The Real Network

sphere of lights
Image credit: <a href="">Kevin Dooley</a>

John 15:1-8

I’m the real network, and my creator is the network administrator. Wherever there is a dead node in the network, she disconnects it. She tunes the nodes that are useful, to make them even more powerful. What I’ve told you has already made you good conductors. Just remain a part of me, as I’m a part of you. A node on its own is just a wire, unless it’s part of a network. By yourself, without me, you won’t get very far. I’m the network. You’re the nodes. Those who remain in the network can accomplish anything, but outside the network, you can’t do anything. Outside of me, you’re just so much scrap wire off to the trash heap, gathered up and sent to the smelter to be recycled. If you stay with me, and hang onto my words, whatever you wish for will be possible for you. My creator is proven right when you accomplish great things by really following me.

In Jesus’ original agrarian setting, a vine was a tangled mess of stuff that only grew and thrived when it stayed connected. There was no sense in pulling the vine apart to try to make it more orderly, or to understand exactly how it worked. It just “all hangs together.”

In our world, we love to talk about networks. We gather for “networking” sessions. We are wired together through tangles of communication lines we can’t make heads or tails of. But it works. It works because in some way larger than we can understand or keep track of, it “all hangs together.”

In the 4th gospel, Jesus claims to be that real network that connects us with the resources we need to accomplish anything. If the idea of a single person being an entire network seems strange, it is no less strange to us than it was to those who first heard the concept. How can one person be going in so many incomprehensible directions at once?

But, in the theological understanding of this gospel, Jesus the person is always the incarnate logic of the Universe. If you understand and take part in what Jesus the person is about, you are part of that universal logic. You can move with it, or you can get swept into the recycle bin of history by it. Your choice.

Powerful? You bet.

Song 2

Image credit: <a href="">Mutasim Billah</a>

Psalm 2

Why do nations plot?
Why do people scheme?
Why do kings and presidents
Connive amongst themselves
Against God’s chosen one,
Saying, “Let’s break them,
And do whatever we please”?

God laughs at them.
God scorns them.
Then, enraged, God speaks,
And God will terrify them,
“I will coronate my king.
I will designate the capitol.”

I announce God’s executive order.
God told me, “You are my child,
Today, you are my child.
The nations are yours for the asking,
The whole world is yours.
Break them with an iron bar!
Smash them like so many old jars!”

So, kings and presidents,
You’ve been warned. Take heed!
Your commission is to serve God’s purpose.
The magnitude of that task should make you tremble,
For if you fail, you will suddenly be thrown down,
And God’s wrath will consume you.

You who take refuge in God, rise up!

Most of us are not kings or presidents. We might be tempted to think that this is not about us. If it weren’t for the last line. For an explanation of the rendition (traditionally, something like, “Happy are those who take refuge in God”), see this explanation.

The point is not just to sit and wait for God to take down those in power who abuse their people. The point is to incite an uprising. The “wrath of God” isn’t a lightning bolt out of the blue. The wrath of God is expressed by the people of God, who refuse to remain enslaved, who rise up. The responsibility of kings and presidents is not to perpetuate their power. It’s to administer justice. This is a theme that is confirmed over and over throughout the Torah and the prophets. Rising up in protest against the abuse of rulers, foreign and domestic, religious and secular, is the whole aim of Jesus’ movement.

To take refuge in God is to rise up, wherever and whenever those who’ve been entrusted with justice betray that trust.

But What About Us?

House in a bubble
Image credit: <a href="">Hartwig Kopp Delaney</a>

Mark 10:28-31

Peter began telling him, “Look, we’ve left everything to follow you.”

Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who leaves home, or siblings, or parents or children, or gives up their business to follow me and to engage in this great cause will get a hundred times as much back right now. You’ll have homes, siblings, parents and children, and businesses – and plenty of trouble. And you will be immortal. But many folks who are used to being first will be last, and the last will get their turn first.”

The question is one we all ask ourselves now and again. Is what I’m striving for worth what it’s going to cost me to achieve it? That’s great, Jesus, that you’re helping all these people, but what about us?

I’ve noted before that the disciples have signed on for being in the inner circle when Jesus takes over. Jesus’ repudiation of the quest for wealth and power has finally sunk in. And he wants to know: if that’s not what we’re getting out of this, then what are we doing here?

Jesus never did promise them they’d be in the inner circle, or rich, or powerful. He promised them he’d teach them “how to capture people’s hearts.” And, if they can finally learn to do that, they will never lack a home, or close fellowship. And they will always have plenty to do.

But to have these things, to really be related to the hundred-fold abundance of humanity, you have to really care. You really do have to put them first. And that’s the paradox. You can’t “care” for people if you’re all the while expecting them to care for you. You can’t capture their hearts if you see them as a means to your own ends.

As it turns out, the only way to gain the rewards Jesus offers is to be the first to divest yourself of whatever privilege you have of going first. Put another way: it’s not about helping yourself. It’s about helping someone else get their turn.

Give Me (at Least) One Good Reason to Believe You

neuron connection
Neuron Connection.<br />Image credit: <a href="">Patrick Hoesly</a>

Ephesians 1:15-23

I’ve heard about your faith in Jesus and your love for all those who are committed to him. So I never stop being thankful for you when I pray. I pray that the God of Jesus, the source of glory, will make you wise, and you will see more clearly as you know God better. And seeing clearly, with open hearts, you will be enlightened to know what God is calling you to hope for: namely, the richness of your inheritance (along with all Jesus followers), and the sheer power of God’s strength channeled through us who follow him.

God’s power was at work when God raised Jesus from the dead and then raised him to the highest place of honor in God’s very throne room in heaven. Now Jesus is way more powerful than any ruler or authority or force or empire. Jesus is better now than anyone else you can name. Now or ever. And God has made everything subject to Jesus. And Jesus rules over everything through the church, which is his body. The church completely represents him.

It’s a staggeringly audacious (and narcissistic) claim:

  1. Jesus rules everything.
  2. The church is Jesus’ body on earth.
  3. Therefore, the church rules everything.

And, while it’s one thing to say that God (or Jesus) is ultimately in control, it’s quite another to claim that any group of people, even well-intentioned churchy ones, speaks for God.

It’s patently false, even if Jesus is the greatest.

It’s also an invitation to reflect on the nature of power. There’s no question Jesus exercised power. And there’s no question that Jesus intended his followers to exercise power. But what kind of power?

This passage, two generations removed from Jesus, has returned to the view of power as coercive force. God’s sheer coercive force trumps the coercive force of earthly rulers.

The real Paul, in his better moments, understood power differently. “We have nothing, yet we possess everything,” he would say to the Corinthians (2 Cor 6:10), expressing the paradox that the only way to really have something is to let it go.

The power Jesus exercises in the gospels is always restorative. Healing. Returning sight. Enabling hearing and speaking. Giving life. Renewing relationships. Generating meaning. When Jesus gives his disciples “authority” in the gospels, he gives them power to do these things. He never sends them off to vanquish someone or another.

If the church to really wants to represent Jesus and to know God better, it will have to shed it’s “my Christianity is better than your religion” attitude and start exercising the healing, envisioning, listening, engaging in conversation, life affirming, relationship renewing, meaning generating power Jesus intended.

Then the world will have (at least) one good reason to believe.