Friday, June 24, 2011

Jesus is the Way & the Way Jesus is

Radical Centrist Manifesto V
II. Centered on Jesus, Part 3: The Way Jesus is

It is not enough to affirm Jesus as the Way. We must also tend to the way Jesus is. Among other things that way is the way of life and peace. “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). It is harder to get around Jesus' nonviolence and that of his earliest followers than some would like.

Jesus’ birth was heralded with the hope of peace: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" Luke 2:14

He notoriously commanded his followers: "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt." (Luke 6:27-29)

When he approached Jerusalem, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes” Luke 19:41-42

To his followers he said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 14:2

And his follower and apostle, Paul, seems to have taken the message to heart:

"Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery are in their paths, and the way of peace they have not known." Romans 3:15-17

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:17-18

To live the way Jesus is toward the center where Jesus is means to follow the example of the Self-emptying One (Philippians 2) who died for us even while we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10) and even prayed for those who were killing him :“Father forgive them, for they no not what they do.” (Luke 13:34) Have you ever wondered if that prayer was answered? Or did the Father ignore the Son?

We can dare to live into this way because we believe Jesus when he said, “And I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!"(John 16:23) If he has conquered the world we do not need to. Nor do we need to live in fear or retaliation.

The peace of Jesus is inner peace. If we really believe that he has conquered the world and that he is with us always, we can receive his spirit of peace, letting go of the inner agitation of worry, defensiveness, and anger and, instead, cultivating the fruit of peace in our life.

But it is not just inner peace, it is interpersonal and relational, it is public and political. It is the meek and merciful who are blessed. It is the peacemakers who are children of God.

Thus all forms of violence – in thought, word, and deed – are out of place in the center with Jesus. Our thoughts about and toward others should be of peace, our words and actions should reflect peace. And in the world generally we should be about peace.

Does that mean absolute non-violence? I am persuaded that particpation in violence moves us away from the center. But even if we were to decide that some kinds of violence are necessary and justifiable for Christians, I think we should be much more critical of appeals to violence (Here is the sermon I preached just before the invasion of Iraq: Taking Up the Cross in a Time of War). And we should be distrustful of the appeal violence has to our imaginations.

But war is not the only kind of violence. If the mind set against God participates in death, the mind set on the spirit is about life and peace. I am persuaded that that means a consistent ethic of life and peace (See Consistent Life) that seeks to live counter the culture of death: war, the death penalty, euthanasia, abortion, and other realities like racism and poverty that diminish the life and peace of persons.

Another thing that Conservatives and Liberals/Progressives have in common is the peace they have made with violence. Both, in their way, are enamored with the idea that violence is necessary and redemptive. The NRA (National Rifle Association) and NARAL (National Abortion Rights League) have more in common than just some initials. Both believe in the right of individuals to resort to violence against an unwelcome intruder. Both defend the sacrifice of some for the sake of others. But, if Jesus has offered the perfect sacrifice then we do not need to continue to sacrifice one another (See No More Sacrifices).

That is not an easy way. It is the way of the cross. It is the way Jesus is.

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