Monday, July 22, 2013

What Have You Dismantled Today?

Tearing Down the Walls by paynehollow
Tearing Down the Walls, a photo by paynehollow on Flickr.
An excerpt from a recent sermon by my pastor Cindy, at Jeff St Baptist...

In Adult Sunday School last week, we discussed Ched Myers’ book, Sabbath Economics. He talks about the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, and he says that the Biblical witness refuses to stipulate the injustice is a permanent condition, and, this is the line that caught some of our attention, “Instead, God’s people are instructed to dismantle, on a regular basis, the fundamental patterns and structures of stratified wealth and power, so that there is enough for everyone.”

[and here, he is speaking specifically in reference to the Sabbath and Jubilee laws - as well as touching on the Manna story, but he would argue that it extends beyond that... ~dt]

One thing that we liked about that sentence is, “God’s people are instructed to dismantle, on a regular basis…” We talked about how we have to continually remind ourselves that what we think we own is not really ours, but rather, God’s. About how hard it is when you grow up in this culture to really get that into your head and heart, how hard it is not just to dismantle an unjust system, but to dismantle predominant beliefs and values.

What have you dismantled lately? What are you in the process of dismantling?

When you look around, what is it that you see that needs to be dismantled?

This morning’s scripture reading is the first of a series of five stories in less than two chapters where Jesus, whose ministry and sudden rise to popularity has been briefly introduced by Mark, clashes head on with the authorities. There are many more confrontations to come, but it begins with this series of clashes.

In Jesus’ day, a physical illness or disability was seen as a consequence or punishment for a sin. If someone was healed from an illness, then in order to be pronounced clean, or forgiven, they would have to follow a certain procedure, in a lepers’ case, for instance, go before a priest, sacrifice an animal, pay some money.

But in this story, Jesus, upon seeing the paralyzed man, pronounces him forgiven, clean, before he’s even healed, before he’s seen the priest, before he’s sacrificed the animal, before he’s paid the money, before the scribes have had a chance to reclassify him.

“Your sins are forgiven,” Jesus says, and in those words, Jesus restores him to social wholeness. He’s welcomed back into the fold: You are no longer an outcast, you are no longer unclean. You are brother, you are father, you are son, you are restored to your position as a child of Israel.

Jesus restores him before he’s even been healed. The scribes go ballistic, and "for good reason,” says Ched Myers. “Their complaint that none but God can remit debt is not a defense against the sovereignty of Yahweh, but of their own social power.”

They accuse Jesus in the strongest language possible: “He blasphemes,” they say, which as you’ll remember, is the charge that will eventually be used to execute Jesus.

Jesus restores the man before he’s even been healed. “You can’t do that,” they say. At which point, Jesus heals the man, this time actually restoring his body as well. And so the scribes have been “out-dueled,” and Myers points out that the next time they appear, it will be in the person of government investigators from Jerusalem...

What have you dismantled lately? What are you in the process of dismantling...?

7 comments:

Marshall Art said...

"When you look around, what is it that you see that needs to be dismantled?"

Your goofy ideas regarding Scripture and money.

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford said...

I attended a stewardship event on Saturday that featured Michael Slaughter, lead pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC outside Dayton, OH. One of the things I learned in listening to his description of the many outreach ministries they do is that at least one UM pastor understands what "church" could be in the same way I do: they don't just feed the poor and run a thrift store They have an entire warehouse filled with nothing but furniture that is given to people in need. They have books and school supplies year-round for those in need. They have a group of mechanics who work on cars for those who need it but can't afford it.

They offer breakfast before each service to everyone. They have mission stations in South Sudan, helping people get clean water. They've committed to giving $1 million to the UM "Imagine No Malaria" campaign. Starting with a membership of about 25 and a budget under $30,000 thirty years ago, Slaughter has shown us what church can be when it is dedicated to the Great Commission.

And that it is, to use St. Paul's phrase, a more perfect way - the way of love.

Bubba said...

Am I right that the scripture reading was Mark 2:1-12?

Dan Trabue said...

The story of the paralyzed man is also found in Luke 5 and possibly Matthew 9, but yes, our pastor read from Mark 2.

Bubba said...

I thought as much -- and all three synoptic accounts contain the same details I'll mention below -- but I appreciate the confirmation.

I won't belabor the point, and I'm certainly not looking for a protracted argument, but I find the excerpt of this sermon to contain an implausible interpretation of the passage.

The paralytic was carried by friends who brought him to the crowded house, climbed to the top of the building, removed part of the roof, and lowered him down in order to bring him near to Christ. But in the excerpt we're told that he was an outcast.

Christ claimed to forgive the man's sins, which would restore the man's relationship with God, but the excerpt focuses entirely on his relationship with other people, even transforming Christ's remarkable claim of forgiveness to a lesser claim of mere social restoration.

And Christ here makes quite explicit the reason for His actions, to demonstrate His unique authority to forgive sins, but the excerpt seems to treat His actions as an example of a kind of perpetual political revolution.

The excerpt shows such a commitment to the politics of the left that it ignores the plain meaning of the text.

"What have you dismantled lately?"

I think we should follow the example of the paralytic's friends, who dismantled part of an otherwise useful roof to reach Jesus Christ. We should seek Him because He has the authority to forgive sins.

Dan Trabue said...

Indeed, Bubba, the biblical text itself does not go into the Purity Code and the notion of Clean and Unclean, but for those familiar with the background and context of this story, they might reasonably expect that the people who heard these stories then would know clearly that Jesus was "attacking" the Purity Codes of the day.

I imagine you're familiar with it, but if not, you can read more here or elsewhere.

So, when you say...

The paralytic was carried by friends... But in the [sermon] excerpt we're told that he was an outcast.

Those who were diseased and disabled were considered "unclean" by the Purity Codes and would have been outcast and stigmatized, at least in some circles, at least, that's my understanding.

Do you have a different understanding and, if so, based on what?

And you say...

Christ here makes quite explicit the reason for His actions, to demonstrate His unique authority to forgive sins, but the excerpt seems to treat His actions as an example of a kind of perpetual political revolution.

Again, I think it is reasonable to consider that people of the day would have recognized Jesus' words as pretty revolutionary in regards to the political structures of the Jewish sub-state within Rome. It seems to me that if we divorce Jesus' words from the reality of his day, we get a rather diminished Jesus.

I think that addresses your points. Do you think that those who were "outside" of Clean in the Purity Codes of the day were not stigmatized and ostracized? If so, what do you base that on?

Bubba said...

Indeed, infirmity did and too often does result in social stigma, but the reality of Jesus' day doesn't center on that belief alone. People also really did hold the belief that only God can forgive sins.

Mark doesn't record that the Pharisees only appeared to be concerned about God's exclusive authority to forgive sins while they were really concerned about their own power: he wrote that they were "questioning in their hearts" how Jesus can claim to forgive sins.

And Mark doesn't record that Jesus saw through their mock outrage: he wrote that Jesus actually answered their objection to His claim to forgive sins.

"...for those familiar with the background and context of this story, they might reasonably expect that the people who heard these stories then would know clearly that Jesus was 'attacking' the Purity Codes of the day."

Yeah, right, and "turn the other cheek" was a subtle argument for non-violent direct action, never mind that the Sermon on the Mount focused on such apolitical topics as lust, anger, prayer, and worry -- and never mind that Jesus urged us to be more righteous than the Pharisess, not more effective than the Zealots.

There are quite clever reconstructions of individual passages of Scripture that make Jesus of Nazareth look like a first-century Che Guevara, but they do great damage to the plain meaning of the text.