Lately, I’ve been studying Judaism’s communal identity. To be Jewish (and religious) is to belong to community and to have a sacred duty to work for its benefit. Moreover, there is a sacred responsibility to work to repair the world. There is no focus on individual spirituality, individual relationship with God in Judaism. Instead, there is an identity that is grounded in being God’s people, the people of Israel, being a nation united in covenant to bring holiness into the world. There is a “we-ness” in Judaism that is absent in Christianity where the focus has become individual relationships with God, personal salvation. Christianity focuses on the “I” rather than the “we.”
What if this time of pandemic is an opportunity to seek unity and build a new identity for the church universal that is based on the tradition of our spiritual ancestors? Think about it. God made a covenant through Noah with the people of the earth. God made a more specific covenant through Abraham with all of Abraham’s descendants. God strengthened that covenant through Moses with the people of Israel. If we keep with this way of thinking about covenant, then we can say that God made a covenant through Jesus with all who follow to embody love and forgiveness for the whole of the cosmos. To think of the covenant made through Jesus with us in this way, makes it less personal, less about me, and more about the goodness and hope the Body of Christ can bring into the world.
I can’t help but think about the story of Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum. Jesus taught and the people were highly skeptical. Was this not the same Jesus of Nazareth, the carpenter? What was he doing teaching with divine authority? And then there was the man with the “unclean spirit” who accused Jesus of wanting to destroy them. Jesus cast out the spirit and the man was made clean. The man was, no doubt, brought back into community after having been pushed to the edges because of the “unclean spirit.”
Sometimes I wonder if the focus on personal relationship and right beliefs is not an unclean spirit possessing the Church today. We have created so many different variations of the rules about who’s in and who’s out, what beliefs are righteous and which are unrighteous… Collectively, the Church has pushed so many to the edges of our existence that healing and literal re-membering might not be possible. What might happen, though, if we shift our focus from “I” and “us” to “we” and “all”? Would we take more seriously the mandate to love as Jesus loves? Would we more fully embody Divine Love in ways that remember and re-member those who’ve been pushed over the edge by our insistence on orthopraxis or orthodoxy?
Can you imagine a church (in all its varied forms) united as God’s people in a way that saves lives without hesitation? Wouldn’t it be amazing to travel the world (post-pandemic of course) and no that no matter where you were and in need of help, another Christian would offer that help? My friends, we are God’s people. We are people called to embody Divine Love that brings healing and hope. We cannot do this as individuals. Look at the harm that has been done in the name of Christ if you are still uncertain. Only by being united as one people can we re-member those whom we have dis-membered in the past. Only by being united as one people can we exemplify the kind of love Jesus wanted us to share.
My dream, my vision, is that we will work together to cast out the unclean spirit of personal salvation and individual focus from Christianity. I don’t mean this in a way that negates the value of individuals. On the contrary, I mean this in a way that celebrates and honors and values the uniqueness of every individual and their place within the Body of Christ. Together we would be stronger, more compassionate, more welcoming… more of everything Jesus desires us to be.
This is my vision. What’s yours?
RCL: Year B – Fourth Sunday after Epiphany – January 31, 2021 Jonah 3:1-5, 10 • Psalm 62:5-12 • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 • Mark 1:14-20