From the seven depictions of Christ’s crucifixion story, to the mother of Jesus holding her infant son as she stretched out her arms to the weeping worshipper, the entire chapel was an invitation to see our sufferings – our very humanity – in light of the fact that neither Jesus nor Mary were exempt from suffering, pain, or death.
By establishing the habits of observing other people’s sufferings, of taking time to notice the pain and fear around them, we teach our children a genuinely Christian ethic. And in this, my hope is that they become adults who care about justice and equality for everyone. My hope in conversations like this is to sensitize my children to the lived experiences of others. My hope is that our children grow up able to hear, rather than disregard, the fears of others.
Christians are often assumed to be the kind of people who live in a fantasy world of made-up gods in a spiritual realm and anytime we’re confronted with something that challenges our worldview we put our fingers in our ears and start shouting “no no no!”
When you look closely at the first few verses of Philippians, something quite unique stands out fairly quickly:
Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons.
You’ll notice that Paul does not refer to himself as an apostle.
And the difference between those who knew Christ and those who did not was simply a matter, not of faith or confession or creed, but of fruit and character.
For many of us, when we read the Bible, we read it from the perspective of people who need encouragement, therapy, challenge, hope, or even love. These are all good things that we do, indeed, need. But usually these needs arise from a larger situation that involves someone or something hurting us. For example, we need encouragement because a boss is berating us. We need therapy because of a conflict in our family of which we see ourselves as the victim. We need challenge because we find it hard to keep pressing on. We need hope because our situation seems hopeless. And we need love because we lack self-esteem.
Again, these are all fine. But I wonder if they don’t eventually become habits of reading that blind us to other things we may need.
Wisdom is not just an intelligence bomb that God drops on us one day when we get our first gray hair. It’s not an intellectual realization that hits us one day simply because we’re aged. We’ve all known older folks who are foolish. No, wisdom has less to do with gray hair and more to do with the experience of suffering and making the choice during that suffering to continue to live in engagement with God
But this isn’t just something Christ did that was different than how God had previously revealed himself. Rather, God, from the beginning, has been challenging our understandings of the way the world is.
By claiming that the church is “one,” we announce that the church throughout time and space (that is, geographic location…i.e. nations) is united, not by some abstracted idea of freedom, but by the Holy Spirit who liberates us from the claims of human structures and governments.
The apostles don’t see themselves as CEOs or slaves to the church. They see themselves as fulfilling a specific duty for the church: the ministry of the word of God and prayer. Everything else was dropped from their plate. And not only did the church not look down on them or call them lazy for a desire to emphasize these two tasks alone, but this suggestion “pleased the whole community.”