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Posts Tagged ‘power’

We have been gathering on Wednesdays to read the Old Testament book of Daniel. Together, we are asking questions of the text, engaging the text, and trying to discern what the text means for a church in the twenty-first century. Surprisingly, Daniel does not encourage a particular diet or give tips on dream interpretation. Here are some things that Daniel does seem interested in;

1, the state wants us to become good citizens of the state, the state is uninterested in making disciples for Jesus.

2, it is not only a Babylonian notion to acknowledge God as a prop for the state.

3, exile continues to be a good metaphor for where we live and how we are to live today.

4, catering to a culture of power, control, and unrealistic perspectives of self can drive one to insanity.

5, it is possible to live in a pagan culture without becoming tainted by it.

6, we should care about rulers and pray for them. We should appeal to their humanness, not their sinfulness.

7, rulers and governments will continue to come and go – only God remains eternal.

8, God is ruler over kings, nations, and history.

9, the wisdom of God is superior to human wisdom, even the best Babylon has to offer.

10, God has always been a delivering, saving God.

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In the New Testament Satan claims to have the authority to hand over the kingdoms of the world. Satan may have thought he could handle Jesus the same way had always handled other situations. So he makes a power play, offering Jesus all kingdoms. Evil converged together in all its might. But God showed up as well, and showed up as Jesus.

Greg Boyd suggests the New Testament contains an emphasis on cosmic warfare. And he goes on to say we are either fighting the powers or we are being played by the powers.

The rulers and powers of the world will still do what they do. But, ever since Jesus showed up announcing that the Father has a different plan about kingdom and power they will not have the normal results. The rulers have been defeated. Jesus has won the victory. A revolution is underway.

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I recently picked up N.T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began. Admittedly, I loved it as soon as I read the title. I loved it even more after being pulled into the biblical storyline and enjoying Wright’s ability to pull me into the narrative. Here is an excerpt from the first page; “Another young leader had been brutally liquidated. This was the sort of thing that Rome did best. Caesar was on his throne. Death, as usual, had the last word. Except that in this case it didn’t…” He goes on “Something had happened that afternoon that had changed the world. That by six o’clock on that dark Friday evening the world was a different place.”

Crucifixion was intended to demonstrate who holds the power. And that the powerful were willing to use extreme pain, brutality and shame to make that message clear. Crucifixion was designed to stop a revolution in its tracks. Wright tells us that when Jesus told followers to carry their cross, they would not have heard this as a metaphor. In opposition to the worlds displays of power, the shame and horror became part of the meaning. The biblical storyline became clearer for the followers of Jesus.

The biblical storyline is not the only thing that helped shape the meaning of the crucifixion. There were already existing meanings of the cross as a death instrument that were influential. Wright gives three meanings for crucifixion in the first century. 1) The cross carries social meaning. Simply, we are superior and you are inferior. 2) The cross had political meaning. We are in charge here and you are not. 3) The cross had theological meaning. The gods of Rome and Caesar (son of a god) are more powerful than your gods. As Jesus hung on the cross, these meanings were heard loud and clear and appeared to be true.

Wright spends significant time talking about the themes and narratives that early Christians would have already had in their heads that allowed them to make sense of the crucifixion the way they did. We might ask, alongside Wright, “Why did they not see this as an end of a potential Jesus based revolution?” Instead they saw crucifixion as the beginning. The New Testament insists that when Jesus of Nazareth died, something happened that changed the world.

Early Christians started talking as if this shocking, scandalous execution launched a revolution.  They began to see this as the pivotal event in the story of God. In fact, this was the vital moment in all of human history. God had put his plan in operation – his plan to rescue the world. They saw the crucifixion as the inauguration of God’s plan. The early Christians insisted that followers of King Jesus became part of the difference. The New Testament, with the cross at its center, is about God’s kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven. According to Wright, the first sign the revolution was underway was the resurrection.

Wright wants us to recognize the cross as more than allowing for personal salvation, more than a ticket to heaven. He does not deny personal meaning for individuals, but wants to be clear that the cross carries significant meaning for the wider world. Wright wants us to know that Jesus died so that we could become part of God’s plan to put the world right. Welcome to the revolution.

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Now that the conventions are over, I have some thoughts. First, no one should be surprised that this is all about marketing. Two different brands trying to get you to buy their own version of the same product. Week long commercials is what political conventions have become. Costume parties where people strut around like kings and queens pretending to have power and offer solutions.

That is exactly why I was looking forward to the time Mark Burns came onto the stage to offer a benediction. I expected him to remind us that government was not God. I expected him to remind us that we cannot baptize the king’s agenda and pretend it is God’s agenda. I wanted him to come out like John the Baptist talking to politicians “Hello Herod” and talking politics “The Kingdom is at hand.” But on that evening Mark Burns seemed to have his eyes set on a different kingdom. I just wish someone would have reminded us that no matter what happens in November – this is not the kingdom we seek.

My favorite part was when Mike Pence came out to join Tim Kaine and they greeted one another by passing the peace. And then stood united as Christians and assured the rest of us that their allegiance to Jesus was priority for them over any party loyalties. And then promised to demonstrate how this family talks with one another even when they disagree about philosophy of government. And this unity would be evident in any future debates. But then, this didn’t happen either.

Instead it appears that many people remain focused on moving ahead with a status quo kingdom. Now that I think of it, I don’t really have any thoughts about what happened at the conventions.

 

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