This year has been an interesting and unconventional ride for all of us who are tuned into politics. I think one of the big questions Americans have begun to ask is which party, if any, really represents their values, agendas, and dreams. This question was seized by Donald Trump, and he won the presidential nomination as an outsider who yesterday stood in front of the gathered crowd and proclaimed the government inept and out of touch. And yet, today there is another group of people gathering because they believe that both President Trump and the Congressional powers do not hold the best interests of some Americans as a top priority. So, I watch the pageantry of the peaceful transfer of power. I view with respect the outgoing president and thank the Obamas for their service. I respect the Trump family, but have to candidly say that Trump’s own words and thoughts have opened the door to critique, push back, and protest. So, what do we do when we think that we don’t have a voice among those in power? What action is taken when we want to be heard? We create a movement…which leads me not to a discussion of politics, but one of religious movement.
I find it odd that many of the same people who claim that there needs to be more parties involved in electing a president are the same people who sometimes condemn Christianity for having so many different denominations (that is parties). Imagine that there were only two different parties in the Christian faith and one was highly authoritarian and the other was a direct reaction to it. Over the years, groups of Christians decided to break away from the religious power structures because they thought that these established groups had moved away from the heart of Jesus’ message. So each denomination started as a movement to draw the heart of Christian groups back to the essence of Jesus.
You might recall that the Democrats and Republicans were not always the parties in control, and didn’t always think the same way they do today. American parties have included the Whigs, Federalists, and later the Libertarians, Green, and Tea Parties. Some parties are seen as subsets of larger parties, for example most Americans would see the Tea Party as a part of the larger Republican Party. And we have the same thing in religious movements as well, and we also have the incorporation of different ideas into the larger parties through the voice of smaller “protest groups.” This would be what is currently happening to the larger Episcopal Church with the smaller group of American Anglican Churches who want to support same sex inclusion. The larger fellowship is not in line with the smaller “protest group” and they are working it out. I bring this up because it is a contemporary news headline and there are so many other discussions like this happening all across religious denominations.
So, I ask you to think about the idea of religious freedom today and compare it to your own ideas of freedoms of speech and assembly. You see, America gives us the freedom to disagree and when we do so, to act upon it and to create an environment of inclusion from those who have been excluded. If I were to go to a Catholic church this Sunday I would not be permitted to take the bread and cup of the Lord’s Supper, yet I am part of a church family that proclaims Jesus’ sacrifice is for everyone and all are welcomed to the table of Christ. It is a major difference, one that is still being discussed and debated. However, as we open up the Lord’s Supper to all those for whom Jesus died, we believe it is a correction that legitimizes the existence of a different party…notice I did not say the superior one or the only one, but a choice. And in the end the idea of freedom finds its practical application in choice.
I am finding myself trying to be an American and defining that not through what the parties tell me, but listening to the voice of our highest ideas and values, and listening to the dissenting voices. And likewise, I find myself trying to be a Christian by not attending to my tradition and patterns, but by going back to the essence of the Bible and the teaching of Jesus and listening to the dissenting voices. I know that some voices are extreme and harsh, but there are biblical directions about discerning. In the end, freedom that is expressed in choice must be rooted in wisdom, and so we ask for the wisdom from above so that we can properly engage the multiple avenues to fill our minds with wisdom from below. So, the next time you ask why there are so many churches, ask yourself if you are completely heard by the two party system? In the end, the government is still trying to “get it right” and the government is so much younger than the church, who by the way, is still trying to “get it right” ourselves. Of course, that concept should lead us to the one who ultimately got it right, and provided us with the opportunity to be the righteousness of God in the midst of our search.
After about a week of dreary days and rain, we received about an inch of snow. My kids went out to play in it before school started that morning, and I sat, sipping coffee, with the blinds open to the back yard—enjoying the scene. There is something about the covering of snow that is just beautiful. I’m not saying that it can’t be chaotic, cancel school, and make life a mess. I remember our 30 inch storm last year. But, in my mind and heart, a fresh snowfall is a renewing sight, especially after rain and cloud cover. Snow lightens up the winter, it cleanses the ground because it looks clean and new.
A contrast is made in the Bible between light and dark. Whether it is the creator God at the very beginning separating light from darkness and calling the light “good,” or John’s depiction of Jesus as the light of the world that darkness cannot overcome. There are also images of washing that talk about someone being made clean and pure, the Bible will refer to that as being made “white as snow.” You see, sin makes things darker and God makes things lighter. It was God that hung the sun in the sky and it is God who controls the “gates” of heaven where the rain, snow, and other weather pours forth in the Old Testament. Since we just focused on the Christmas story, think about the image of a star that shines forth in the darkness in which Wise Men can follow from afar and gather around Jesus. This contrast permeates the biblical text.
Another way this appears is in passages like Ephesians 3 in which Paul says that his task in ministry is to bring to “light” the mystery of God that has been hidden. We also see this in the Gospel of John when Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus at night, or in the darkness. John uses this image to both tell us what time of day he came, but also to indicate the relationship he has with Jesus…Nicodemus is in the dark and he needs to be “enlightened” with the truth of God’s work through Jesus.
Ultimately we come to this; in the Bible, heaven is a place of perpetual light and at the center of this image is the very presence of God, and earth threatens to spiral into a dark and chaotic place and is an image of humanity’s choice to live in their own ways and fulfill their own wills. The narrative unfolds, and we who are enlightened by the Gospel know that God is in the process of setting up outposts of heaven on earth, dispelling darkness and chaos, and being a place of light. As imperfect as these outposts are, they are mostly referred to today as churches. Churches are these spaces in which the darkness of sin can be redeemed and dispelled, its power defeated, and light can reign bringing the presence of God to us. Remember, darkness has no fellowship with light…when we bring our sin into the light then God forgives us and the sin has no power over us (1 John 1).
So what is the point of this rambling? Sometimes I need the snow in the middle of winter to clean up the ugliness of a barren and stripped natural world, I need to be reminded of my God’s beauty and know that even in the darkest days something wonderful can happen that changes my whole outlook. That is the same reason I need the church, because I need to be in contact with the heavenly world that breaks the ugliness of a barren and stripped spiritual world. I need to be reminded of God’s presence and know that even in the midst of sin, something wonderful can happen that changes humanity’s outlook. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.