Last Sunday I was set to give the message for imagine/Northampton's Very First Christmas Celebration. But due to the threat of the heavy snow we were supposed to get (which turned out to be only a dusting even though the radar showed it snowing over Northampton for 24 hours), we canceled Sunday's celebration on Saturday. Oh well.
Anyway, I thought I would share briefly what I was going to say.
Some background, first (I know this is not a complete sentence, by the way). Over the last
several months due to my reading of Ken Bailey, N.T. Wright, and John Howard Yoder, as well as Shane Claiborne and Jim Wallis earlier, I am being changed in how I view what Jesus came to do and how the Kingdom of God is to operate in my life and the lives of others. Almost 100% of my ministry before coming to Northampton was to Christians, teaching them to hear God and helping them heal. It was about liberation, but the focus was on people who already acknowledge Christ. All of it good stuff.
My change has come in two forms.
First, I realize increasingly Christ's liberating revolution was as much about overthrowing and neutralizing the universal Powers (Satanic rebellion, sin-infected cultural institutions, social conventions and traditions) that crush people, lull them into trifles, or destroy their lives as much as it is about my personal salvation as a sinner in need of the liberation of the cross. I have zero doubts I need Jesus's substitutionary atoning for me. But it isn't merely about my personal need as desperate as that is. I am just one tiny part of an astounding Creation-freeing Story, the likes of which is beyond our imagining in its scope and import.
So the collective witness and work of Christians demonstrates that the stranglehold of the Powers can be defused without violence or anarchic rebellion. We can live differently and demonstrate a freedom from oppression no matter how enticing. Our Holy Spirit infused values can transform what the Powers commandeered:
Love undermines fear.
Sacrificial service subverts pride.
Grace deflates hatred.
Generosity shames selfishness.
Jesus's revolution seeded at his birth, created at the cross, launched at the Resurrection and spread at Pentecost irrevocably severed the root of "the sickness unto death" in the universe. It is finished at the heart. It is the Story of all stories without which would make all of life "sound and fury; the tale told by a fool, signifying nothing." Jesus liberated the universe and his revolution is well underway.
Secondly, the Church, you and me, has been given the divine mandate to spread this subversive liberation. We are to head out all the time and work patiently to make disciples. We are to love and serve the world, witnessing to the transforming power of Jesus to free the captive and overturn the Powers. By our ordinary and simple lives we gain a foothold and establish life in midst of death.
Your primary (first order) identity as a Jesus-follower is that of a liberator and revolutionary. What? I know that might sound over-blown, but is it? What other primary identity could possibly trump it for the Christian: being an American or other nationality, your profession, the local church you go to, who you voted for in the national election, your ethnicity, financial or social status, what town or neighborhood you live in, or whether you are a Yankees or Red Sox fan? Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25:31-40 that our primary identity centers on incarnating the his life-giving love to the least of our brethren. and anyone else he puts in our path. We are to spend the rest of our days so doing. We are servants (actually bond-servants, if you will). Nothing we do or can do is more important. Matters of eternity command our closest attention and our deepest daily loyalty, do they not?
Jesus liberated and sanctioned us to go about every last one of our days bringing the kingdom into the lives of people we meet, care for, work with and live around. Each day affords us the opportunity to unlock someone with a word, gesture or act of service that opens them just a little to the Gospel. How we do so does not have to be spectacular or clever. It will be merely the expression of a person who has been undone by the loving liberation of Jesus, and desires the same for everyone else who will listen and see.
Do you see yourself this way? Are you paying attention? Are you holding back? Is it your primary identity truth be told?
I have a long way to go in being really useful to his revolution, but I want to be.
I ask him to sovereignly make it so. I am more of a mess than I like to admit or show publicly, but history testifies he uses messes like me way beyond what they could have imagined.
May what he started in me years ago in Boston be completed such that his revolution is more and more my way of living and that of the McDermott household.