Killing Baby Jesus

Today’s post is a guest post by Michael McCluskey. Michael always makes me think deeper about my own faith and  is one of my favorite conversation partners. He is a junior at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth and a member of Sandy Springs Christian Church in Atlanta.

Every year as we Disciples celebrate the Advent season, I recall a conversation I once overheard from a congregant as she asked our senior minister why we practice communion, the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, during a season where Jesus is but a small child. She didn’t like that we were celebrating the death of the baby as we anticipated his birth. How could we kill an innocent baby?

Baby Jesus

Her concern made sense to me – why should we celebrate death in this joyful season of life? But we forget. We fall victim to our own blissful ignorance of the holiday season. We seek refuge during this season from all the strife and suffering in our lives – the Advent season is our break from the regularly scheduled pain of being a person in the world. We do all we can to preserve the innocence of the season as we cling to the innocence of Baby Jesus. Why would we celebrate the death of the baby? Why would we tarnish the joy of the Advent season?

We are quick to forget why we anticipate the Christ child. The Christ child who we know to be the Liberator, the Peace-maker, the Lamb. Immanuel came as a baby in a manger, but we know that the trough is not all this child is destined for. We know that this child, helpless and innocent lying in the manger, the son of refugees, the brown-skinned Palestinian Jew – he is our Savior. He was anointed to bring the kingdom of heaven to all the nations. This innocent child came to speak truth to power and defend the weak, the poor, and the unloved – those as weak and innocent as that baby lying in the manger.

This congregant wanted to shelter the Christ child from the pain of the world. She did not want to pervert his innocence with the cold light of truth that suffering and death exists in our world. She wanted to hold him in her arms so nothing could ever harm him. She wanted to turn away from the world and give this child the very best she could, just as any mother would. But she forgot that this child was destined for so much more. When we turn away from the cross during the season of Advent to celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, that title becomes a platitude – frivolous and devoid of life. When we turn away from the sacrifice, Immanuel becomes a baby to a poor family lying in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Friends, this is no ordinary babe.

This child grew up and became a man. He turned the tables and disrupted familiar injustice. He boldly loved those whom society had forgotten. He fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy and ushered in an era of peace-making where one day the Lamb might lie down the with Wolf. He stuck his hand over the hole of the asp and, while it bit him, he did this knowing that one day a child would be able to do the same and would not be harmed. He shouldered the ridicule of the complacent pious knowing that one day they too would be enlightened by the truth of God’s grace – that all are loved no matter what. He carried his cross up that hill knowing that he did so for the salvation of all of humankind – so that no longer would they have to do the same.

In this Christmas season, may we not be so quick to forget that the Christ child is to lead the calf, the young lion, and the fatling all together in harmonious peace. We are called to be peace-makers in our own lives – to seek justice for the broken and to love the abandoned and forgotten. We are called to hold children that are not our own in the same way that the woman wanted to hold baby Jesus. As the snow falls outside the window pane and a tree stands tall, adorned with Christmons and crowned with a golden star, we are called to look into the eyes of the stranger and offer them bread and cup no matter who they are. In this season of life, we remember not the death, but the triumphant resurrection of a babe lying in a manger.

Claiming New Life

CrossOn Easter Sunday, Christians around the world bore witness to Resurrection, that nothing will ever be the same again. History is full of incidents where people sought to snuff out the movement of God, afraid that Jesus is on the loose. During Holy Week, we remember such a time when authorities were so scared of this movement that they put Jesus to death. Even death couldn’t stop Jesus, couldn’t stop the movement of God.

During my Easter sermon, I asked people if they knew that they were joining a revolution by coming to church on Easter Sunday. That’s exactly what happened, one that began anew as a group of faithful disciples peered into an empty tomb long ago. Jesus was on the loose. The promise of a new way of life and a new day was true. A revolution that bears witness to God’s love, a love so strong that it could not be defeated, even by death.

I believe the Resurrection speaks to the desire of God for all people to know the fullness of life. The opportunity before each and every person to claim a new life, to claim who God has created them to be. stands true. Blessings on you as you claim that new life, blessings on us as a nation and world as we claim new ways of being in the world. Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen Indeed!

Dear Andy, What Were You Thinking? From One Pastor to Another

Andy, I’ve been there.  You are preaching and you are onto something good and the Spirit is moving in you and among the congregation. You say something, thinking it will resonate with the crowd. After the sermon is over, someone reminds you what you said and you think, “did I just say that?” Maybe you did mean to say and meant it how it sounded. That people who take their kids to over 80 percent of the churches in our nation are selfish. That everyone should go to your church or a church like yours. Granted, you started something and started something big. You are one of the founding fathers of the megachurch movement and I understand you don’t want to bite the hand that feeds you. There is a lot us mainliners can learn from you. Some of what you have done has helped us change for the better to meet the challenge of being a 21st century church.

I know you are passionate about the “next” generation. I am equally or more passionate about the next generation as you are, I’m just not quite as famous. Surely you don’t think the megachurch, specifically your megachurch is the only place children and youth should feel at home. Actually, why do we have to call them the “next” generation when really they are today’s generation. They can tell us what’s authentic and what’s not. My 4 year old  has been walking around our house all week singing songs from their children’s assembly this past Sunday. I wonder how many adults are doing that.

I’m fortunate to serve a church that is large by our denomination’s standards. We are large enough to have critical mass and resources for great ministries with children and youth. We can afford gifted and called youth and children’s ministers, and we have an excellent volunteer team. Not as big as your team of course, but still. We do excellent work with children and youth. They are known. Their teachers know them. Their ministers know them. Volunteers know them. Adults in the church know them. Even the senior pastor knows them. Parents have confidence that there is a village surrounding their kids that is helping to raise them. Get this, when they grow up, they come back. They serve as teachers, as youth sponsors, planting a new worship service, building homes in border communities of Mexico, feeding the hungry. Some have gone out into the world to be missionaries, to work in advocacy, policy making, teaching abroad and in our inner-city. I believe the church played a huge role in these calls on their lives. They were encouraged, prayed for, struggled with, listened to, etc. by those who knew them, knew their life, and could sense their call.

Like I said, we are one of the larger churches. I know countless others, the ones you call small, in our tradition, that are empowering and equipping youth and children like you wouldn’t believe. It’s truly inspiring to see the faithfulness of some these churches.They don’t even have the huge worship production budget and other resources that many of us have. They are simply trusting in the love of God and our relationships through God

My church is all that far from yours. We’ve even had a few of your people become our people. I’m sure some of my people have become your people as well and that’s okay.

We are all trying to accomplish similar things. Share the love and grace of God, transform lives, heal the world, and bring justice and wholeness to our world. I happen to think the “next” generation will do wonderfully at this, whether they are a part of your church or not.

It’s tough as pastors, especially when we are proud of our churches and the ministry they do. But our pride doesn’t have to diminish another’s ministry. I’ll keep that in mind as well. Together, no matter whose building we are in on Sunday let’s work together to continue God’s good work in our midst. Thanks for listening.

 

 

 

 

.

An Open Table


Mission TableIs your congregation liberal or conservative? 
The man asked me the dreaded question right there in the middle of the coffee shop. This conversation got serious fast. We had only been chatting for a bit after I told him I was a pastor. I know he was trying to get a feel for the church and my brand of theology. I told him we were an open table church. So, is your church liberal or conservative?

Brian McLaren writes that we “have intelligence on ice and ignorance on fire” in today’s religious landscape and by and large he is correct. It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly we begin defining ourselves and more importantly God with neat lines and definitions. We don’t dare venture outside those boxes we put ourselves into for fear of being labeled. You love and are passionate about Jesus,you must be an evangelical. You believe its okay to read the Bible with a critical eye towards context. You must be a progressive. Where is the line? I suspect that the terms that us “insiders” cling to like a life raft mean very little to those outside of our institutions, except to serve as a turn off.  Are we more in love with our theology than we are with God and God’s mission and call upon us?

It’s a futile act to try and reduce this beautiful, wonderful, life-giving and even terrifying mystery we call faith to a simple term or two. In doing so, we are closing off so many possibilities for ourselves and our communities. One of the roles of pastor is that of public theologian. For me, a large portion of this calling is helping people to do their own theology (God-talk) on a daily basis. Could it be that we do our best theological work while also doing our best to follow the way of Jesus? Why are we afraid to let God’s movement of love and grace in our lives and churches stand on its own? Why can’t justice for all, compassion, and working together towards God’s shalom speak for itself?

It’s what Jesus would do, I told him. Best I can tell, God welcomes us all. An open table means that all are welcomed and there are no litmus tests of faith or labels.  God meets us where we are on our journey and continues that journey with us. There is room enough for me and there is room enough for you. There is room for everyone. 

 

Peyton Manning, Cam Newton, Grace, and Lent

PeytonIn full disclosure, I watched none of the Super Bowl. I was tired, a bit under the weather, and didn’t want to watch a Vol and a War Eagle battle it out for NFL supremacy. 

I’ve read a lot today about Cam Newton’s actions during the Super Bowl. He didn’t pay proper respects during the National Anthem, showboats on the field, was a poor sport in defeat. Today, Peyton Manning is being heralded as the consummate professional who always wins with class and accepts defeat gracefully.

We have always been a culture that loves winners and had the ability to pile on others when they are down. It feels like its gotten worse, this practice slowly seeping into almost every life. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that people were piling on Manning because of an accusation that he had taken HGH? It’s easy to dismiss this as social media’s fault because of the anonymity, but I think that’s just an easy excuse. Could it be that we are simply more critical of one another?

We are lacking grace towards one another and this lack of grace is finding its way into every corner of our lives. Cam Newton is only 24 years old and will probably learn as he goes what it means to be a professional. I’ve witnessed guys at college games yelling from the upper deck at 18 year old kids on the field that they are idiots. We simply do not leave anyone any room to fail or fall short before we pile on them and give them the proverbial kick to the curb. I’ve seen this in how we interact with one another and how we talk about others.

We too often lack the gift of grace towards another. We do not allow ourselves or others the room to fail, therefore we become fearful to try new things. The consequences of failure in the eyes of others has become too great. The greatest lessons we learn often come from failure, but we aren’t extended the grace to make mistakes from which to learn.

This week, many Christians are making decisions about what to give up for Lent. I wonder what would happen if we gave up being critical of one another for Lent? What if we instead embraced the gift of grace that has so richly been given to each of us and generously offered that to others?

 

 

No More Apologies (or Labels)

Church

“Oh, I’m not that kind of Christian.” I have uttered those words more times than I can count. As a child, playing with neighbors, in the halls of middle and high school, in social gatherings in college, in offices I’ve worked in, and now, as an ordained minister, seemingly to most every person I meet. I’ve grown weary of apologizing for my faith. Maybe you have as well. Continue reading “No More Apologies (or Labels)”

The Church’s Game 7 Moment

BravesThere has been a great article going around the web that originated with the Humans of New York site, written by a women in New York studying to be a rabbi. She makes the correlation between being in the crowd at an important baseball game and feeling the emotion and contentedness that comes when people come together around a common cause. If you have been to an important sporting event, you know this feeling.

I was struck by her honesty in the beginning. “I’m studying to be a rabbi. I’m a little worried that I’ll be out of a job because less and less people seem to find religion meaningful.” Continue reading “The Church’s Game 7 Moment”