On the Constant Call for Christian Unity

Cries for unity without a commitment to solidarity sidesteps the demands of love.

Unity without solidarity can never be the unity for which Jesus prayed.

Solidarity without liberating-justice can never the solidarity for which the gospel summons us.

The Incarnation of God in Jesus opens us up to see how God’s solidarity with us moves God’s sympathy toward us and makes our liberation possible. All of this—solidarity, sympathy, liberation—are actions that meet the demands of love.

The unity for which Jesus prayed cannot happen without love. This makes sense to me, because unity is not something we aspire to accomplish (despite what is taught by some), rather is something that happens when we commit to accomplishing the demands of love. 

Today much of the Christians call for unity seem more like cries of discomfort induced by a desire to hold onto power and the status quo. A posture like this represses repentance, disables reconciliation, and stifles peace because it does not see what love demands. 

Listen for it, friend. You’ll hear it when people expose into the light or call into question wrongdoing or tell the truth by naming behaviors or historical realities for what they are. Those who disagree call these actions “divisive” and they will cry out for unity. To be even more candid, you will especially hear it from white Christian siblings when it comes to racial justice conversations and actions.

As those “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28) we are summoned to solidarity with others. We pursue peace and holiness (Heb. 12:14), extend hospitality to strangers (Heb. 13:2), and “remember” those imprisoned and those mistreated as if it were happening to us (Heb. 13:3). And the Christian Church can do all of this as a Spirit-filled community, because it is what God has done for us in Christ. 

(See also Heb. 4:14-16; 13:1-3; Phil. 2:5-13; Col. 1:13-20)

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A Good Friday Reflection

I shared this as the WCC Daily Reflection for Good Friday and I wanted to share it with you here.

Verse of the day:

“It was now about noon, and darkness covered the whole earth until about three o’clock, while the sun stopped shining. Then the curtain in the sanctuary tore down the middle. Crying out in a loud voice, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I entrust my life.” After he said this, he breathed for the last time.” Luke 23:44-46

Voice of the day:

Sometimes it is in the darkness of a moment that God can effect the deepest change we need to bring us from what is false to what is true, from a perspective of self-reliance to a fresh perspective of God-reliance.

But please, do not let the idea that God does transforming work in the darkness lead you to believe that God causes the darkness, something that deals out dehumanizing suffering and pain, disease and death. These things do not come from the goodness of God. It isn’t the reign of Christ that ushers in the darkness. It is, as Paul says, the reign of sin and death that ushers in this darkness. The sinful pride of life, greed, violence, fear-mongering, power-grabbing, and injustices of all kinds—these are the seeds planted in the soil of the fields tended by the reign of sin and death, and its crop is always darkness.  

But on Good Friday we remember that God does not leave us to be overcome by the darkness. Not even the worst the darkness has to offer, not even death itself, can overcome God’s beloved children. God has been through the darkness before. God knows what it’s like. In the darkness of that Friday when the body of Jesus hung nailed upon a cross, God felt the weight of the darkness ushered in by the reign of sin and death. And even though it brought Christ death, it did not overtake Him. The morning light of resurrection Sunday was coming. 

The Scriptures teach us that we can be sure that no matter what dark Friday we find ourselves in, the morning light of resurrection Sunday is coming. 

But for today it can do us well to contemplate the cross. Don’t rush to resurrection. It will come. For now sit in the shadow of the cross. See how the wrath of the reign of sin and death is exemplified on the cross and how the love of God is magnified on the cross. Hear the crowds sing “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday and scream “Crucify him!” on Friday. See his friends abandon him after one friend betrays him. See the rigged trials and the unjust accusations and abuse he suffered. See Christ executed and murdered on the cross as an enemy of the state. See how God in Christ takes upon himself the full weight of the reign of sin and death in the form of humanity’s absolute sinful rebellion, utter shame, and gruesome violence, and endures it with us, for us.

“The cross is not what the Father inflicts upon the Son in order to forgive the world. The cross is what God in Christ endures as he forgives the world. On the cross Jesus does not save us from God; on the cross Jesus reveals God as Savior.” ~ Brian Zahnd, Pastor Theologian

Prayer of the day:

Lord, on the cross I see the worst of our humanity. In the story told throughout Holy Week I see the pride of life that has plagued us since the garden of Eden. I see the works of the Enemy exemplified by the powers and principalities. I see the greed and power-grabbing of the religious and political leaders, the betrayal and abandonment of friends, the fear-mongering in the unjust accusations and rigged trials. I see the scorn and shame Jesus endured. I see him “as a lamb led to the slaughter, yet did not defend himself.” I see humanity’s absolute rebellion against divine love. I confess that I have seen and felt this rebellion at work in me. So I look to you, our God upon a cross, and thank you for your liberating love and forgiveness. I thank you for your grace. I thank you for allowing the darkness of the reign of sin and death to take you captive on this cross so that we can be freed from captivity. Help me to ponder the meaning of the cross today. Prepare my heart for the waiting and tension Holy Saturday and the power and joy of Resurrection Sunday. And thank you Lord that the cross is not the end of the story. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, three in One.

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Holy Tuesday: The Lesser Known Day of Holy Week

On Holy Tuesday Jesus is publicly confronted by the religious and political leaders. We are told their goal is to trap him so they can rid themselves of him and his movement. The public conflicts escalate when Jesus publicly rebukes them with confrontational rhetoric and truth-telling, often referred to as the “seven woes.” Read them when you can (Matthew 23–the whole chapter for context). They aren’t pretty.

Palm Sunday’s unmistakable political and public declaration of a new kind of liberation was already too much for the political and religious leaders. Holy Monday’s protest in the Temple pushed them even more. But after Holy Tuesday’s theatrical public shaming, these leaders have had enough.

Jesus is too dangerous a threat to their power. They don’t want his Kingdom. They want their own. They don’t need his liberation. They are comfortable with their political arrangement. Jesus’ public displays of undermining their authority has to stop. Enough is enough.

Once again we’re reminded of how public declarations of a new kind of liberation threatens the principalities and powers accustomed to dictating its terms. This is a dangerous thing to do. And we know this to be true.

Today we remember the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. We remember that the more public his declaration of liberation became, the more of a threat he grew, and the more his enemy pursued him, resulting in his murder on a balcony at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.

In remembering Dr. King we remember Medgar Evans. We remember that the more public he made his fight for liberation from Jim Crow in Mississippi, the more his enemy pursued him, resulting in his murder in his driveway.

We remember the Freedom Riders of 1961, groups of White and African American activists whose declaration of liberation put on public display in the American South led to horrific violence against them.

Undermining the authority of power-mongering political regimes for the sake of liberation comes with a price. Dr. King knew it. Medgar Evers knew it. The Freedom Riders knew it. And Jesus knew it. He knew the weight of the suffering and violence he would carry. He also knew he would undermine the suffering and violence that coming Sunday, so he carried it anyway. For every one. For all of us.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we wouldn’t have taken part with them in shedding the prophets’ blood.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors’ sins!”

(Matthew 23:29-32)

My Lord and liberating King, thank you for the liberation you bring. Liberate my mind. Liberate my heart. Liberate my soul. Liberate my imagination to envision your desire for my life, my loved ones, my friends, my neighbors and even my enemies. Unbound my hands and feet so that I can follow you fully and freely into the good news of our liberation.

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Her Tears

I wish her tears were in our eyes. Maybe then we would want change.

“There is something deeply hypocritical about praying for a problem you are unwilling to resolve.” ~ Miroslav Volf

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The Ancestors

“But if they confess their and their ancestors’ guilt for the wrongdoing they did to me, and for their continued opposition to me— which made me oppose them, so I took them into enemy territory—or if their uncircumcised hearts are humbled and they make up for their guilt, then I will remember my covenant…”

Leviticus‬ ‭26‬:‭40‬-‭42‬ ‭

This is a warning and a prescription of what repentance should like if they were to violate Torah, which included acting in love toward neighbors. After all, to sin against a neighbor is to sin against God. (For ex. see Lev. 6:1ff).

Confessing the guilt of the ancestors and addressing the legacy of harms inflicted on others whose sacred dignity and worth were violated, which is a direct affront to God, is to humbly do justice to the command of love. Repentance that is both reparative and reconciliatory is as old as Torah. It requires unfettered dependency upon God’s faithful love and genuine humility.

May I (and you) have ears to hear.

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