Three Pentecost/Proper 8C: The Movement

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Spring break of the last year of seminary,
the bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis
brought the four senior seminarians home
for each of us interview in the same four parishes.
One was in Evansville down on the Ohio River,
another in Lafayette up on the Wabash River.
The other two were in Indianapolis.

I remember the interview in Evansville.
The rector was evangelical,
rigid in body and mind,

and for whatever reason,
I found him a little bit scary.
I spent the day there learning about the parish
and Evansville, as well as getting to know the rector.

He took me to lunch at a downtown club
on the top story of an office building
overlooking the Ohio River and city.
I took the moment to confess
I wasn’t sure that the two of us
were quite compatible
theologically or liturgically.
He put his arm around my shoulder
and looking down on the city, he said,
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborer are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest
to send out laborers into his harvest.”

I don’t know what I said to him, if anything.
But I do know that I was thinking,
that we were not seeing the same Jesus
nor looking at the same harvest.

Let’s keep getting clean with Jesus.

The last two weeks
I spent a little time brushing away
dirt and detritus
built up on the floor of a two-thousand-year-old
history between Jesus and us.
I want to continue with that just a bit.

I going to do something I don’t do often,
which is read a few excerpts from someone
who writes on the subject.
In part, so you will know it is not just Cam-nonsense
but also because he writes clearly.

I am going to read from John Dominic Crossan’s book,
Jesus, A Revolutionary Biography.

In it, he is commenting upon
the well-known verse in Luke
in which Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Crossan argues against the English word “poor”
as the translation for the Greek word
that appears in the text.
He prefers the word, “destitute.”
He isn’t alone in this interpretation either.
It may seem like splitting hairs until
we hear Crossan explain it.

It is a little lengthy, but here it is:
“The poor man has to work hard but has always enough to survive, while the beggar has nothing at all. Jesus, in other words, did not declare blessed are the poor, a class that included, for all practical purposes, the entire peasantry; rather, he declared blessed are the destitute – for example, the beggars.

Now, what on earth does that mean, especially if one does not spiritualize it away, as Matthew immediately did, into “poor in spirit” – that is, the spiritually humble or religiously obedient?

Did Jesus really think that bums and beggars were actually blessed by God, as if all the destitute were nice people and all the aristocrats correspondingly evil?  Is this some sort of naive or romantic delusion about the charms of destitution?

If, however, we think not just of personal or individual evil but of social, structural, or systemic injustice – that is, of precisely the imperial situation in which Jesus and his fellow peasants found themselves – then the saying becomes literally, terribly, and permanently true.

In any situation of oppression, especially in those oblique, indirect, and systemic ones where injustice wears a mask of normalcy or even of necessity, the only ones who are innocent or blessed are those squeezed out deliberately as human junk from the system’s own evil operations.

A contemporary equivalent: only the homeless are innocent.  That is a terrifying aphorism against society because…it focuses not just on personal or individual abuse of power but on such abuse in its systemic or structural possibilities…none of our hands are innocent or our consciences particularly clear.” End of quote.

In other words,
what Crossan is emphasizing
is what we already know to be true,
at least in our gut:
Jesus was a radical agent of change
operating at the street level.
His was a prophetic witness against the evil
frozen within what was considered normal.

But as Crossan notes,
Jesus was not really street-level,
he actually operated at the rural route level.
His mission and ministry was largely rural,
and it wasn’t until he hit the Big City
that he was gobbled up.

That too should give us pause.
We can imagine that Jesus
could easily have gone unnoticed
by many well educated and successful people
in a world that was so much smaller
and less populated than ours.
What then, are we to imagine about now
and the challenge you and I face seeing Jesus?

Here is a little more Crossan about Jesus’ mission:

“What sort of a mission are we dealing with,
who goes on it, and to where?

…The mission we are talking about is not, like Paul’s, a dramatic thrust along major trade routes to urban centers hundreds of miles apart.  Yet it concerns the longest journey in the Greco-Roman world, maybe in any world – the step across the threshold of a peasant stranger’s home…

The missionaries were not some specific and closed group sent out on one particular mission at one particular time. They were predominantly healed healers, part of whose continuing healing was precisely their empowerment to heal others.”

What Crossan is describing is a
“network of shared healing”
initiated by Jesus but shared by his colleagues.

It was a covert movement
that pierced multiple layers
of a complicated social caste system,
and called into question
a mountainous hierarchy of relationships
and authority.

The movement that Jesus initiated
finally turned from the countryside and entered the city –
the beloved Jerusalem,
as Isaiah refers to her – and it was abruptly repressed.
But the movement refused to die
when Jesus was murdered.
Think of all the movements in our lifetimes,
ones that have included millions and millions
but that disappeared within decades
if not a few years or even months.

Here is a little portal into history,
written by a Roman philosopher named, Celsus,
who wrote something called “True Doctrine”
which was an intellectual attack
on the growing Jesus movement called Christianity.
This was written around 177 CE
when the emperor Marcus Aurelius
was persecuting Christians,
and it is included in the same Crossan book.

Celsus wrote:
“…I must deal with the matter of Jesus, the so-called savior, who not long ago taught new doctrines and was thought to be a son of God.  This savior, I shall attempt to show, deceived many and caused them to accept a form of belief harmful to the well-being of mankind.

Taking its root in the lower classes, the religion continues to spread among the vulgar: nay, one can even say it spreads because of its vulgarity and the illiteracy of its adherents.  And while there are a few moderate, reasonable, and intelligent people who are inclined to interpret its beliefs allegorically, yet it thrives in its purer form among the ignorant.”

So, for generation after generation
the fledging Christian movement
continued to be a covert operation
from the bottom of society up.
And it is still a movement,
only it comes to us today saddled with an institution
that has grown up around it.

That institution unknowingly
sits upon the movement of healed-healers
like an underground aquifer
feeds lakes, rivers, and wells
that rest upon the surface.

It is that movement of healed-healers,
gathered around an open table,
sharing food across class lines
and straddling color lines
and holding hands across political lines
and subverting all the other social and economic
divisions that feed on bad faith.

It is too easy for us to see the institution
and forget the spiritual movement that feeds it.
In fact, those who have no use for the institution
don’t even know about the spiritual movement flowing underneath us –
and that is why they look at the Church
and think it is empty or without vitality.
But they are wrong.

As Crossan has observed,
we often forget
that we are healed-healers
whose continued healing
depends upon our helping to heal others.
We often slip into a mode of thinking
about the institution and imagine
that it is here for us
whenever we need it –
that it is here to meet our needs.
But the movement
running underneath the institution,
authorizing its very existence,
is a movement
and we need to remember that.
It moves – always.
It moves in and out, and it moves in and it moves out.

The movement underneath us
is an ocean lapping the beach
and pulling us out to sea again,
and anyone who brings a need or a wound
to the church for healing
should also expect to be caught up
in an outward flowing movement of healing.

The same wisdom is found
in 12 Step recovery groups
where the final and 12thstep
is the one that transforms the healed
into the healer
by taking the new life one has discovered
and bringing it to others who seek i

Healing – spiritual healing –
takes place as the healed become the healers…
as the healed become the healers.

That kind of healing takes place
in a community of healing –
a whole movement of people
bonded together by woundedness
that is in the process of being transformed
into the power to heal.
While Crossan is a student of history and archeology,
his theological eyes of faith
could see and write about this spiritual truth.

There is so much more to say about this Jesus
who has bubbled up from below
and risen to within earshot of even our loftiness.

But that is where we leave it for now.

  • This Jesus, at least as refracted
    through Luke, Crossan, and your silly preacher,
    initiated a movement among and comprised
    mostly of peasants.
  • It was a movement of healed-healers –
    actually, healers in the process of healing
    because we are never fully healed in this life.
    Healers who understood that the destitute,
    those people even lower down the pecking order than peasants themselves,
    were the blessed.
    It was their very victimization and marginalization by the ordinariness of oppression that defined their blessedness.
  • This was a movement of people
    who were incredibly fragile economically
    and who balanced precariously
    over an open hole
    with absolutely no social safety net.
  • This was a movement of people
    who nonetheless kept looking downward
    and outward
    to extend the network of healing to others.
  • This was a movement – like the motion of waves,
    that was ceaseless.

That is our challenge, yours and mine:
To understand that we are first and foremost
a spiritual movement and not an institution;
one that moves from personal need
to becoming healers ourselves.

We are a movement…
always moving outward from a place of healing
that is both inward and at home
but never isolated or stationary.

It moves.
It is a movement.
We are a movement.
We move, always, constantly, moving.
In and out,
change and motion,
moving, moving, moving.