Seventh Sunday of Easter, Year B
16 May 2021
Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
1 John 5:9-13
I have been to a few church conventions. Of course, they are work, sometimes enjoyable, sometimes not.
The thing that always had me scratch my head were motions to call on the Canadian government to do X, Y, or Z. Not that I would necessarily be against the intent of the motions but they often seemed to take a lot of time and energy. People would get excited about them, talk about them for a long time, with friendly amendments forth and back, and finally the motions would be passed and the bishop commissioned with the task to write a letter to the Prime Minister.
My problem with these motions is that I do not think we still live in a time in which our Prime Minister – of any party – pays much attention to correspondence from churches, particularly a church as small as ours with now 95000 members in all of Canada, not even half the population of Richmond.
But other things were on my mind too. Like a certain disconnect between the activists putting forward the motions and the congregations from which they came. I always thought that most of the time most the people in the congregations I served weren’t on the same page as the activists at our conventions.
I say this as someone who has always been interested in politics, who was raised in the church and who always treasured Peter’s statement in Acts 5 that we must obey God rather than human authority. I simply thought that the energy invested in these motions would have been better used to learn about these issues in the congregations we came from, rather than bring home motions that were a fait accompli, and that no one could argue anymore because they’d already been passed by the convention.
All that was not completely like our recent study conference where the microphones of participants were muted for fear one of us may say something stupid or offensive, because if someone did, we’d actually have to take time talking with them and we’d prefer not to. You get the sarcasm here.
If you follow our National Church on Facebook you will see devotional types of posts and political proclamation kind of posts, like Thursdays in Black. Thursdays in Black are a campaign of the World Council of Churches in opposition to sexual violence. And so once a week you’ll see a picture of national office staff dressed in black and looking all serious and sad. There is nothing particularly wrong with this, only I fail to see how this is more than virtue signalling, how posting a picture of myself with a banner on Facebook would actually change anything other than make me appear to be on the right side of history.
Of course, Facebook has changed the world. It has reduced our attention span even further and reduced our tolerance for the views and opinions of others.
In short, I prefer the “Buy your pastor a beer day” posts, though I always wonder about pastors who post this on their own page because that certainly looks like they’re asking.
In the book of Exodus, as Moses is tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, God reveals Godself to Moses at the burning bush and calls him to go to Egypt to free God’s people whose cry God has heard. Moses asks God who he shall say has sent him. And God answers, ‘I am who I am.’ … ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”’ (Ex 3:14)
The divine name reveals the mystery and sovereignty of God. God is I am. That divine name is rarely used because the name of God is holy, and so everywhere it occurs in the Hebrew Scriptures we see the consonants for YHWH and the vowels for Adonai, which means Lord, because the name of God was too holy to pronounce. And in many of our bibles we see Lord all in capitals where in the Hebrew the divine name YHWH is used.
In the Gospel of John we learn that Jesus is the Holy One of God. He was from the beginning and through him all things were made. Jesus speaks of himself as “I am” often, and the I am sayings in John are an allusion to the name of God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Jesus says, I am the bread of life (John 6:35), the light of the world (John 8:12), the gate (John 10:9), the Good Shepherd (John 10:11,14), the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6), and the vine (John 15:1,5).
Beyond that, in the story of the healing of the man born bling in John nine, when people wonder whether he who now sees is the same as the man born blind, the man answers repeatedly, “I am.” (9:9)
And so the divine I am can be claimed not only by Jesus but also by his disciples, the divine being of Jesus is the being his followers dwell in, live in, and in which they have abundant life. By being in Jesus they become.
When at the beginning of our reading Jesus speaks about having made the Father’s name known to those whom the Father had given him, he is not only referring to some historic event when God revealed God’s name to Moses at the burning bush but the name and being he himself claims and that the disciples are invited into. They become by being in him.
Let me return to political proclamations on Facebook and elsewhere, to the kind of virtue signalling people engage in. It seems to me that these proclamations are not the politics of Jesus, for they are not only in the world but are also of the world precisely because they do not take the time to be present to others, not even those they purport to speak for. Being present, becoming, dwelling in God takes longer than activism but is more akin to what Jesus did who became one of us so we might become like him.
Christian politics on the other hand are those that heal on the sabbath, that get their hands dirty, that talk to our neighbour and to our enemy, that do not turn off the microphones of those who may say something offensive or stupid. The politics of Jesus are willing to take upon itself the burden and joy to engage and live with those we disagree with.
Last fall I read the book Grace Matters by Chris Rice, a white man, in which he talks about moving from Vermont, the whitest state in the US to Mississippi, the blackest state where he joined a ministry and moved into an inter-racial Christian community which engaged in the hard work of learning to live as Christians.
Jesus does not invite us into activism but into a way of life that is more costly than activism, but also infinitely more rewarding for it is not about slogans but about becoming what God made us in our baptism into Christ.
None of this comes to us naturally. We need to work on it and choose it. It is more costly than slogans, petitions, and Facebook frames, but it is the way to claim the promise that is ours.
Thanks be to God.