Wednesday, March 5, 2008

"What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus"

As you are all aware by now, I am currently reading in the morning the volume on the Gospel of Matthew from the Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. This particular volume is authored by theologian Stanley Hauerwas, who teaches at the Divinity School of Duke University in North Carolina. Dr. Hauerwas works within the Methodist tradition. Like Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Lutherans, Methodists are ecclesial, which makes them quite catholic. In fact, there are ways in which their ecclesiology is better developed, understood, and lived than among Roman Catholics. This is primarily due to the fact that not only has Roman Catholic ecclesiology not overcome clericalism, it seems to be returning to a form of clericalism that might yet prove disastrous, complete with its confectionary view of the sacraments- Pardon me while I whip up some Eucharist for you, as if the assembly has no role. Such an understanding is a recipe for spiritual infantilism, not Christian maturity. This is what I was hinting at last night in discussing penance as a sacrament. Precisely because it is a sacrament, it is not limited to the transaction that occurs in the box. Exploring ecclesiology, ministry, and orders is my research for my thesis which, when fully articulated, will have something to do with what role deacons play, which is a supporting and bridge-building role both between the Church and the world and between priestly and lay ministry. Anyway, I digress.

This morning I read Hauerwas' theological commentary on the fifth chapter of Matthew's Gospel, which is the first part of the Sermon on the Mount. I stopped underlining due to the realization that I might underline most of the chapter. So, I limited myself to a long passage that Hauerwas quotes from The Politics of Jesus: Vicit Agnus Noster, by Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder. This quote, along with another by Lutheran Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from his incredible book Discipleship, have to do with how suffering has meaning in light of Michael Spencer's observation I posted last night. The two are interspersed with a quote by Hauerwas himself.
Yoder: "the cross and not the sword, suffering and not brute power determines the meaning of history. The key to the obedience of God's people is not their effectiveness but their patience. The triumph of the right is assured not by the might that comes to the aid of right, which is of course the justification of the use of violence and other kinds of power in every human conflict. The triumph of the right, although it is assured, is sure because of the power of the resurrection and not because of any calculation of causes and effects, nor because of the inherently greater strength of the good guys. The relationship between the obedience of God's people and the triumph of God's cause is not a relationship between cause and effect but one of cross and resurrection" (Matthew 72-emboldening and underlining mine).

Hauerwas, commenting on this passage of Yoder's and on the final verse of Matthew chapter five: "We are called, therefore, to be perfect, but perfection names our participation in Christ's love of his enemies. Perfection does not mean that we are sinless or that we are free of anger or lust. Rather, to be perfect is to learn to be part of a people who take the time to live without resorting to violence to sustain their existence. To so live requires habits like learning to tell one another the truth, to be faithful in our promises to one another, to seek reconciliation. To so live can be called pacifism and/or nonviolence, but such descriptions do no do justice to the form of life described in the Beatitudes and antitheses, for that form of life can be lived truthfully only if Christ is who Matthew says he is, that is, the Son of God" (Matthew 72-emboldening and underlining mine).

Bonhoeffer: "Only those who there, in the cross of Jesus, find faith in the victory over evil can obey his command, and that is the only kind of obedience which has the promise. Which promise? The promise of community with the cross of Jesus and of community with his victory . . .

In the cross alone is it true and real that suffering love is the retribution for the overcoming of evil. Participation in the cross is given to the disciples by the call to discipleship". They are blessed in this visible community"
(Matthew 73- emboldening and underlining mine).

So many hymns, verses, stories of other people I have been privileged to hear and, in small ways, be a part, as well as vignettes from my own story have flooded my mind this morning. I want to be a disciple of Jesus, not merely an admirer. Only in the Cross of Jesus does suffering have meaning. Apart from the Cross suffering is meaningless, which is why it bears no intrinsic value. Suffering can only be assigned meaning according to this divine hermeneutic, the interpretive key being our Lord himself, who redeems our suffering by his unfailing love for us. Insofar as we live lives that redeem suffering by unfailing love, which, among other things, means helping people find their voices in order to tell their stories, to tell the truth, to speak the the truth in love and not out of spite, thus joining their "stories with his", we are his disciples. Stated simply, Jesus' disciples, in whatever situation we may find ourselves, seek to bring about reconciliation. This also means acknowledging the truth about ourselves, becoming who we are, which is beloved children of the Father through the Son, and thus empowered by the Spirit, who, Luke Timothy Johnson tells us, is the mode of Christ's resurrection presence among us.

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