Sunday, April 08, 2012
An Easter Message to my Liberal and Agnostic Friends
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord." Luke 4:18-19
With those words, Jesus proclaims the Christian message.
To care for the poor, the hurting, the prisoner, the sick and disabled. Other passages include specific concerns for widows, aliens, and orphans.
The “Christian” message has gotten a bad rap. Many of my liberal and gay friends have an almost knee-jerk, visceral reaction against “The Church.” Their reaction is understandable: the American Christian image is often limited to either the anti-scientific, academically deficient rantings of protestant fundamentalism on one hand, or the corporate and wildly-out-of-touch Roman Catholic hierarchy on the other. But anti-Christian jokes and comments still hurt, because as an educated, gay Christian, my faith is not the same as the caricature they so often see parading as Christianity.
The harsh, controlling, oppressive fundamentalist approach they see does not reflect the first several hundred years of the Christian Church. In fact, American fundamentalism is unique to the United States, and to the last one hundred and fifty years. It is a gross aberration.
In fact, American Evangelicalism is nothing short of an academically dishonest Cult.
For its first 400 years, the Church managed to operate without a single, agreed-upon set of Biblical texts. Rather than quote the Bible verse by verse, using excruciating hair-splitting exegetical methods, leaders in the early church quoted and misquoted from the Bible and other sources, loosely and freely, adding important ideas and drawing from multiple writers. Even Jesus himself does this: the quote at the top of this blog from Luke is such an example. Jesus is loosely quoting from two different earlier versions of Isaiah 61, and actually ends up stating a third version that is yet different from both.
The point is that for the early Church, a literal word for word dissection was never part of the program. Using the “Bible Only” as a Rule book for life was never part of the program either. And understanding everything written as “literal” was unknown to early Christian scholars.
Instead, in real Christianity, there is something much more holistic going on: it involves an understanding of the concepts and the ideas and the spirit that underlies the ancient writings and teachings. More important, it embraces a living, breathing, and growing understanding of man’s relationship with the spiritual and with each other that invites a constant re-discovery and better understanding of truths for each generation.
And overall, it is about love and caring for the entirety of the common creation. I think these passages bear out this thought:
Matthew 25:37-40 Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'
When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.
Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left
Defend the cause of the weak and fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and oppressed. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.
Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other.'
Then Jesus said to his host, "When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
This is my Christianity. It is the Christianity I celebrate in my home and in my Episcopal parish. It is real and alive today. It is a Christianity that rejects Ayn Rand’s selfishness. It rejects a desire to ship immigrants home. It rejects the belief that making the poor ‘stand on their own two feet’ is proper. It rejects hoarding land and wealth as one’s own. It rejects a punitive attitude towards prisoners. It rejects the condemnation of single mothers. And it rejects the notion that America is the new Promised Land.
And it is in that spirit that I wish even my skeptical agnostic friends a Happy Easter…because that is the message of my Christian faith.
Christos Anesti! Tha Crìosd air èiridh! Christus is opgestaan! Le Christ est Resurrecté! Kristus Vstal A Mrtvych! Pikhirstof aftonf!
(“Christ is Risen” in liturgical Greek, Scots Gaelic, Dutch, French, Czech, and Coptic Egyptian)