to read Scripture and consider new and fresh ways of thinking about God, faith, the Gospel, and Christ’s risen body in the world today.  Nothing is out of bounds.  No thought is ever put down or rejected.  And no one allows any sort of rigid, doctrinal orthodoxy, to keep us from considering the ‘new thing’ that the Spirit is doing in the Church today.

More often than not, people say what we’ve all been thinking for years, but never had the courage to say out loud . . . and certainly not in the presence of other ‘church’ people! “Perhaps the Church really has taken its understanding of original sin too far!”  “Perhaps the ‘nature’ of Jesus isn’t all that different from our nature!” “Perhaps salvation is for all people and not just a chosen few!”  “Does anything really change at baptism?”  “Is the Bible GOD’S word, or humanity’s word that has been attributed to God?”

I think I’ve come to realize that while for centuries men were busy administering the Church, women were growing the Church.  They were meeting in small groups long before there was anything known as a ‘small group movement’: studying the Bible, talking theology, and caring for one another in ways that even the most progressive men’s ministries have never been able to match.  And before this generation of women is gone, we need to listen to all they have to say.  Their wisdom is stunning, their spiritual maturity puts most of us to shame, and they are the ones who hold in their aging hands the future of the Church.

For seven years now this Bible Study has quietly, subtly, and unknowingly helped me to see that I was not alone on this journey called faith.  They have taught me that not everyone is afraid of the advances in science and theology, Biblical studies and sociology, history and ecclesiology!  In fact, women have been dealing with these issues for years, exploring their impact on the faith and considering their influence on the Church.  While we men have been trying to hold on to our authority and our pulpits, women have been asking big questions about the nature of God and faith, and they have literally BEEN, the “new thing” that God is doing among us.

The question now is when will we see it?  When will we in the larger community of faith become more aware of it?  When will we stop being afraid of it, and learn to embrace it, so that it might take us deeper in our walks with the Holy!

The Spirit is continually at work in us and among us, but too often we’re blind to her activity.  Fortunately, for me, right now, my eyes are being opened to this work because of the lives of the women who are part of my VIC Bible Study.  I am certainly grateful to Jonathan and the other men who are there, but I’m particularly grateful to the women who continue to teach me what it means to be on this constant journey called Christianity. Your voices have been silenced or ignored by the Church for a long time.  But no more!  It’s time for the rest of us to begin listening.  And when we do, watch out.  The world will ever be the same!  And that, after all, is what the Gospel is all about.






The Politics of Jesus

5 02 2020

Politics of JesusTo be clear at the outset, Jesus and the Gospel are nothing if they are not political!

When the Gospel according to Matthew tells the story of the magi’s visit to the Christ-child, Herod the Great, the Roman client king of Judah, has his fears put on display for all to see.  Rome, and the governing powers of the day, were afraid of Jesus.  Especially Herod.  Why?  Because the message of Jesus challenged Roman authority, and sought to lift up a different kind of ruler and different kind of ‘kin’dom.

And why in the Gospel according to Mark does Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, have John the Baptist killed?  Because John sought to hold the Roman politician to a higher standard.  Herod Antipas had illegally married his brother’s wife, and John was not about to avoid challenging behavior that he believed to be contrary to the ways of God – even the behavior of a Roman official.

In Luke’s version of the Gospel stories, we read about Jesus’ Palm Sunday entrance into Jerusalem, from the east, and on a donkey.  And while we don’t often hear sermons about why, most scholars agree that Jesus was not just setting himself in contrast with, but in opposition to, the Roman leaders of his day.  He did not arrive on a warhorse, nor did he enter the city through the main gate, the Damascus Gate, on the Northwestern wall of the city – the gate through which most military leaders and political dignitaries would enter when visiting from Rome.  No!  Jesus was challenging all of that.  The kindom to which Jesus was pointing embraced a politics that challenged empire; and the new world order which he came to inaugurate would make his followers citizens in the Kindom of Heaven before any tribe or nation found in this world.

And finally, at the very end of his life, the Gospel according to John reveals that it was Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, who sentenced Jesus to death.  That’s why Jesus was crucified on a cross.  That was the Roman means of execution: as opposed to stoning, which was how the Jewish people put criminals to death.  Jesus’ crime was sedition.  And the powers in Rome knew that he was a threat to their authority and way of life.  His message was about so much more than simply challenging the traditional practices of the Hebrew people.  In rejecting many of the outward religious laws involving diet, sacrifices, and personal morality, Jesus embraced a new politics – one that challenged those in power, and that lifted up those on the margins of society!

Yes!  To be sure, Jesus and the Gospel were, and remain, political.  Matthew, Mark, Luke and John all make that powerfully clear.  Herod the Great and Herod Antipas were both afraid of his message because of the ways it challenged the empire; and in the end, it was that message that led to Jesus being crucified by Rome!  It was all VERY political!

So why is the Church today so afraid of politics’?  We Americans acknowledge the importance of there being a separation between Church and State, but Church and faith are two different things.  And our faith is all about our life in the ‘polis’ – in community.  So we MUST be concerned about the treatment of immigrants and refugees.  We MUST be concerned about justice issues, and any matter that deals with a nation’s treatment of women, minority communities, or people who embrace differing belief systems.  And we most certainly must be concerned with truth, honesty, character, and integrity.

John Howard Yoder, in his 1972 book “The Politics of Jesus”, said that “Jesus gave (his followers) a new way of life to live. He gave them a new way to deal with offenders — by forgiving them. He gave them a new way to deal with violence — by suffering. He gave them a new way to deal with money — by sharing it. (And . . .) he gave them a new way to deal with a corrupt society — by building a new one . . .”

This “new order” must involve both the government, and the politics, of the day.

There is no question that partisanship in the Church must be avoided, but may we never avoid politics.  For politics is at the heart of the Gospel.  And if we don’t want to hear to hear about politics in the Church, then just know that it will be impossible to hear the Gospel either!  For the two go hand in hand.  And you can’t have one, without the other!