The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where christians ought to be and what christianity should be about.
- George McLeod ( founder of Iona Community 1938 )
A mysterious star navigates through the dark space of infinity, through the star fields that God told Abraham would be as numerous as his descendants. It stops on the fringe of humanity and it illuminates the spot where God will become one of us, taking on flesh and bones. I am always captured by the profound reality in the gospels that Jesus the God man is birthed on the periphery of humanity and religion and dies in the same place...abandoned by religion and humanity. Even in the gospel of John when the writer pens that he pitched his tent in the midst of humanity, into our neighborhood...Jesus lives on the margins.
It is easy when your stuck in the " church bubble " to forget what Jesus was all about. We have been indoctrinated to believe that Jesus is all about personal salvation, he died to forgive your sins, guaranteeing a ticket in your hand for flight and accommodation in that eternal retirement home called heaven.
We forget that Jesus was the culmination of the prophetic voices that still echo along the corridor of history. Like resonating sound waves that join in unison and finally collide with Jesus he speaks with crystal clear passion about one thing...the Kingdom of God, and his passion for justice.
We need pause, to be still and listen deeply to the prophets. They speak about God's passion, and Jesus is the fullfilment of the passion.
"The Lord is exalted", proclaims Isaiah. " He dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness." ( 33:5 )
" I am the Lord " announces Jeremiah in the name of God. " I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight." ( 9:24 )
Again Isaiah, " Is such the fast I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and lie is a sack cloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this fast that I choose; to break the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? ( 58:5-7 )
From Micah, " He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. ( 6:6-8 )
Lastly from Amos, " I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. ( 5:21-24 )
We forget Jesus the God-man lived on the margins of humanity. He lived amidst its poverty, its injustice, its oppression, its sickness and its sin. He lived so deeply in the midst of the human wreckage that the Pharisees could not really tell him apart of the sinners. As profoundly strange as it sounds he was one of them. We as christians have a real problem with a fully human Jesus, it's extremely uncomfortable to wrestle with that reality. We like a Jesus that is 90% God and about 10% human. That is a far more comfortable Jesus. We keep our distance from that kind of Jesus. We can worship that Jesus without having to imitate his life, and live out and reenact his profound mysterious parables.
We have pulled Jesus out of the world, out of the stench, out the filth and brokenness of humanity and put him under house arrest in the church building convincing ourselves that Jesus is far more concerned about the sterile vacuum of a sacred holy space. Do we imagine him wandering around a church that stands empty most week days eagerly waiting for Sunday morning when he can inhabit the praises of "his" people?
And when did this Jesus of the gospels all of a sudden aquire an appetite for worship music to appease him, and keep him happy?The prophets seemed quite clear on the type of worship God desired and music didn't seem to make the cut. Jesus profoundly seems to inhabit a more worldy, a more human...a more secular worship space.
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.'
"Then those 'sheep' are going to say, 'Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?' Then the King will say, 'I'm telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me." ( Eugene Peterson's The Message; Matthew 25 )
We come to the profound conclusion that we worship Jesus in the face of broken humanity, not before the altar of the temple.
As christians we are very good at compartmentalizing life and people. We draw lines all through life, barriers, the boundaries of sacred and secular. We draw circles around people, groups of people...we have insiders and outsiders. Life in the context of the profound mysterious reality of Jesus is seen different way.
He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he's there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross. ( Eugene Petersons The Message; Colossians 1 )
Jesus is the intermolecular force, the gravity that holds all reality together, sacred and secular. Despite how tarnished, filthy, broken and cracked the human image was, Jesus could always see past it...and see the image of God hidden in everyone.
I want to encourage people to really think, reflect deeply on that reality...of finding Jesus in the midst of life. When I hear people say, " I wish we had a space where we could sing christian songs, worship songs." Or, " I can't sing those songs because there not christian." It saddens me deeply.
We forget in the gospels Jesus wasn't speaking christians. He didn't speak christianeze, theological garble when to talked to people. He used a mysterious language, of parable that captured the imagination of humanity. People had to wrestle with them, moving them into a liminal space where they saw God and humanity differently. Often it wasn't the obvious black and white, it was more color that spilled out over the lines...it was more mystery as truth. It gave people a glimpse of a new world, of abundant life. It left people in awe.
I think of how often I listen to music today, so called " secular music " and a line of lyrics will awaken me like a flash of light. And at the same time the neurons in my brain begin to spark, and the harddrive in my mind begins to whirl...and I think. You could almost say it's an " epiphany."
1. a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something; 2. an intuitive grasp of reality through something; 3. an illuminating discovery; 4. a revealing scene or moment; 5. an appearance or manifestation, especially of a divine being.
Is it only in christian music, worship music that this can happen? I don't think so. There is so much good music out there, with profound, mysterious spirit-filled lyrics...deeply human and divine. We just need to have the same redemptive imagination as Jesus and engage people in conversation. Draw them into that mysterious place where the Psalmist proclaims. " deep calls to deep ", where spirit talks to spirit.
As long as the church retreats, stays in the building, reinforcing and protecting itself, our culture will never experience an epiphany.
Over the last few decades, the church has been pushed further and further onto the periphery of culture. Or in many instances, the church has retreated to the comfortable confines of its Christian subculture. So we are inside our churches looking out, but we really find ourselves on the outside looking in. God is calling the church out of the church and back into the midst of humanity that Jesus lived " in."