Monday, February 25, 2013

Looking Forward to March 3, 2013 -- 3rd Sunday of Lent

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Joshua 24:14-24 
  • Psalm 1 (VU p.724)
  • Matthew 5:3-12 
The Sermon title is The Church in the World: IN But Not OF  

Early Thoughts: Christian faith is full of paradoxes and oxymorons. Chief among them is the idea that we live in the now and the not yet when it comes to describing the here and yet coming Reign of God. Another is this week's sermon title.

As people of faith we have little choice but to live in the world, unless you feel called to set up a stand-alone community and isolate yourselves--which I would argue goes against the life and vision of Jesus. But at the same time we are challenged to have a different set of priorities from the rest of the world. In the end we need to be worldwise but not worldly. And in 2000 years we have never done a good job of figuring out what that means.

It probably doesn't help that for much of Christian History in the West the nations/kingdoms/empires have been, nominally at least, "Christian". In that context it became very tempting for the church to fall into the trap of believing that the way the world ran was the same as the way the church should run, especially when the Bishops and Princes of the church were also Secular rulers and Princes (many bishops and abbots had --or still have-- seats in the English House of Lords, the Papal States were a separate country, the Church hierarchy routinely helped the absolute rulers of Europe put down the "rabble" in Peasant revolts to name just a few examples). Even as the governing systems moved toward democracy it was often hard for the church to provide an alternate view of how things could be.

One of the seminal works to address the paradox of in the world but not of the world was H Richard Niebuhr's Christ and Culture. Mind you, said book is not an easy read by any means. This blog has a series of posts summarizing Niebuhr's points (the link is to the last in a series of posts, at the top of it there are links to the earlier posts).  Niebuhr outlines a variety of ways that the church of Christ and the world could interact.

In the end, there is a difference to being IN the world (not like we have much of a choice about that) and being OF the world. To be OF the world means that we accept as important what the world says is important. It means we accept the idea that things are as they are. But as people of faith we are called to offer a different perspective. We can, and certainly should, question the priorities of the world around us. We have the ability to suggest where things have gone off the rails both inside and outside the church. This is a part of being faithful. It was always important but now, in a changed world it is perhaps more important. Now the church has a less direct route in setting the agenda for our society (and that may well be a GOOD thing) and so we have to be more intentional in how we get our voice heard. But the blessing is that as the church moves away from the center of power it may also become easier to find the difference between living in the world and becoming too much like the world.

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