Tag Archives: transformation

Not the Jesus we are used to…

Luke 12:49-56

Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! (Read the whole passage)

This is not the Jesus we are used to hearing.

Where did the nice Jesus go who said “Blessed are the poor” or “You are healed, your faith has made you well.”

Jesus is saying some tough things today. “I came to bring fire to earth” “What stress I am under?” “Households will be divided” “You hypocrites!” “Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth?”

These kinds of things are not what our usual Jesus would be saying, they sound much more like the kinds of things a movie villain might say and then laugh manically. For us Jesus is more of a Good Shepherd, gently herding sheep, or a kind teacher welcoming children, or a caregiver who tends to us when we are sick. We generally have a very gentle and soft perception of Jesus the Christ.

And so when we hear Jesus speaking in these confrontational terms, it doesn’t jive for us. Especially as church people, we work hard to make churches places where we show only our best. We like to think that God makes life easier and that Jesus is doing the opposite of what he talks about today. We prefer the Jesus who puts out fires, who relieves stress, who unites broken families, who congratulates us for our faithfulness, who brings us peace. It is very uncomfortable to imagine a Jesus who is causing trouble.

The Jesus who is confronting us with fire and with our own hypocrisy, and the Jesus who creates conflict in families, is very uncomfortable for us. We have become good at pushing the negative away. We are good at avoiding uncomfortable topics of conversation. We are adept at presenting put together personas to the outside world, even when we are a mess on the inside. We are afraid to show weakness, suffering, imperfection or flaw to others.

Even as the struggles of world are shown to us on online newsfeeds and 24 hour new channels, our society has become masterful at performing outrage and shock just long enough before going back to pretending that everything is okay. We so good at going back to business as usual we hardly need Jesus to bring us peace.

Yet to the crowds listening to Jesus speak, and to the first readers of Luke’s gospel, there was no pretending that their worlds were not unfair, broken, suffering places. They were living under foreign occupation, the brutal Roman Empire. Their own authorities made sure that everyone knew they place. Most people were poor. Women and children were considered property of men, and were excluded from public life. Most people worked long hours, and only could provide for themselves one day at a time. Most people could not access to the temple, therefore could not access God. Most had little chance of changing their circumstances.

For the crowds listening to Jesus speak, peace was not a simple matter. It wasn’t just an end to war, or a new political party in power, or a little more giving to charity. It couldn’t be solved in therapy or with medication. Peace wasn’t just a little change away.

For there to be true peace, there would be need of serious change. The world would have to be changed. Society would have to be changed. The rules would have to be change. And that kind of change causes conflict. That kind of change often ends in cities burning, families being broken apart, and a revolution that is much bigger than a change in weather. It is the kind of unrest that we are witnessing in Hong Kong this week, curfews and media blacks outs in Kashmir, in mass shooting after mass shooting, in high school students striking for climate change, in families being locked up in cages at borders all amidst political leaders who seem unable and unwilling to work for lasting change.

In fact, taken all together, the division and conflict that Jesus describes is already upon us.

And for the crowds hearing Jesus speak, the promise of radical change in their very chaotic world probably didn’t sound so bad. Their world, as it was, couldn’t really get much worse.

Yet, as we hear Jesus speak, the dramatic change and conflict that Jesus describes, confronts our carefully crafted ways of hiding our problems. Jesus isn’t making these things happen, but simply uncovering what already exists. We know that our world is far from perfect, and is full of big problems, and lots of suffering. But we don’t know how to deal with it, other than to pretend it isn’t really there.

And that is precisely what Jesus is getting at today. Underneath the drama of a burning world and broken families, is the promise that God is transforming it all. God is transforming us. And God’s transformation looks like nothing we could ever imagine.

God’s world changing activities are rooted in the baptism that Christ is baptized with. Unlike the crowds, we know the end of Jesus story. We know where Christ is headed. We know that God’s work of transforming creation begins in a manger, and leads to a cross. We know that Christ’s baptism, means death and resurrection. For Jesus, death at the hands of Romans, religious authorities and an angry mob. For us it is drowning baptism, all our flaws and sins exposed. Being identified as broken, suffering sinners, destined to die.

But this Baptism is also an empty tomb on the 3rd day. It is rising to new life out of the murky, churning waters. It is Body of Christ that meets us in bread and wine, and in our brothers and sister in faith. This Baptism is showing our true selves to one another and discovering that we are made children of God.

Yes, Jesus words are unexpected and uncomfortable today. But they point us to the difficult work of transformation. Jesus points us to God’s work being done here and now. To our transformation from sinner to saved, from unforgiven to loved. Jesus is pointing us to the end of the story. To the end where Christ walks out of the tomb, and meets us in cleansing healing waters, meets in life giving bread and wine, meets us in the honest and exposed body of Christ, where we practice confessing all the things usually hidden from the world.

No, Jesus has not come to bring us peace. And deep down we know that our world doesn’t need peace but change. We know it every time we read or watch or hear the news, every time we have to spend more than five minutes in community. We know that before there can be peace in our homes and families, in our neighbourhoods and communities, in our churches and congregations, that there will first need to be radical change and transformation.

Peace without change would be too easy, and nor would it deal with our problems. Instead, Jesus comes to uncover us and see who we truly are.

But Jesus is also revealing something else. Someone else.

Jesus also uncovers God. The God of life. The God of resurrection and new life. The God who can turn nothing into something, who can transform sinners into saints, who can right all the troubles and struggles and suffering of the world… who can transform death into life.

Jesus show us this uncovered God who is transforming us and the world, right before our eyes.

And no, it is not the Jesus we are used to… but this is the God that we need.

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What President Trump could mean for Mainline Christianity

Since that fateful early morning announcement on 11/9 that Donald Trump had been elected president, I have felt like we have been living in the opening scenes of one of those movies. You know, the ones where oblivious and unassuming people are living in a world that is about to be completely changed for the worse, but no one believes it. You know, a disaster movie.

And in the days since the election, news continues flooding out with so many scandals relating to the Trump transition (he isn’t even in office yet) it is hard to know what to focus on, from Trump’s White Supremacist Chief Strategist, to an unhinged National Security Advisor, to global uncertainty, to Obama having to deal with a flood of concerned world leaders, to Trump’s ties to Russian interference in the election, to Trump’s insane list of conflicts of interests, to Trump’s inexcusable treatment of the press, to even suggestions of vote rigging (he did say it was rigged!). And let’s not forget his pre-election scandals like the misogynist Trump Tapes and Trump University law suits.

It is surreal to say the least.

With this hurricane of insanity around us, I keep coming back to the question of what this means for the church, specifically for mainline Christianity. For the portion of Evangelicals that elected trump, I actually think this was the final step in turning White Evangelicalism into a nationalist political movement. While many evangelicals may still be believers, Evangelicalism can no longer claim to follow the Triune God of the Bible.

American Evangelicalism is no longer Christian by any meaningful measure. 

But for mainline Churches, whose American members may or may not have voted for Trump, but whose leadership did not lineup behind him for a chance at power, Donald Trump may transform us in ways we would never have imagined.

If the Trump administration’s transition to power continues down this rocky and convention defying path, taking the next government deeper into racist behaviour and policy, isolationist attitudes, questionable ethics and attempted censorship complete with Orwellian double speak, we can only imagine what the world will look like after January 20th.

People are already afraid as the incidence of race related attacked and violence increases. Protests have been going on since the election and people are talking about how to survive the new regime. Many political and public leaders are advocating a wait and see approach, but many others simply don’t want to make the same mistake that the appeasement period before World War Two did and are already speaking out.

And so as Churches and communities of faith, where does this leave us?

To imagine how this new world might collide with the church consider this example I have been using for a while now:

Imagine going back to a church in 50s or 60s. If you told the average person in the pew that in 50 years many churches would be shells of their former selves with aging and declining membership, you would be laughed at. Churches were full of young families and programs. Families had 4.2 kids and church attendance was socially required.

But why were they full? Because people were better Christians back then?

Or was it that the world had just come through two world wars and the Great Depression? Was it that society had collectively stood at the brink and glimpsed our collective demise for 5 years straight before the first good news for the allies on D Day? 

Church was a place where hope was found, where grief, anxiety, struggle, pain and fear could be handed over to something bigger than ourselves. Churches proclaimed that there was something more powerful than huge armies marching over nation after nation, than governments who were sending millions of husbands and sons to war, than the threat of oppression and even extinction. 

Churches didn’t have to do anything special other than be communities that proclaimed the Good News as they had been for nearly 2000 years. They were naturally what so many people needed in that world.

Now imagine telling anyone who has regularly been in a pew for the past 15 years that it is possible that our currently declining and aging church may be full and bustling again in a few decades. They will laugh at you.

Well, maybe they would have laughed before November 8th.

But now all the things we thought were important in reversing decline like flashy worship, entertaining sermons, lattes for sale in the lobby, Nickelodeon night for the youth and all the other things we think will “attract” people mean nothing now. 

Churches, especially mainline ones, will need to focus again on the core things that we have always been: 

We will need to be communities of refuge because people will have fewer and fewer safe spaces.

We will need to be communities of resistance in a world that is demanding division, conflict and violence.

We will need to be communities of hope because we cannot just go back to sleep and pretend the government will have our backs while we spend our time mindlessly consuming stuff and entertainment.

We will need to be proclaimers of the gospel.

Of course, God has always called us to be all these things. But lately we have been delinquent in that call because we couldn’t see all that which we needed saving from. The world told us that our only problem was not having enough.

But now the threats and dangers, both external and internal will be obvious. We will now see what it is that we need saving from more clarity.

And we will see how God is using us to proclaim that salvation with more clarity.

And this new world will make what the church has always done subversive to the established order. Just by being the church we will declare that bigotry, hatred and self interest are not virtuous.

Just by doing what we have always done we will be seen as contrarians who believe that forgiveness of sins, life and salvation are given to us freely by God. Things that didn’t seem to mean much when the world’s biggest problem was not having enough stuff. But now are things that will mean everything to people suffering under a kleptocratic regime.

Just by being people of Word and Sacrament, we will birth a reality completely different than the one dictated by power.

A reality grounded in Christ and rooted in defiant hope. 

For a while now, many churches, church leaders and Christians have been wringing our hands over decline, wondering what it might take to get people back. And we foolishly thought it would be trendy programs and music selection.

Now, we are discovering what may actually drive a resurgence in mainline Christianity and what will be truly important for the church to be about.

Are we ready for the kind of world that will finally give us what we have been longing for?