Reclaiming Jesus – June 3, 2018
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…”
One of the highlights of my study time in Washington DC last week was a service and candlelight procession to the White House organized by Sojourners. The evening’s events were the kick off to a movement titled “Reclaiming Jesus.” In the words of Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church USA, Michael Curry, of recent wedding sermon fame, “We are not a partisan group. We are a Jesus movement.” We were there to proclaim, and reclaim, Jesus Christ as Lord.
The “reclaiming Jesus” movement began with a gathering of Christian leaders in the US who are very concerned about the direction of their country. They crafted a statement titled “a confession of faith in a time of crisis” that begins: “We are living through perilous and polarizing times as a nation, with a dangerous crisis of moral and political leadership at the highest levels of our government and in our churches. We believe the soul of the nation and the integrity of faith are now at stake.” The soul of the nation and the integrity of faith. These are their concerns and as such, the movement seeks to reclaim Jesus from those who would use Christianity to promote hate and bigotry, to abuse power, and to trample the vulnerable. It is a movement to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.
For me, that Thursday night service was the culmination of 3 days of hearing Jesus proclaimed through the energy and passion of gospel music, in sermon after sermon, and in academic lectures, all addressing the theme of preaching and politics. Among the repeated themes through the week was defining politics not in terms of partisanship but rather in its original meaning of “affairs of the city.” As Archbishop Michael Curry said that night: “We are not a partisan group. We are not a left-wing group. We are not a right-wing group. We are a Jesus movement.” Intertwining our religious commitments with the “affairs of our city,” means engaging politically by taking our faith to the streets and into the life of our community. Engaging politically is about applying our faith in Christ to all aspects of our lives, not just individually, but corporately; and not just in the confines of the church community, but in the wider society in which we live.
There is strong biblical precedent for such an approach. In ancient times, there was no separation between religious, political and indeed economic or social concerns. Most particularly expressed in the Hebrew prophets, though found strongly in the law of Moses as well, faithfulness to Yahweh was completely intertwined with economic, political and social concerns. Jesus’ ministry too was replete with political and economic concerns, along with breaking down social mores of exclusion and oppressive hierarchy that caused harm to the most vulnerable. The imperative to live faith in everyday ways is expressed by Jesus perhaps most clearly in Matthew 25 when he said repeatedly that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner is how we treat Christ himself. “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said, “just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me.” (vv 31-46)
In the early church, the first confession of faith was simply: “Jesus is Lord.” It was and is a theological statement, to be sure, but it was also a political statement and a dangerous one at that. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” meant that Caesar was not. Saying “yes” to Jesus meant saying “no” to Caesar as the ultimate authority. If Jesus is God; Caesar is not. In a society where the authoritarian leader was actually deified, proclaiming Jesus as Lord could be life threatening. And it was. Numerous early Christians were martyred because they refused to bow to Caesar as Lord, proclaiming Jesus instead. “Jesus is Lord.”
That was, in a nutshell, the overall message of my study week and it is overtly the message of the “reclaiming Jesus” movement. Printed copies of the summary statement are available in the narthex and the full text is online. It’s tempting to read it all out but I’m not going to, in part because it specifically addresses the American context, which overlaps with ours, but is not the same. Suffice it to say that its 6 main points cover racial bigotry; gender violence and any oppression based on race, gender, identity or class; supporting and protecting the vulnerable, including immigrants and refugees; truth-telling and the normalization of lying in public life; the imperative to service rather than domination in public life; and finally, participation in the international community over strict nationalism. Each point begins with a “yes” of belief in Christ, leading to the “no” of what is, therefore, rejected or resisted. It is a great example that we can follow in expressing clearly both what we affirm because of our belief and faith in Christ and what we therefore reject. How does your proclamation of Jesus as Lord impact your values, your behaviour, your life? How do we collectively proclaim Jesus as Lord in our parish community? What is your yes? What is your no?
After the service that Thursday night, I joined the roughly 2500 other people who had turned up, to walk in silent, candlelight procession to the White House. Father Richard Rohr sent us out with the blessing: “May you know the love that surpasses all knowledge, and may you walk in that love into the empire.” The instructions for the procession from leader and founder of Sojourners Jim Wallis were clear: “We are not marching;” he said, “We are processing.” It was not a protest march and any civil disobedience was strictly and strongly discouraged in this instance. It was, rather, a Pentecost action to pray in the Spirit of God and to proclaim Jesus as Lord to the powerful of the nation. It was a remarkable experience to walk through downtown Washington DC with thousands, in silence. The world around us wasn’t silent, certainly, but once we got going, the gathered crowd was, except for a baby crying along the way. In front of the White House, the 6 affirmations were again proclaimed aloud and then together we sang the Lord’s Prayer. “Thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on *earth,* as it is in heaven.” This was our fervent prayer.
“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…” The message of salvation in Christ is not for individuals alone, but rather it is for the salvation of the world… for the salvation of society and it calls us to confront the social ills and social evils of our time. The Christian leaders from a wide variety of denominations who crafted the “reclaiming Jesus” statement of faith did so in large part out of their great frustration at the co-opting of Christian faith by one particular strand of belief. It was incredibly powerful and powerfully hopeful to be in the presence of so many people who believe in the redemptive power of God in Christ for all people, and who seek to make the world a better place.
Our context is different here in Canada, but we also know that too many people believe Christianity is completely defined by the hate, bigotry and callousness of the religious right. Their beliefs and practices are not mine and they are not ours. We believe in a God of grace and mercy and love… a God of justice for all… and of equality of persons regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, identity, immigration status, style of clothing, or net worth. But the only way people out there, including our own children and grandchildren will know that, is if we proclaim it… boldly and loudly, in word and in deed. The world will only hear God’s gracious and merciful message of sacrificial love for all if we live it out… in the public square and on the streets. For too long, too many faithful Christians have sought to distance themselves from a hateful Christianity by distancing themselves from Jesus. For too long, too many modern, thinking Christians have kept Jesus out of sight, like that eccentric family member who we love but keep hidden away. That time needs to end. It is time to reclaim Jesus and proclaim Jesus as Lord.
Reflecting on that incredible service and procession last week, Jim Wallis, began an article this week, writing: “Reclaiming Jesus is not a statement to sign — it’s a call to answer.” It is a call to say yes to Jesus and as a result, to say no to a whole host of other things… to say “yes” to the belief that we are all made in God’s image and “no” to racial bigotry… to say “yes” to equality of persons and “no” to misogyny, sexual harassment or any other kind of oppression… to say “yes” to Christ’s call to care for the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick, the prisoner… and to say “no” to the mistreatment of all who are vulnerable… to say “yes” to truth and “no” to lying as normative in public life… to say “yes” to Christ’s example of servant leadership and “no” to domination, bullying and autocratic political leadership… to say “yes” to Jesus’ call to make disciples of all nations and to say “no” to xenophobia or any ethnic nationalism. Reclaiming Jesus is about embracing Gospel values not only in our private homes but in the public square. Reclaiming Jesus is about living sacrificial love for friend and enemy alike. Reclaiming Jesus is about hope for a better world… like we pray: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on *earth*, as it is in heaven.”
“For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord…”
May it be so. May it be done.