NT Wright, the Kingdom of God and the Need for Social Justice

NT Wright, Bishop of Durham and New Testament theologian is probably one of the best at articulating a theology that the brings together kingdom of God and social justice understanding.  I often think that one of the main reasons most of us want to water down this message is because it places great responsibility on us to learn about and take action in the midst of the many injustices that we see in the world.  Here is a great article from the Christian Century that expresses much of NT Wright’s challenge.  Believing that social justice is an integral part of Christ’s message does not belittle his message of salvation.  It is in fact an integral part of it.

But the whole point of the Gospels is that the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven is precisely not the imposition of an alien and dehumanizing tyranny, but rather the confrontation of alien and dehumanizing tyrannies with the news of a God—the God recognized in Jesus—who is radically different from them all, and whose inbreaking justice aims at rescuing and restoring genuine humanness…..

Yes, Jesus did, as Paul says, die for our sins, but his whole agenda of dealing with sin and all its effects and consequences was never about rescuing individual souls from the world but about saving humans so that they could become part of his project of saving the world. “My kingdom is not from this world,” he said to Pilate; had it been, he would have led an armed resistance movement like other worldly kingdom-prophets. But the kingdom he brought was emphatically for this world, which meant and means that God has arrived on the public stage and is not about to leave it again; he has thus defeated the forces both of tyranny and of chaos—both of shrill modernism and of fluffy postmodernism, if you like—and established in their place a rule of restorative, healing justice….

Read the entire article here

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Are We Ready For Easter?

Supper At Emmaus by He Qi

It is almost the end of the third week of Lent and I notice that for many pastors and church leaders the focus has already shifted to Easter.   I should say it has shifted to preparation for Good Friday and especially to thinking about new ways to represent the stations of the Cross.  Part of what I struggle with however is that the Cross has become the centre of our Easter observances rather than the season of Easter itself.  This season extends for 50 days until Pentecost, and was meant to celebrate the new kingdom of wholeness and completeness that Jesus’ death and resurrection brought into being.

Last year I wrote several reflections on this because of my deep concern.  I began with a reflection before Easter that contrasted Jesus Palm Sunday procession with the procession of Pontius Pilate that was occurring on the other side of Jerusalem.  You can read the entire article here

I also wrote several articles following Easter.

What Have We Done With Jesus?

Christ is Risen – Lets Celebrate

And produced an Easter celebration guide which you can download here

Here is an adaptation of the first week’s study.

The season of Lent is not preparing us for Good Friday, it is preparing us for Easter Sunday and our entry into the freedoms and responsibilities of living into God’s eternal world in which all of creation will be restored and all of God’s people will be healed and abundantly provided for.  So think about how you can use these next couple of weeks to prepare for the Easter season.

Central to God’s resurrection world is what James calls “the royal law” – love of God and love of neighbor. The culture of God’s new world is one of mutual care and concern and the language is the language of love. Unfortunately most of us are unaware of the depths of God’s love for us or of our own capacity to express that love out into the world. Jean Vanier expresses it well in Befriending the Stranger:

“We know that we have a certain intelligence and are aware of our emotions, desires and compulsions, but we are often unaware of the deep well, the sanctuary of love, within us and our capacity to love with the very love of God.”

And NT Wright in Surprised By Joy fills this out in words that continue to resonate in my mind.

“Love is not a duty it is our destiny. It is the language that Jesus spoke and we are called to speak it so that we can converse with him. It is the food that they eat in God’s new world, and we must acquire a taste for it here and now. It is the music God has written for all his creatures to sing and we are called to learn it and practice it now.”

The celebration of the joy of the Easter season does begin with the celebration of Easter Sunday and our entering into the love of God. For some, the festivities begin with a Saturday night vigil and a midnight feast. For others a sunrise service, a reminder of the women who came to the tomb at dawn, and a breakfast celebration herald this important day. Traditionally, Easter Sunday is also a time for the baptism of new believers who symbolically take on the story of Christ as they die to their sins and are raised to new life.

At Tom Balke’s Mennonite Brethren church in British Columbia, Easter Sunday and Good Friday services are an integrated whole. On Good Friday, each member is given a nail to hold throughout the service. At the appropriate moment they come forward and nail it into a life-sized cross. On Easter Sunday chicken wire covers the cross over the nails and people come forward to insert flowers into the cross. Tom told us “It is important that our nails are still there- the cross has not been sanitized.”

My most vivid memories of Easter date back to my first year on board the mercy ship M/V Anastasis. The fragrant aroma of lamb impregnated with rosemary and garlic wafted towards me as I walked along the dusty street in Elevesis, Greece. Everywhere I looked men squatted over BBQ pits erected in backyards and along the footpaths, laughing and joking together. They patiently turned the homemade spits, basting the lamb trussed firmly in place over the fire. They were preparing for the most important feast of the year, the celebration of Easter and the resurrection of Christ. The crowded little blue and white houses bulged at the seams as family members gathered from all over the country to join the festivities. Inside the women bustled around preparing mountains of Greek salad with fresh feta cheese, sun-ripened tomatoes, and black kalamata olives. Delicious herb covered potatoes roasted in the ovens and sweet Greek pastries dripping with honey adorned enormous platters.

Ella, ella! (Come, come) people called as we stopped to savor the smells, and beckoned us in to join them with wide welcoming smiles. This was a time of open hospitality, a reminder that Christ welcomes all of us into God’s family. Soon we too were sitting around the magnificent feast enthusiastically participating in the joyous celebration. Shouts of Christo anasti (Christ is risen) brought from us the response Allythos anasti (He is risen indeed) as we all rejoiced together in the memory of our risen Saviour. For the first time in my life, I felt as though I wasn’t just reading the Easter story, I was living it as well.

Whatever your tradition, Easter should be a time to rejoice in the wonder of the risen Christ and the outpouring of God’s love into the world. In some traditions the Easter table is left laden with food from Easter breakfast throughout the holiday season to welcome any guests who come. This is a time to share the love of God by extending the hospitality of the banquet table to everyone. One of my dreams for the future is to have a huge Easter BBQ when we roast a whole lamb, Greek style, over an open spit in the backyard and invite a crowd of people over for a huge celebration.

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Easter Guide Is Here

In my initial Easter post An Invitation to join me in getting ready for lent and Easter I mentioned that I was inspired by NT Wright’s observation that:

If Calvary means putting to death things in your life that need killing off if you are to flourish as a Christian and as a truly human being, then Easter should mean planting, watering and training up things in your life that ought to be blossoming…” 

So often our Easter celebrations are little more than a day of observing the resurrection of Christ.  Yet the Easter season, that joyous season for celebrating all that is blossoming and flourishing in our lives is meant to last for 50 days culminating in the celebration of the festival of Pentecost.  This is meant to be a season of joy as we celebrate both the resurrection of Christ and the many ways in which the resurrected Christ makes life flourish both in our personal lives and in the world around us.

I love the way that Thomas Merton describes the Easter season in his book Seasons of Celebration.  

“But now the power of Easter has burst upon us with the resurrection of Christ.  Now we find ourselves a strength which is not our own, and which is freely given to us whenever we need it, raising us above the Law, giving us a new law which is hidden in Christ: the law of his merciful love for us.  Now we no longer strive to be good because it is a duty, but because our joy is to please him who has given all his love to us!  Now our life is full of meaning!”

This is a season for living into the love of God and into the life of the new world that God’s love opened for us through the resurrection of Christ and I would like to invite you to join me in this joyous celebration.  

What will God’s resurrection created world look like?  Obviously that is a question none of us can really answer but as I read the gospel stories of Jesus I have a fairly good idea.  Jesus doesn’t just reveal God to us, he also shows us what God’s new world is like.  Through his words and actions we catch glimpses of a transformed world in which all barriers of race and class are removed.  It transforms hate into love, scarcity into abundance, greed into generosity, violence into peace and oppression into justice and equality.   In God’s new world all lines of separation are erased, the hungry are fed, the oppressed set free and we are invited into a new creation of wholeness and healing, of redemption and renewal.  

This year in order to really enter into the celebration of the Easter season I have developed an Easter celebration guide to encourage us to enter into this wonderful season.  Over the seven weeks from Easter to Pentecost we will celebrate the many ways in which God’s new world can blossom in our lives – through the outpouring of love and generosity, through compassion, healing and wholeness, hospitality, justice and creation care  culminating in that great multicultural celebration at the banquet feast of God.

So will you join me for the celebration and truly live into God’s resurrection created world this year?  

Download the guide here

Listening to Voices from the Margins

This last week I have continued my reading discipline dipping into not just Jean Vanier the founder of the L’Arche communities, but also Mother Theresa from the Sisters of Charity and Richard Twiss, a leader in the First Nation’s movement in North America.  At the same time I continue to grapple with what it means to live as a Christ follower in God’s global community and how we experience the coming of Christ at this season.

What do all these authors have in common you may well ask?  They all express powerfully our need to not just listen to voices from the margins but also to recognize that it is through people who are disabled, destitute and excluded that God often speaks most powerfully.

In this season of Advent how does Christ come to us through the voices of those who are displaced, despised and abused?  In the midst of our busyness and stress are we even open to hearing such voices and recongnizing our need to listen and learn from them?

“To love is a way of looking, of touching of listening to all” Jean Vanier reminds us.  If we really long for the coming of Christ and the eternal kingdom of mutual love, abundance and wholeness that his return will bring into being in all its fullness how do we wait at this season and how do we live into this world today?  How do we live by what what NT Wright calls the language of the kingdom and what James calls the royal law – love for God and love of neighbour.

I think that to live in true anticipation of the coming of Christ we must commit ourselves afresh to live according to this language of love.  We must all open our eyes to see and respond to the face of God in every stranger.  We must open our eyes to hear the voice of God in every outcast and must open our lives to be the love of God to every person we encounter who has been cast bu the wayside because of race, class, education, disabilities, illness, gender or any other disfigurement that excludes them from our lives and our society.  It is not an easy task that God challenges us with but it is essential if we really want to see the light of Christ shine in the many dark places of our world.

Maybe as part of your Advent reflections this week you would like to listen to this short video that expresses Mother Theresa’s view of the importance of the poor and the destitute