Pastor Pillow Pulpit Special: The Progressive Place of Jesus in History

unnamed-30Pastor Pillow here!

Staying busy as an Easter Bunny—working on all these Prosperity Gospel “cosmetic architectural improvements” in our once and former humble chapel.

How’s the new jai alai court coming along?  Thanks for asking!  Fine, just fine—and definitely an improvement over that old soup kitchen.  Now if only we could put these tureens and ladles to good use.

Also, the new Jumbotron is nearly in place.  Thank God all these homeless folks are still hanging about to help.  “Pull those steel cords, dammit, pull!”

And now that my face will be blown up bigger than the Flatiron Building façade every Sunday morning, you can understand why I’ve spent $35,000 in congregational offerings on a few surgical nip and tucks to my Viking visage.

Oh, bless you!  How generous of you to place a few bitcoins in the virtual platinum plate.  We’ll be certain to etch your name in acrylic in the Corridor of Christly Consumers!

Okay, gotta run.  Easter service and all!  Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed.

Please turn in your hymnals to No. 2014.

(What can I say?  When Colombians hang out with Austrians.  O, blessed humanity!)

On this glorious Easter morn, let us begin with a reading from the Holy Notes of James Joyce:

“Love (understood as the desire of good for another) is in fact so unnatural a phenomenon that it can scarcely repeat itself, the soul being unable to become virgin again and not having energy enough to cast itself out again into the ocean of another’s soul.”

(Gee, sounds like my love life.)

Let’s be straightaway this morning:  Without the life & times of Jesus of Nazareth, there is no Jesuit-educated James Joyce to bedazzle us with quotes about the infinitesimal odds of love.  (No Finnegan’s Wake, either, but who’s complaining?)  Also, no conversion to Christianity by Vladimir the Great; no Holy Roman Empire; no Henry VIII; and, of course, no puritanical United States of America.  And, thus, perhaps no Voyager I hurtling into the outer beyonds of the heliosphere.  No Crime and Punishment, no schlockily wonderful Irish ballad “One.”  Also, most decidedly, no Spanish Inquisition, no Salem Witch Trial—not even a Hobby Lobby wherein non-existent Americans can buy crappy Chinese goods.

Think what you will, but the Carpenter of Galilee is without a doubt the most influential human being who ever lived.  (A surefire marketing boon for woodworkers everywhere.)

But just who was this man, Jesus?  What precisely happened in the Roman wasteland of Iudaea nearly 2,000 years ago to shape 21st-century reality?  And just what the hell does this have to do with politics in the year 2014 C.E.?  (Um, perhaps you’ve heard of Michele Bachmann.)

Let us gather inside the Theological T.A.R.D.I.S. to think on these things.

A second reading, from the Gospel of St. Matthew:

“Do to others what you want them to do to you.  This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”

Another thing we might not have without Jesus is the widespread belief in the Golden Rule, which many people may not realize is an inverse of the ancient times, oft-stated Silver Rule.  The Silver Rule instructs humans to avoid harming others, case in point the words of Epictetus:

“What thou avoidest suffering thyself seek not to impose on others.”

Or again, from another continent, the words of Confucius:

“Never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.”

But the ethical teachings of Jesus do not propose avoidance of harm.  They demand acts of goodness.  A lifelong hand-over-your-cloak sacrifice.  A turn-the-other-cheek demonstration that, if nothing else, proves the possibility of impossible Joycean love—even if to a seemingly sound-asleep Universe.

To love my neighbor as myself, to lay down my life for a friend, proves that I am not as cold as the comets fly, as the quasars beam.

To be Christ-like is to risk one’s very being for a marooned pooch in freezing waters, to feed the homeless with or without a city permit.

Hold on a second?  Are you suggesting that acts of self-sacrifice and kindness would not be possible without the Christian Messiah?

Not at all.  But how spurious Christianity would be if Jesus had taught a jot or tittle less!

Still, while such teachings might be strong enough to hold together a 2,000-year-old chocolate egg holiday, are words enough to transform primates into enlightened beings?

President Obama shared yesterday in his weekly address:  “The common thread of humanity that connects us all—not just Christians and Jews, but Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs—is our shared commitment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”

But are such common threads enough?

Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists are observing a fragile truce due to the Easter weekend.  But what’s the point of announcing a pause from killing due to a religious holiday?  If either side had any real respect for the Crucifixion and Resurrection, wouldn’t they lay down their arms altogether?

And so it goes.

A final reading, from A Prayer for Owen Meany:

“‘If you don’t believe in Easter,’ Owen Meany said.  ‘Don’t kid yourself—Don’t call yourself a Christian.’”

Herein lies the crux.  Pun intended.

Novelist John Irving, in the guise of his famous, deformed protagonist, challenges readers:  the Resurrection ultimately defines those who call themselves Christians.

Stop!  That!  Train!

How dare anyone exclude the rest of humanity from Easter!  Is Christianity some sort of exclusive country club resort?!  Some hoity-toity Yale Club?!

At the end of the day, yes, there are exclusions of belief for every religion.  And this is the exclusion point for Christianity.  But these exclusions are not excuses for condemnation.

Christians believe that Jesus died and that he rose again from the dead.  That he ascended.  That the Kingdom of God is now upon us (within us).

I define myself as such a Christian.

But these spiritual beliefs are personal.  They impact (or should impact) every single action of my life.  But I do not believe that these beliefs separate me from my Hindu, Moslem, Sikh, Jewish, agnostic or atheist, etc., et al, neighbors.  They instead unite me to them.

Nor especially do I believe that theo-political walls should be built to contain others within my theological reality.  Jesus is my personal discovery—not a legislative gavel.  If I force Christ upon you, I deny you your freedom and humanity—your own spiritual journey.

As such, you have every right to mock Jesus.  To deny him.  To roll your eyes at him.  To blame him for how others have distorted and obscured him.

But I do ask that you consider how your progressive values might, in part, be the result of his impact on history.  (At the very least, your values didn’t come from a bag of Peeps.  Nor do the words “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” define the full spectrum of progressivism.)  While indeed there are many thousands of individuals who have defiled the teachings of Jesus, many thousands have faithfully passed his teachings down to us—teachings that condemn those who serve greed and religiosity, advocate for equality, and tear apart systems of class and caste.

I am not asking you to acknowledge Jesus as Savior.  But I am asking that you accept Jesus’ place in human history.  And, thus, I am inviting you to celebrate Jesus with me.

But didn’t you just suggest that only those who believe in the Resurrection can celebrate Easter?

As a religious holiday, yes.  But Jesus, as it turns out, is for everyone.

Jesus is not an Evangelical, and he is not an American.  (He’s not even Canadian.)  He is neither a Republican nor a Democrat.  (Although he might just be a friend of Bernie Sanders.)  He doesn’t root for the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox.  (Not even the Toledo Mud Hens.)

He won’t turn you away if you’re a drone pilot or a board member of the Military Industrial Complex.  But don’t be surprised if he suggests you find a new career.

Jesus isn’t humanity’s buddy.  But he is humanity’s hope.

Whether God Incarnate or a naïve fool, he offered himself on that cross for you in order to defeat death.  In order to eliminate suffering.  In order to establish peace.

He turned the moneylending tables.  He touched diseased and deformed humans.  He talked to the outcast Samaritan woman at the well.  He forced Zacchaeus out of the tree and prompted in him a heart of reform.  He took away Peter’s sword and forgave every scourge and insult.  He took nails into his hands and feet—because he thought he was saving all of us.

How many of us can say the same?

And what does this have to do with politics?

Think of every horrible political atrocity that has fallen before your eyes in recent memory.

What if, instead, these politicians had followed something as simple as The Golden Rule?  What if, instead, they had loved their neighbors as themselves?

And what if you and I do the same every moment the rest of our waking lives?

Imagine such a world.

“Sharing all the world.”

Yeah, Jesus was a dreamer.  I’m a dreamer, too.

Happy Easter.  May the world live as one.

Please turn in your hymnals to No. 420.

He is risen indeed.

And don’t forget!  The November 2014 Election is only this many days away.

Arik Bjorn

Arik Bjorn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He was the Democratic Party / Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina. Visit the archive for Arik’s campaign website, and check out his latest book, So I Ran for Congress. You can also follow his political activities on Twitter @Bjorn2RunSC and on Facebook. And be sure to check out more from Arik in his archives!


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