Remembering Who We are in a Sin Filled World

I have struggled to piece this together. I'm not necessarily pleased by the longevity of this post - and I am guessing that many won't make it all the way through the post. However, I hope this is clear: Let's unequivocally stand against racism and oppressive evil, through humility, by laying down our power to Jesus who has laid down his life for us. 

There is nothing new under the sun.  We continue to struggle against the “powers and principalities” of our faded world.

At times like these, I believe we need to have our stories retold to us. Our stories of history act as a mirror that allow us to see ourselves. In a time such as this, we need to heed the message of James in his first chapter: beloved brothers and sisters – “lets be quick to hear, slow to speak & slow to anger – anger doesn’t produce righteousness of God.” He goes on to say lets be doers and not just hearers, if we only hear this stuff we are just a like a man who looks at his face in a mirror – then goes away and completely forgets what he was like. Let us remember our identity and do what we are.

If you are unsure what your identity at this time in our history, I pray that this longer history rooted in the scriptures gives some clarity – and perhaps a way forward for you in our disordered world and that we are able to take a stand against evil like that of racism - in humility.  

What if we lived in a place where men didn’t claim the world for themselves, but lived out the reality that Our World Belongs to God? This was the original intent when God made all people in his image – so they could guard and keep the sacred garden temple. I believe the original intent of that garden was to allow that sacred space to stretch throughout the world (GK Beale). Instead we have this oral history passed onto us as our origin story: Adam and Eve ate the fruit because they wanted to be like God – and possess his wisdom (Gen 3). They did not take the slow humble, obedient path. They took the quick path to power, the irresponsible path, the undeserved path, the path that claimed the world as their own, not God's.

Then we see several other stories of our origin: Of Cain who was also challenged to take the path of humility to gain favor of God. Instead of showing obedience and control over himself, he too attempted a quick path to power and it manifested itself in hate and violence as he killed his brother. Several generations from Cain comes another power abuser: Lamech – who boasts about his evil to the two women he was enslaving:

I have killed a man for wounding me,

A young man for injuring me.

If Cain is avenged seven times,

Then Lamech seventy-seven times.

 

Humans claiming this world as theirs, and claiming power based upon their superiority is nothing new. All hate groups have this in common. Today, the KKK, the Alt-Right, and Neo-Nazis are continuing to claim power and claim that it is their God-ordained right. Its path is that of seizing power - and hate fuels this ideology. 

I want to take a moment to be clear: 

This is different than claiming to be image bearers of God and claiming that inherent value as a human being. I believe that God's common grace has allowed our society to recognize the intrinsic value of each person - and especially that of ethnic groups that have long been oppressed and repressed. Black lives do matter. Native Americans do matter. They are people who have long been subjected to a system controlled by white men, like me – who have privilege, not because of humility, or mutual respect, but because their forefathers took it in the name of colonization and "discovery" as if native people had not already discovered their own land – and God did not create them in his image

A late Edit after an open conversation: I do not mean to paint the entire history of the United States as evil. Our world struggles with the tension of sin (as I said, this is nothing new), yet there are still many people, white men included, that should be remembered as exemplary. 

 

There were prophets who called out abuses of power. One example is that of God's people being called out by Amos. At that time, God’s people were complacent, sitting with power and feeling secure while feeling pride in their great fortresses and strength (Amos 5 and 6). All the while the innocent were being oppressed and the poor deprived of justice in the courts – therefore the prophet exhorts:

“Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph.”

There was a lot of doom and gloom in the prophet Amos because God’s people were abusing their power and hoarding it. As I had previously stated, this wasn’t a new experience for God’s people. In fact, there were several exiles – where God came and kicked them from the “land” through the Babylonians, Persians and Assyrians. They were meant to be a blessing to the nations. They were meant to be fair, righteous, and represent the God of the heavens, the one who ruled over the whole earth, the Lord who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love – The Lord who is good to all, and has compassion on all he has made (psalm 145). God's people then had some glimmers of hope, but they did not do this well. 

Jesus had a similar message as Amos when he walked into the temple and started flipping tables over and making a whip to drive out the money changers who had turned his father’s house into a den of robbers (Mt. 21; Mk. 11; Lk 19; John 2). Jesus wasn't afraid to call out and revolt against those abusing their power and extorting the poor. 

As I wrote in a previous blog post – God’s temple is no longer merely in the one temple space. Jesus sent his Spirit to dwell in his church – and each person who is a part of the church is a living stone where the Spirit dwells.

So what are we doing? How are we being cleansed? How are we being an instruments of redemption in our neighborhoods, cities, and in our courts? How are we a sign and a taste of God's kingdom? How are we calling out the abuses of power that exist in our society? How do we stand up for what is good and truly seek it?

In Matthew 22, Jesus responded to a religious expert’s question, who was trying to get Jesus to rank the commandments. Perhaps he was trying to get Jesus caught up in one of the many divisions and arguments between the temple leaders. Instead Jesus says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In a world wobbling with news of terror attacks, extremist actions, renewed racism of the KKK & new alt right, bigotry & misogyny. I find that there are countless words being flung around, and often attached to them is that we need to love (and many of these words and exhortations are good, and I agree with them). However, I am still finding it very difficult to find a clear way to love. We also live in a world that has its own definition of love, which is quite difficult to pin down and do.

When we look through the scriptures for this definition of love we find it in a tried and true source: the cross. We find that Jesus was in the form of God – yet did not grasp the power of God, instead he emptied himself, became a servant – was born in a manger (of all places) and humbled himself to death – the worst death of all – on a cross (Phil 2). He was then exalted, by being raised from death. Jesus defeated death so that people may also taste of the freedom he gives. Just as God led the Israelite's out of slavery, Jesus leads those willing from their sin, as he washes us clean because of his sacrifice. He has given us a way to die, and come alive in baptism in his name. God has won the war, now we are adopted as his daughters and sons to live with meaning, purpose and be a part of God's dream to make this world what it is supposed to be. 

This, though, is not a quick path. This is a slow, slow process of building trust and dying and rising in Christ. A route that all of us are called to go through because of our innate desire to abuse any level of power we are given.

This is a slow process of seeking the good, loving the good and hating the evil. It is a process of laying down our lives as living sacrifices. It is a process of being the hands and feet of Christ to those who have had a system of injustice against them. It is a slow process of prayer. A process in which the Spirit leads us to repent, lament, and ask the Lord Jesus to continue to renew, revitalize, and redeem.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another (John 15).