IT TAKES A COMMUNITY TO FOLLOW JESUS
This afternoon has been a restful one. After a rip to Delhi to find new patients, with the feeling of rain in the air and my heart full of ideas to share I sat down at this empty computer screen to write an up-date of sorts. It was then that inspiration was side-tracked, a flaw to writing on a screen with attached buttons, gadgets, clicks and options.
Following you will read an article I read from Chris Haw's Blog. I don't know this guy from Adam, other than than he is a member of Camden House, an intentional community dedicated to following the teachings of Christ. The article is written by a friend of his, Chico.
I agree with, and am challenged by what he has to say.
the sermon on the mount is out of style these days. it is out of style because it does not address "issues." the Church in america is in the midst of a political battle--will it go Right or Left? will it fall in line behind Dobson and Bush or Wallis and Obama? the battle between the Religious Right and the Religious Left doesn't include sermon on the mount because sermon on the mount transcends the myopic battle of "issues."
the sermon on the mount does not address "issues" because "issues" is the concern of a Church that has been fragmented into autonomous individuals. america will go down in Church history not as the nation that taught christians to relentlessly consume or to use violence to solve its problems (the Church was good at doing this before america came along), but as the nation that turned the Church (and the rest of world) into a sea of autonomous individuals bobbing at random with no belonging to family or community. the glorious dream of american freedom for the individual has succeeded beyond the founding fathers' wildest dreams as americans are now not only free from colonial rule, but also from any sort of commitment to town, neighborhood, family, parents and now even spouses.
see, the sermon on the mount was intended to be corporately lived out by communities, not by individuals in an anonymous society. it was intended for jewish marriages, families, households, towns and villages. it was intended for people who interacted with one another a daily basis for many years. it was intended for communities of
stability and commitment.
but the american ideal of freedom for the individual coupled with the industrial revolution's "quick and easy answers" to "inefficient" work has shattered most civil and familial communities. friends are made not with nearby neighbors, but with screennames on "friendster." teenagers cant wait to leave home when they turn 18 to set off hunting for a college "as far away from home as possible." college graduates make their decisions about where to live based on weather conditions (california, florida and colorado are filling up fast these days) or career opportunities rather than on family, friends or church. adults commute 30 minutes to work, driving past a dozen towns filled with people they will never meet and come home to read blogs of
"friends" they never see.
they will hop from town to town, job to job, church to church, (spouse to spouse), never being in one place long enough or detached from technology enough to develop committed relationships with people who live close to them. its no wonder the sermon on the mount, delivered to communities of people who grow up and die together, makes little sense to a Church of rampant relocation.
and so while the Religious Right and the Religious Left duke it out over abortion, healthcare, homosexuality, the environment and war, the spine of matthew 5-7 and luke 6 are left stiff and unbroken. for what sense can individuals' make of jesus' command to:
comes to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on
the way to court with him.
when you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that
someone as something against you, leave your gift there before the
altar and go; first be reconciled to your accuser and then offer
do not lust.
do not make vows...but let your "yes" be "yes" and your "no" be
if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give them your
cloak as well.
lend without expecting anything in return.
do not judge, do not condemn, forgive...
the words of jesus from sermon on the mount sound old, outdated and irrelevant. "do not make vows? resolve conflict with my neighbors on the way to the town council? give people my jacket when they sue me? do not lend at interest?" what have these
things to do with my life? and what have they to do with global crisis like abortion, genocide and global warming?
no, they would not make sense. they would not make sense to anyone who does not live in a community of people who share daily life together.
but if one prepares dinner with, works with, prays with, eats with, does business with, and worships with ones neighbors for many years, one will come to realize that resolving conflict before participating in eucharist, not lusting after a community
mate's spouse, lending thirty dollars to a struggling housemate, telling the truth and withholding judgments are essential for a community of people to live peaceably and justly.
but the Church does not know commitment to a community, therefore it does not know how to respond to communal commands of sermon on the mount. instead, as homeless
apartment-renters and itinerant career-shoppers, they can care only for those things that will remain stable even if they dont. issues like abortion, homosexuality and darfur wont go away even if one change jobs, towns or churches.
so while the Religious Right and the Religious Left continue to clamor after issues, sermon on the mount will be resting quietly on the coffeetable, waiting for some community of christians to commit to each other and actually embody the alternative society jesus imagined.
and i am convinced that as christians withdraw from the ugly political battles over "issues" and begin to live quietly in communities of forgiveness, sharing and truth-telling, the world and all its so-called issues, will witness another way of life, be fascinated enough to try it and so be healed.