For those who want to VOTE for Jesus…

In this past Sunday’s lectionary text, Mark 8:27-38, the disciples are following Jesus from one place to another. This happens often, but the significance of this journey in Mark cannot be overestimated. The walk to Caesarea Philippi was one into a dangerous place, one of Roman war power, with a conversation that connected to that danger. In verse 31, Jesus tells the disciples that he will be rejected, suffer, die and be resurrected. Peter in particular has a problem with this and privately rejects Jesus’ words. Implied is that the disciples are right there and know what is happening. They, too, were probably deeply troubled by Jesus’ words. The scripture reads in verse 33, “But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, ‘Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ ”

Jesus had been asking who people say he is and then asked who the disciples say he is. Peter had just proclaimed Jesus as Messiah. There were many people claiming to be Messiahs at the time of Jesus. They lived to fulfill the traditional image of Messiah, a divinely appointed king, the likes of King David. No one ended up doing that, but it was what the people looking for a messiah wanted. The messiah would be a king to overcome the occupier and oppressor, in the case of Jesus’ time, the Roman Empire.

Jesus proclaimed a new vision of Messiah, one who was indeed anointed, but not an earthly King. Jesus taught and empowered the people spiritually, healed them physically, to bring about God’s justice in the world. Jesus’ role as Messiah was redeeming the people in order to redeem all creation.

The human desire to be rescued by God in the swooping action of a King is just as pervasive today as it was in Jesus’ time. We speak about our presidential candidates in a way that equates them to Saviors, as if one person could possibly solve our country’s problems in the course of an election or even as serving a term in the presidency.

Only God has that kind of power. As Christians, we proclaim ourselves inheritors power in the waters of baptism through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ with each one of us. We have power, but not the way we think we do. Our vote is not what brings about a more just society; it is the everyday behavior and actions of those proclaim Christ. The problem isn’t that one candidate lacks the power to make the changes we want, the problem is that we shirk our Christian responsibility that includes but is not limited to: sharing what we have with the poor and those in need, holding ourselves accountable to Christian living, showing mercy and kindness before judgment.

Today, I say this ad on Facebook for the organization calling itself the “Elect Jesus Campaign.”

Vote for Jesus Ad

Vote for Jesus Ad

It reeks of Peter’s idea of Messiah. On the website of the organization, they claim to focus on getting people back to worshiping Jesus and putting him as the head of their lives. Honestly, that isn’t the problem. Getting more people to write in the Ballot “Jesus,”  as one woman proclaims on the “Elect Jesus” Facebook page that she will do, is missing the point completely.

We have to stop acting as if God will swoop in like a mama bird at any point to rescue humanity. Many Christians believe in a Second Coming of Jesus.  Focusing on the Second Coming is no different than Peter’s rebuking of Jesus’ proclamation of what it means to be a Messiah. For me, those who focus so much on the Second Coming, coupled with the “I’m following my personal rules of morality” attitude, completely neglect what justice means in our world from God’s point of view. God’s view is that the least of these will be taken care of and that hospitality and justice go hand in hand. These expectations are in no way new. The Hebrew Bible is full of them and Jesus teaches the same.

We must do the work of creating a society full of God’s vision. This will not happen through a Presidential candidate. This will happen as people of faith actually live the way they are expected to, with mercy in their right hand and justice in their left. Putting a bumper sticker on a car saying VOTE for Jesus is little more than a nod to our faith. It certainly doesn’t encourage people to follow Jesus or make real change in their lives.

People know we are faithful by our lives, NOT BY A BUMPERSTICKER. They know we are Christian when we share welcome rather than judgment. They know we are Christian when we open our table to share food with someone whether they are “the right kind of person” or not. People are looking for Christians that stop judging and start loving. Then, people will be caught up in the same Love of God that we sing about and yet often forget to share with others.

As for voting, people ought to vote for the candidate they feel will best serve the country. Stop expecting them to solve problems overnight that have taken decades to develop. Stop expecting Jesus to be the kind of Messiah Peter wanted and Jesus rejected in the first place.  Do some work to make the world a better place. Here’s a hint: that doesn’t happen in the confines of a church now anymore than it did in the confines of the synagogue for Jesus.

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On Membership and THE Question…

I’ve never been a fan of the term “member” in churches. I have no idea where this began or when it began and because I hate it so much, I’m not going to look it up. (You can look it up if you want. You can call me lazy, too.)

Rubens knew church today...

Rubens knew church today…

I hate this term because it denotes a way of relationships that is counter gospel. Members have many privileges, a few responsibilities and nametags. It’s not how Jesus referred to those following him around. The disciples, as far as I see it, had no nametags, many responsibilities and few privileges.

It occurs to me that however people are labeled, the tendency for a congregation (or any other group of people) to devolve into insider/outsider mentality is there. In Mark 10, we see James and John ask Jesus for an insider seat in heaven. If that’s not “membership,” I don’t know what is.

When I first came to my church, we had someone join at the end of the service. I did it wrong. I didn’t ask the official question. We didn’t sing THE SONG after it happened. It seemed everyone was weirded out by the experience. I learned afterward that the tradition was to sing Blest Be the Tie that Binds. It’s a sweet hymn, for those who know it. I cannot sing it, however. The only thing I hear with that tune is the camp song from my childhood, “Froggy him am a queer bird…” (The camp song itself is problematic, but I digress.)  The Elders of the church, the spiritual leaders of the congregation, and I discussed that official question, “Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God and do you take him as your personal Lord and Savior.” I explained to them that I could not, in good conscious ask the Personal Lord and Savior part. It’s not because I do not see Jesus as my Savior, but because it reeks of modern theology that makes faith purely about the individual and lacks the communal expression of faith and commitment to the gospel. We may be baptized individually, but none of us live the life of faith in a vacuum.

As we discussed the protocol for people joining the church, I asked what would happen if someone wanted to join and couldn’t make a profession of faith. Some elders said that was a deal breaker, others were silent on the issue. I had to ask because even in a new version of the question (that last part is changed to ask “do you wish to serve God here?”), I wonder, how we can expect people to walk up at the end of a worship service and profess faith when the question they are asked is full of insider language

When my denomination, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), was in formation on the American frontier, it was in retaliation to the requirements of creeds and sectarianism between and among denominations. As our denomination developed over time, we adopted this membership model and profession of faith test to become a member, though not to take communion. (see www.disciples.org/AboutTheDisciples/HistoryoftheDisciples)

I am in no way against public professions of faith. My question concerns our assumptions when we use the term member and ask this question. We no longer live in a time where the Christian faith and language is commonly understood. It may be commonly used, but to say it is commonly understood is coming close to willful ignorance of the world around us. (Some could say it is rarely understood too, but that is another question entirely.) How can we have a set profession of faith when people vary so greatly in how they come to experience God in worship? Can someone know God through Jesus and be a part of the community officially when “Son of the Living God” needs unpacking.

For many Christian communities, becoming an official part of the community comes after extensive study, anywhere from 6 months to a year. I deeply ache for this level of commitment within my free-church tradition. (Free church roughly translates to no bishops.) I also see it as a way that might slap the Holy Spirit in her face! God’s revelation and people’s commitment come in so many ways!

I am seeking the answer to two areas of questions. First, what do we call those who sojourn together in the setting of a congregation? Members? Would it not be more Biblical to call one another Followers of the Way or Disciples? If the Disciples of the New Testament had many responsibilities, how do we understand and proclaim our own? Second, is a designated public profession of faith the marker for belonging? Jesus rejected the legalism of the religious leadership of his day and pushed for the people to proclaim their relationship with God for themselves. How can we encourage people to proclaim their faith authentically and affirm the collective faith of the community?

What do you think?