It is strange that the way of Christ became the official religion of the Roman Empire. It is strange that the church in America has ever been thought of as representing the establishment or reflecting mainstream culture. It is strange because in the Bible the realm of God keeps clashing with human realms that are dominated by greed, pride and competition for status and power, as Rome was, as America is, as most societies are. Christ did not accommodate or acquiesce to the violence, oppression or inequality of such human realms.
Christ calls us to another way to be, he asks his church to be a subversive, counter-cultural outpost that is humbly, nonviolently, lovingly establishing God’s realm within and around it. If this makes you uncomfortable, good! It means that you are feeling some of the creative tension that surrounded Jesus leading to the cross, resurrection and birth of the church.
Yet the Bible also reminds us how wonderful it feels in God’s realm, how beautiful it is, how full of love and joy and peace, how abundantly forgiving, healing and serving. We are not doing our job and we are not experiencing the fullness of joyous life that Christ holds out to us when we compromise and settle for a human realm that is anything less than fully God’s.
The challenge is, as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it in The Gulag Archipelago, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart.” It is true that Christ calls us into controversy and conflict with our society whenever it is less loving than God’s realm, but before that, Christ calls us into controversy and conflict within ourselves. Which side are we on? Christ asks us to watch in every moment and be intentional about that line in our hearts between God’s realm and the realm of unloving selfishness. We will look at some of the tools our spiritual tradition offers that can help us with this in our daily lives.
The scriptures this week remind us how beautiful and worth striving for is life lived from the God side of the line in our hearts (Psalm 19 and Philippians 3:4b-14). They also remind us of our weakness and need to be vigilant so that we do not stray to the other side (Exodus 20 and Matthew 21:33-46). The children will hear about Moses receiving the 10 Commandments from God on Mount Sinai amid great drama of thunder and lightning, the sound of a trumpet, and the mountain smoking!
We will sing one of the great hymns from the old UCC Pilgrim Hymnal, “O How Glorious, Full of Wonder” and one of Charles Wesley’s greats from the Methodist hymnal, “I Want a Principle Within” as well as a congregational favorite, “Jesus Calls Us O’er the Tumult.”
The choir will sing a world premier of an anthem written and composed by our own Mel Goertz, “Be Still.” Pianist Annemieke McLane will play pieces selected in response to the violence in Las Vegas, including “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” and one of J.S. Bach’s most poignant tunes. She will lead us all in Dona Nobis Pacem to end the service.
Below is a YouTube version of “I Want a Principle Within” done by the Collingsworth Family. The performance is more evangelical than our congregation tends to be, as is the hymn itself, but it also reveals the power within the words. We will try to translate them on Sunday into terms that fit more with this congregation’s wide-ranging theological viewpoints, because they are useful concepts. In the meantime, enjoy this glimpse into another beautiful and passionate corner of God’s realm!