Our country is in a crisis. The church is in a crisis. There may be other countries in which both of these sentences are true, but certainly they are true in the United States. The church’s crisis is manifest in at least three ways. First, the rise of “Christian” nationalism, “Christian” partnership with white supremacy and authoritarianism, and “Christian” fear, bigotries, and hatred that have aligned with the radical right. Second (and related), the Christian support of neoliberal institutions and structures that are destructive to human life and human security. Third (and related), the loss of a compelling story to tell, the loss of reasons to give, the loss of demonstrating the radical love, justice, and peace of the Reign (“Kingdom”) of God inaugurated by Jesus. People are declining the invitation to give their lives to Jesus. Why would they? The church does not make talk about Jesus appealing, to say the least. Far too often, we do not walk what we talk—except when our talk is bigoted, fearful, and hateful.
In the second section of Mark’s story of Jesus (Mark 2.1—3.6), we are presented with five episodes that demonstrate Jesus’ true and powerful authority, in contrast to the weak and narcissistic authority of the religious authorities. The paragraph above notes a crisis of the church related to our lack of spiritual and moral authority (“authority” is one word for power).
In the midst of these episodes, Jesus uses two metaphors to indicate something of his power and the Reign of God he is initiating. He says, “No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old cloak; otherwise, the patch pulls away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise, the wine will burst the skins, and the wine is lost, and so are the skins; but one puts new wine into fresh wineskins.”
Jesus’ metaphors are meant to help us see that the Good News of God’s Reign (rule, or regime) is not simply some modification of the religious, cultural, social, and political forms we already have. God did not “tear open the heavens and come down” (Isa. 64.1) just to make us into reformists. Tinkering with sinful structures, whether religious, cultural, economic, or political, is, to say the least, not enough. Paul writes to the church in Rome, “Do not be conformed to this world… “Romans 12.1-2). Reforming is too much conforming. To be conformed to a deceitful world is to be deceitful. To be conformed to a inegalitarian world is to be an inegalitarian. To be conformed to a world filled with systems of oppression is to abide oppression. To be conformed to a violent world is to participate in violence.
And yet. We live in a world where small steps are often necessary. Where we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Where we have to have patience and practice “a long obedience in the same direction” (Nietzsche). The early modern Reformers spoke of a “reformed church always reforming.” The Anabaptists said reform is not enough, but rather the church needed to be restored. There has always been a tension in the church between the wisdom of reformation and the Gospel call to rebirth, new life (cf. 2 Corinthians 5.17), and radical change. New wine must have new wineskins. Our Mark study group had a fun time discussing this tension. A tension that we cannot escape.
I am blessed to belong to the community of Jesus called Riverfront Family Church. It is a community where we struggle with this tension rather than ignore it. We strive to embody the Reign of God in powerful and authoritative ways that are compelling and healing. We strive to embody Love for everyone. We strive to share the new wine of the Gospel and to be a new wineskin for it. As I write this, I do not mean to engage in self-congratulation. We embody failings too. Perhaps we are not as radical or loving as we claim to be, or not as consistently so.
But it is a powerful measure of grace for me to belong to a community such as ours. I believe we strive in the tension, seeking to be agents of God’s Good News in the world. Riverfront feels like new wine to me, still fermenting…
Thank you for reading,
In the Gospel of Luke, we encounter a profound and transformative encounter known as the Road to Emmaus. This narrative, which Pastor Liza taught on this past Sunday, found in Luke 24:13-35, captures the essence of the Christian faith and serves as a powerful allegory for our modern lives. As a progressive Christian church, we believe in exploring the relevance of biblical texts in the context of our contemporary world. In this blog post, we will delve into the Road to Emmaus and uncover its valuable lessons for our spiritual journey today.
The Journey of Disillusionment:
The Road to Emmaus begins with two disciples walking dejectedly, consumed by disappointment and shattered hopes. They had placed their faith in Jesus of Nazareth, who had been crucified, and now their hearts were heavy with grief and confusion. In a world filled with trials, it is easy for us to relate to the disillusionment these disciples felt. We too encounter disappointments, loss, and uncertainty that can shake our faith and leave us searching for answers.
The Encounter with the Stranger:
As the disciples walk, a stranger joins them. Unbeknownst to them, this stranger is Jesus himself, yet their eyes are kept from recognizing him. The conversation that unfolds during their journey becomes a powerful lesson on the transformative power of dialogue. In our modern society, where division and polarization seem rampant, the Road to Emmaus reminds us of the importance of engaging in meaningful conversations with others, even if they hold differing beliefs or perspectives. These encounters have the potential to open our hearts, challenge our assumptions, and transform our understanding.
Opening the Scriptures:
During their walk, the stranger opens the Scriptures to the disciples, explaining the prophecies concerning the Messiah and helping them make sense of the events that had transpired. Today, we have a wealth of knowledge and resources at our fingertips. We can engage in the study of scripture, explore theological ideas, and deepen our understanding of God's message. Just as the disciples experienced enlightenment and clarity through studying the Scriptures, we too can find guidance and revelation when we approach our faith with an open mind and a thirst for knowledge.
The Breaking of Bread:
As the disciples reach their destination, they invite the stranger to join them for a meal. It is during this simple act of breaking bread that their eyes are opened, and they recognize the risen Christ. The Eucharistic symbolism in this narrative emphasizes the significance of communal worship and the sacraments within the Christian tradition. Gathering together as a community, sharing meals, and partaking in the sacraments can nourish our spirits, remind us of Christ's presence, and renew our faith.
Transformed Hearts, Renewed Mission:
Filled with the joy of their encounter, the disciples rush back to Jerusalem to share the good news with the other disciples. Their encounter with the risen Christ has transformed their hearts and rekindled their sense of purpose. Similarly, the Road to Emmaus invites us to reflect on our own faith journeys and consider how encountering the divine can transform us and inspire us to be agents of love, compassion, and justice in the world today.
The Road to Emmaus is a timeless narrative that speaks directly to the human experience, offering valuable insights for our contemporary lives. As a progressive Christian church, we embrace the call to engage with the world around us and draw inspiration from biblical stories like the Road to Emmaus. May we walk together, with open hearts and minds, as we journey on our own roads to Emmaus, encountering the living Christ and sharing the transformative power of the Gospel in our modern world.
In an increasingly interconnected and diverse world, interfaith dialogue has become a pressing need. While some Christians may question the compatibility of engaging with other faith traditions, I firmly believe that embracing interfaith dialogue is not only possible but essential for fostering understanding, promoting peace, and sharing the love of Christ without compromising the Gospel.
Embracing the Great Commandment: As followers of Christ, we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. Engaging in interfaith dialogue allows us to extend this love to people of different faiths, fostering mutual respect and empathy. It is an opportunity to build bridges, break down barriers, and promote harmony in a divided world.
Learning and Growing: Interfaith dialogue provides a unique chance for Christians to deepen their understanding of their own faith. By engaging with others' perspectives and beliefs, we gain fresh insights, challenge our assumptions, and develop a more robust understanding of our own Christian convictions. This enriches our spiritual journey and equips us to articulate our beliefs more effectively.
Demonstrating Christ's Love: Engaging in interfaith dialogue allows us to embody Christ's love and compassion. By listening attentively, valuing others' experiences, and engaging in respectful conversations, we demonstrate the transformative power of Christ's teachings. It is an opportunity to share our faith authentically and, through our actions, invite others to encounter the love and grace of Jesus.
Building Genuine Relationships: Interfaith dialogue provides a platform to forge meaningful relationships with people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs. By engaging in dialogue, we discover our shared values, aspirations, and concerns, fostering connections based on respect and mutual understanding. These relationships become avenues for witnessing Christ's love in both words and actions.
Strengthening Christian Witness: Engaging in interfaith dialogue enables us to represent Christ faithfully in a pluralistic society. By demonstrating a willingness to listen, learn, and engage, we break down stereotypes and misconceptions that can hinder effective evangelism. We become ambassadors of reconciliation, reflecting the reconciling work of Christ and presenting a winsome witness to those of other faiths.
As Christians, we are called to engage in interfaith dialogue without compromising the Gospel. By embracing such conversations, we demonstrate Christ's love, foster understanding, and strengthen our own faith. Through interfaith dialogue, we can build bridges, establish meaningful relationships, and contribute to a more harmonious and peaceful world. Let us approach interfaith dialogue with humility, grace, and a firm foundation in the Gospel, knowing that engaging with others' beliefs does not dilute our faith but rather enriches it and magnifies the transformative power of Christ in our lives.