Parting Gifts

huddle
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/lululemonathletica/3907605783/">Lululemon Athletica</a>

John 17:6-19

“I’ve introduced you to the earthlings you entrusted to me. They belonged to you. You entrusted them to me. They’ve been true to your calling, and now they know that what’s mine is yours. What you told me, I’ve told them. They’ve taken it to heart, and they know that I derive from you, that you sent me.

“I’m asking for their sake. Not the world’s sake, but for those who belong to you, who you’ve entrusted to me. They’re mine and yours, yours and mine. They’ve done me proud. Now that I’m no longer able to stay on earth, but since I’m coming to you and they must stay behind, I’m asking that you protect them. Make them as much a part of each other as I am a part of you.

“While I was with them, I protected them on your behalf. I guarded them so nobody was lost – except one, and he was a hopeless case – and in doing so I fulfilled the prophesy.

“But now, I’m coming to you, and I say these things before I go so they may rejoice in each other. I gave them your instruction, and the world hates them. They’re outcasts, just like me. I’m not asking you to exempt them from trouble, but to protect them from evil. They’re outcasts, just like me. Rededicate them to the truth. Tell them the truth. Just as you sent me to the world, I send them to the world. For their sake, I rededicate myself now, so they may also be rededicated to the truth.”

This is Jesus’ last will and testament.

But instead of dividing his earthly belongings among his followers, Jesus gives them each other. And he gives them his blessing: “You’ve done me proud, now the world’s a tough place, so stick together.”

It’s all he has to give. And it’s all that really matters. In John’s understanding of Jesus, the divine word of God made flesh, the only way to see God is in the commitment to be true to the person enfleshed with you in community. The only way to experience the joy of the divine is by rejoicing in one another. The only way to get to the truth is to find it in one’s neighbor. Even one’s own health and safety depends on the well-being of the other who stands in your presence.

As Jesus and God are connected, so is all of life. It’s the Om of Jesus.

Gatekeepers

guard
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/vincealongi/1546867380/">Vince Alongi</a>

Acts 10:44-48

Before Peter finished talking, God’s spirit came over everyone who heard the news.

The orthodoxy police who had come along were shocked that God’s spirit had been given so easily, even to these heathen. But they heard with their own ears how in many languages they were giving props to God.

So Peter asked, “Since these folk obviously have God’s spirit, are you still going to bar them from admittance?” He gave orders that they should be baptized in Jesus’ name, and they invited him to hang out with them for a few days.

Every community has its gatekeepers. They’re the ones, often self-appointed, who take it upon themselves to say whose in and whose out.

The trouble is, especially in religious communities, when the gatekeepers start using the wrong criteria for making decisions about people. The original Greek in this passage is more specifically about circumcision: “The circumcised believers who came with Peter.” That was their litmus test. But it could be any litmus test that depends on the sacred cows of the gatekeepers.

Instead, the right question to ask when deciding whether someone is eligible for membership is, “Does this person get what God is doing?” Another way to ask it: “Does this person share the spirit of the community?”

The answer to that question will nearly always, as in this case, be obvious. Chances are, God is much more ready to extend the spirit of the community than we gatekeepers are. Truth is, those who have the spirit will have a good time with it, even if the orthodoxy police are shocked by it.

The sad irony is the ones who end up self-excluded are the gatekeepers.

The Communalists

pen, checks, and bills
Image credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/rmgimages/4882450962/">Ramberg Media Images</a>

Acts 4:32-35

Everyone in the community was unanimous. They considered each other the same as themselves, and nobody counted anything as their own, but as the community’s. Those who had been sent told their witness of the resurrection so convincingly that everyone was inspired to graciousness. So it was that nobody ever went without. Whoever owned land or houses sold them and gave the proceeds to the community. They gave it all to the those who’d been sent, and they, in turn, passed it out according to what needs people had.

Early Christians weren’t communists because they ascribed to an economic theory. They were communist because that was how they made sure everyone’s needs were met. It’s probably more accurate to say they were communalists.

Behind the community’s practice, it’s clear that there are two things going on.

First, there is an agreement that everyone really is equal, and that equality is understood, not in a theoretical “all are endowed by their creator” sense, but as a moral obligation to the other.

Second, there is a convincing witness of the resurrection that inspires graciousness. It’s not enough to simply assent to the idea that “Jesus is risen.” Lots of mean people will say they believe in the resurrection, but they don’t care about anyone but themselves. Not so convincing. A convincing witness to the resurrection is a story that inspires people to live in a resurrected way – to live graciously in relationship with others.

It’s not about the particular economic system of the community. It’s about the moral character of the community. Whatever economic system you go with, the same question applies: Is everyone taken care of according to their need? A community’s budget is a moral document.

More than “Just a Memory”

man praying at western wall
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/beggs/417556122/">Brian Jeffery Beggerly</a>

John 2:13-22

Just before the Jewish Passover, Jesus went to Jerusalem. In the Temple he found the vendors selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the bankers were also there. He made a whip out of rope and chased all of them out of the temple. He drove out the cattle and sheep, spilled the bankers’ cash boxes everywhere, knocked their kiosks over, and told the dove sellers, “Get these things out of here! Quit making God’s house into a strip mall!”

His students remembered the verse: “I’m obsessed by my devotion to your house.”

The Jewish leaders asked him, “Who gave you permission to do this? Show us a miracle to prove it.”

Jesus answered, “Demolish this temple, and I’ll rebuild it in three days.”

“This temple has been under construction for 46 years!” they said. “And you’re telling us you can do better in 3 days?”

He was referring to his body as a temple. After he returned from the dead, his students remembered what he’d said. Only then they embraced what was written, and what Jesus had said.

In Mark, Luke, and Matthew, the story of Jesus’ temple invasion comes at the end of the story, where it’s the final straw of Jesus’ opposition to the establishment, and sets in motion the events leading to the crucifixion.

A generation later, John tells it near the beginning of the story. The political tension is gone. With the conclusion of the episode, Jesus walks out of the temple as easily as he had walked in. Instead, John uses the story to make a point about the community’s collective memory.

Twice, John tells us, the disciples remembered. As the episode ends, John ties their remembrance to their belief, to their commitment.

Communities can use memory either as a help or a hindrance, and there are plenty of examples of both, and in churches they often center around buildings.

On the one hand, Jesus is obsessed with the proper use of the building, and this obsession becomes a mnemonic touchstone of his followers. On the other hand, the proper use of the building is not really about the building, but about Jesus and what he will do to break free of faith bound to time and materials. John holds these two memories in a balance that prevents them from deteriorating into mere nostalgia (remember the good old days), or turning the means of ministry (a building) into the end itself (God).

At it’s best, community memory is a means of embracing what has been to propel the community forward, not to hold it down to an ideal time or place.