Monday, May 24, 2010

Good News for Our Sex Saturated Culture

This week we celebrated Pentecost Sunday. We did not linger over the traditional passages that are often read and reflected upon on Pentecost Sunday. Instead we talked about the importance of acknowledging our need for the Holy Spirit to open every part of us to God's redeeming work, and to give us the discernment to know how to sort through just how God means for us to live in this world. We returned to 1 Peter 3:13-22 and noted that Peter takes it for granted that Christians will be harmed for doing what is right and good. So certain is he of this that he appropriates the theme of the suffering righteous from Psalm 34 in order to frame his exhortations and encouragements. In the Old Testament, vindication was promised for the suffering righteous - Messiah would come and make things right. For those of us living on the other side of Jesus' life, death and resurrection we are experiencing that vindication but in a surprising way. The sign of our vindication is not the absence of suffering or the temporal defeat of our enemies - the sign of our vindication is simply this: our identification with the crucified Messiah who God has vindicated by raising him from the dead. To see vindication in this way requires a conversion of the imagination - here I think it is good to remember afresh the quotes from Joel Green from last week:

"The issue is this: life-events do not come with self-contained and immediately obvious interpretations; rather we conceptualize them in terms of imaginative structures that we take to be true, normal, and good. As a rule the world at large casts a thick dark cloud of despair over experiences of suffering, distress, trials and alien status. Peter insists that such experiences on the part of his audience must be read according to a radically different pattern of thought - one that grows out of new birth. (Green)"

Specifically, with regard to this portion of 1 Peter, we understand Peter to be teaching us to read the proverbial language of the OT with a conversion of the imagination, through the lens of suffering with Jesus as we live out his mission in a world that still opposes his righteousness. God does vindicate the righteous and his eyes are on them but, as we mentioned before, suffering for one's association with Christ becomes the sign of vindication; the proverbial language of God's protection of the good is given a gospel saturated meaning, "because the axioms articulated here find their center in a recalibration of the universe - a recalibration for which there is evidence in the OT of the long tradition of the suffering of the righteous, and which has now received the divine imprimatur in the life. death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Green)."

Last week we talked about what kind of take-away we are to get from this passage in our particular place and times. I have suggested that for us it is less about figuring out how we suffer and more about being sure that we are united to Christ in the kind of deep discipleship which will sometimes mean that we will suffer for our life-choices. To put it another way, our brothers and sisters to whom Peter is talking knew pretty quickly what it meant to swim against the currents within their culture which opposed God's righteousness in Christ. Conversion to Jesus as savior and lord was rejection of Caesar as savior and Lord, and rejection of the way Roman society and religion worked. This ensured the Christan would experience scornful rejection and sometimes worse. For us, given our unique experience of being Christians in a pluralistic world that once saw itself as Christendom, we have to be prayerful and seek God's discernment in order to ascertain what parts of our culture we must be careful to swim against. And then we must ask for more discernment in order to figure out how to do it in a cruciform pattern.

When I think about a need for discernment with regard to ascertaining what parts of our culture we must be careful to swim against I think immediately about our sex saturated culture and how it invites us to think of ourselves first and foremost in terms of our sexuality, sexual desires, sexual orientations, etc. To deny the beauty of sex or pretend that it is not an important part of being human is not good and sometimes Christians talk in prudish ways that make it seem that sex is somehow inherently dirty. However, in our socio-cultural world, sex is often the de facto religious experience most prominently on offer, or as the late Walker Percy is credited as saying: .... in our days, sexual intimacy is seen as the last hiding-place of real transcendence.

The question for us: Is the gospel good news for people with regard to the sexual parts of their selves? Well, Christians say yes but then we kind of trail off into a bunch of rules about sex. Of course, rules with regard to sex are helpful. The picture of marital fidelity God has given us in the Scriptures offers us boundaries that are meant to protect us from what Rowan Williams calls the shadow side of sex. There is however, in my estimation, a different place to start the conversation with our culture though - not with rules but by asking the question: where does my self draw its core identity from? The Christian answer to this question is that our identity is bound up with the identity of Jesus so that we are meant to see the whole of our lives as opportunities for Christ's life to be formed in us. This means that for each of us, regardless of our sexual history, our orientation to sex, whether we see our selves as heterosexual, homosexual, or otherwise - each of us who are following Jesus in faith and repentance are called to see our identity not in terms of our sexuality but in terms of our life in Christ and our call to represent him to each other and the world. My hunch is that each of us falls short of doing this; and, as part of our formation, we need to return over and over again to this foundational plank of what it means to follow Jesus as his disciple - and often in repentance.

But how is this good news, or gospel? In the big picture of things the gospel is good news because when the message of the gospel is believed the believer is emancipated from the chains that bind us in the parts of our lives where we have chosen behavior patterns that, though offering passing pleasures, in the end close us to God's desire for us to flourish. So, for each of us, we are to ask God's spirit to open up every part of us - including our sexual thoughts, desires and actions - to open us to his forgiveness, restoration, discernment and guidance. There is also good news in coming to understand that our struggles with regard to sex and sexuality reflect the brokenness of this world just as every other thing we struggle with does. But we are to be diligent disciples, even as God is a patient parent and Jesus a sympathetic high priest, who was tempted in every way we were. And diligence means that we are not to shut this side of ourselves off from our active petition for God's work in us and for us. Diligence also means that we are to reject the idolatry on offer in our culture which would have us believe that virtually ever sexual desire is either morally neutral or good.

Finally, how is this aspect of the Christian invitation - to find one's life and identity in Christ and not in sex - good news for those outside of the church, especially those who are not yet disciples of Jesus? Well, it is usually not good news and we must be honest with that. We give the impression, at least lot of times we do, that the price of admission to the church is a sexual pure life, which has shades of gray in the way pure is defined; but often the impression given is that you need to have it all figured out sexually before you can come inside. Mistakes are allowed but we pretend that they are easily avoided and quickly overcome. (Oddly, we don't put this much pressure on hardly any other aspect of our ethical life - certainly not in regard to materialism, gluttony, pride or abuse of power.) Just for starters this sort of approach leaves the woman at the well and the woman caught in adultery on the outside, precisely where Jesus did not leave them. Though we don't know the full conversations we do know this much. Jesus says to the former in John 8, go and sin no more; while we don't know how hard that might have been for her it is hard to imagine that Jesus gave her a one strike and you are out rule to follow. In the case of the Samaritan woman in John 4, he simply acknowledges her painful life as an invitation for her to see herself afresh and to see herself hopefully, while simultaneously inviting her into his kingdom where all of her life can be open to his salvation over time. So, we need to change our approach if we are to make the gospel good news for the world with regard to sex and sexuality. We need to make it clear that everyone is welcome in the church regardless of sexual history, or sexual orientation. It is within the church, the new community and, by virtue of our being together Christ's body, the new humanity - it is within the church that each of us are to submit our lives to Jesus as his disciples and seek to help each other understand how to make a faithful journey with regard to sex and sexuality.

Questions for discussion:

1. What role does fear play in the tendency among some Christians (maybe some of us) to want to give the impression that you have to have it all together before you can come in the church? How is this posture hypocritical?

2. Why do you think we often want to make people behave in a certain way before we will have anything to do with them, much less be comfortable sharing communion with them at the Lord's table?

3. What sort of disciplines and practices should you engage in during the course of any given week to help you be open to God's spirit in every part of you?

4. Do you think the degree to which one acknowledges that one is forgiven is likely going to be the degree to which one responds to God's leading in every part of our lives? If yes, why? If no, why not?

5. Do you think Grace Chicago should spend some time as part of our soon-to-be-revived lecture series talking about sex and sexuality?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Eyes of the Lord are on the Righteous

please excuse what are probably a ridiculous number of typos.... very busy day....

We have come to a place in 1 Peter where some of the themes we met earlier in the letter come into focus again around the issue of suffering for one's relationship with Christ. Upon their conversion, Peter's brothers and sisters in Western Asia Minor found themselves immediately disenfranchised from the Roman social order; we think for the most part they would have experienced the sort of ostracising that would have moved them to the margins of society. The questions on every one's minds in this scenario would have probably been something like these: What have I gotten myself into? Is my experience with God and this new community of church real, genuine and worth the suffering I have now experienced? Why does God not vindicate his followers? I suggest these sorts of questions because it seems to me that these are the kinds of questions he is answering in his letter.

Early in the letter, Peter employs the categories of exile and alien (1:1, 2:11) to his brothers and sisters. In so doing he wants them to understand their role in the world as one which is connected to God's redemptive work in the world from the beginning of time. Abraham was a stranger, a wanderer, an exile when God worked through him to establish Israel; Israel had no home in Egypt but God redeemed them and gave them a home; and when Israel was exiled due to apostasy God did not abandon her but made promises of redemption to her. It is this latter period that Peter actually names at the beginning of his letter when he greets them as exiles of the dispersion (or, diaspora). So, remarkably and startlingly, Peter encourages these Gentile converts to see themselves as a new addition to God's ancient people; as such, they are the ones who are inheriting God's promises and through whom God is working to bring redemption to the world. They are a royal priesthood and a holy nation and are meant to mediate God's presence to the world in words and deeds (2:9-12). So, the answer to the question, what have I gotten myself into? is that they have gotten themselves into the mainstream of God's redemptive work in the world. Is the new community gathered around the resurrected Jesus real, genuine, and worth the suffering? Yes! Because of Jesus' resurrection (1:3) they and we are to believe that the darkness and evil of this world has been judged by God and has no future in God's world to come. Life apart from Christ is characterized as futility and like the grass and flower, will fade. God's work through Christ, though, endures forever (1:17-22). The stone the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone (2:8,9). Why does not vindicate his followers? The answer to this question leads us to the verses we took up this Sunday and will consider again next Sunday.

In 3:8-18, Peter encourages the community to understand their suffering as itself a sign of their vindication - a bizarre notion and completely ridiculous if not for the resurrection, and we think here of the words of theologian Robert Jensen: "Jesus resurrection makes possible saying yes to ways of living that simply make no sense otherwise". One of the great themes of the OT is the suffering of the righteous and the promise of God's vindication of them. Peter invokes this theme in his citation of Psalm 34: "For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil." But he follows this with a rhetorical question which invites his audience to see themselves as the righteous upon whom the Lord's eyes rest, while simultaneously suggesting that vindication is tied fundamentally to identification with Christ and his mission in this world - not with the absence of suffering at the hands of the evil. "Who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?" Well, lots of people will which gives rise to the occasions Peter addresses in the previous verses (i.e. do not return evil for evil but good for evil, etc.). Peter's main point here is to continue to help his people to have a deeper conversion of their imagination. Here Joel Green's words are helpful:

"The issue is this: life-events do not come with self-contained and immediately obvious interpretations; rather we conceptualize them in terms of imaginative structures that we take to be true, normal, and good. As a rule the world at large casts a thick dark cloud of despair over experiences of suffering, distress, trials and alien status. Peter insists that such experiences on the part of his audience must be read according to a radically different pattern of thought - one that grows out of new birth."

So here, we are taught to read the proverbial language of the OT with a conversion of the imagination, specifically through the lens of suffering with Jesus as we live out his mission in a world that still opposes his righteousness. God does vindicate the righteous and his eyes are on them but, as we mentioned before suffering for one's association with Christ becomes the sign of vindication; the proberbial language of God's protection of the good is given a gospel saturated meaning, because the axioms articulated here find their center in a recalibration of the universe - a recalibration for which there is evidence in the OT of the long tradition of the suffering of the righteous, and which has now received the divine imprimatur in the life. death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Green)."

For these early Christians to whom Peter is writing, they were able to ascertain quite quickly that their new lives were against the stream of the broader society and culture. The culture told them by marginalizing them and subjecting them to opposition. This is not so much the case for us in our situation in our socio-cultural setting. Not to belittle the suffering that many have received through being rejected by their families and friends because of their faith in Christ but we simply do not have anywhere near the same experience that the early Christians did. So, I would argue that the onus is on us to be careful and prayerful as we think about what it means for us to be faithful to Christ within our own cultural setting. It is to this question that we will turn next week.

Questions for discussion:

1. What practices and habits should a Christian engage in regularly to assist her in an ongoing conversion of the imagination? Do you feel that you are where you need to be with these practices and habits?

2. What are some examples of sins that we might easily overlook because there is not as much social pressure on us to recognize our the ways in which we are to be counter-cultural? For example, in Peter's world to confess Jesus as savior and Lord was to immediately blaspheme the emperor and put one's self in peril. Hence, one was always aware of one's loyalties. For us, we are in no great peril from our government when we confess Jesus as savior and Lord. What sorts of things might we not see because of that?

3. The church often treats single people like people who aren't married yet and families are held up as a model of human flourishing in a way that it seems like family life is the preferred way to serve the Lord. Do you think the church has not understood how to swim against the stream in this category?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Loving Enemies For God's Sake

We continued our reflections on 1 Peter 2 and 3 again this week. For my point of departure I referred back to the imaginative and challenging words of last week's preacher, Aaron Kuecker. Peter wanted his fellow Jesus-followers to train each other to ask themselves tough, mission driven, gospel focused questions when they considered how to respond to those who had authority over them. Aaron suggested that Peter wanted his people, in the face of criticism and oppression, when imagining how they might respond, to ask themselves questions like this: " 'What is best for the Gospel?' Or, put more provocatively and to the point, 'What is best for my enemy?' (Kuecker)."

As I write this recap, I wonder how many of us at Grace have grown tired of hearing homilies and reflections on Jesus' call to love our enemies? We have been talking about it for a while. Some of us may be asking ourselves, "is this aspect of the Gospel being overemphasized in our community?". Good question. I have been asking myself that question recently. The issue at hand, however, is that Peter, in 1 Peter, makes this issue a major concern. The call to ".... stumble in the footsteps of the enemy-loving God.... (Volf)", is on the top of Peter's mind as he pictures the priestly role of the Christian community as the mediator of God to the world. So, we'll linger on this important topic as long as Peter does, as we continue to move through the study of this epistle.

There is a sense in which Jesus' call to love our enemies should make us uncomfortable - but uncomfortable in a good way. Really - who can hear these words and not be taken aback? "But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful (Luke 6:35....)." Kind to the wicked?! Yes. This is the way God is and it is the way we are to strive to be.

There is much talk in the church today about the need to be missonal. Many are making the very helpful argument that the only way for the church in the West to experience revival is by understanding that it exists not for itself but to demonstrate God's love in word and deed to those who have not yet heard, experienced, and become convinced of God's love for them. This is all very helpful. However, at the core of what it means to be missonal is to know how to love and bless one's enemies and I don't hear this talked about enough. In a world where people are becoming each other's enemies increasingly and at an increasing rate, loving and blessing our enemies may very well be the most important thing we Christians are known for. This might be the unique prophetic word that, in our generation, can awaken the life-giving collision between the powers of darkness and the light of the Gospel. This may be the message which when enacted, to paraphrase Kierkegaard, will preach to life the possibility of offense. For, "nly the possibility of offense (the antidote to the apologists' sleeping potion) is able to waken those who have fallen asleep, is able to break the spell so that Christianity is itself again (Kierkegaard)."

So, we live out the story of God's love for the whole world when we bless our enemies; and we practice enemy-love for the sake of the enemy coming to know God. We must take care, however, not to think of this approach as a missionary strategy or methodology. As Stanley Hauerwas puts it: "The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is..... God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish." Loving and blessing one's enemies is "the missionary side of following in the footsteps of the crucified Messiah..... It is..... part and parcel of Christian identity itself (Volf)". This is an identity we seek to acquire, as individuals and corporately as a church community, as Christ is formed in us. When we become more at home with the notion that this way of life is not a stratagem but simply how God shows his love to the world we are much more likely to be a community of people who point away from themselves and towards the God who reveals himself in Jesus Christ.

Questions for discussion:

1. This came up in another recap some time ago but I think it is one of those questions that gets us thinking about issues of spiritual formation in such a deep and meaningful way that it bears asking again in the context of the discussion above. My minister friend Cuck DeGroat at City Church, San Francisco has urged us to see that "enemy love" is necessary when dealing with ourselves. "I’ve seen healing and transformation when men and women begin to love their enemies, even their inner enemies. These unreconciled parts of ourselves which live in extreme conflict cannot thrive.... And like the Prodigal Son and his Elder Brother, they need to be invited to a feast of reconciliation and redemption. You can only thrive as you become the Father in the great story, as the new and redeemed self led by Christ races out to both the Prodigal and the Elder Sons with an embrace of love and compassion. Transformation begins when you kiss the demon on the lips (DeGroat)". What do you make of Chuck's remarks? Do you find them helpful? Do you think you do pretty good job of preaching the Gospel to yourself?

2. On Sunday I said that if you pull the strand that is God's call to love our enemies out of the Gospel that the whole garment will come unraveled. Can you think of ways in which your experience of God's grace and love has been diminished by a refusal to bless, pray for, or love an enemy?

3. Why is it important that, in the words of Kierkegaard, the Gospel give offense, creating collisions between how the world thinks and how God is?

4. Why is it important to draw a distinction between strategy and identity when it comes to practicing enemy-love?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Walking With The Grain Of the Universe

The Following is an excerpt from the sermon preached at Grace by Dr. Aaron Kuecker.

The sections of 1 Peter that comprised our readings this morning are marked off by a set of bookends. Listen to how similar these texts from 2.12 and 3.16 sound:

1 Peter 2:12 12 Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honorable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

1 Peter 3:16 - Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame.

There’s no question that the communities receiving this letter from Peter are undergoing some sort of suffering because of their identification with Jesus. In this section, Peter creates a set of bookends that say, basically, do honorable deeds/good conduct so that those who are against you might see something of God. In other words – and this seems pretty incredible to me – in the midst of very real social pressure, Peter imagines that the orienting posture of the community should be a posture that is missional – concerned for the sake of the other, even the dangerous other.

Within these missional bookends, we can think of five little books:

* On the outer edge, instructions to all people to treat everyone honorably (oh, even the emperor), and to do acts of enemy love rather than retaliation.
* One move inward are two other books that give particular examples of just how to live honorably in a hostile environment and just how to love enemies – those are instructions to slaves, wives, and husbands.
* At the center of the bookshelf is the book that (if I can mix metaphors) forms the center of gravity for the books around it. That book tells us that Jesus’ righteous suffering both set people free from the power of sin and death and formed an example to be followed in hostile contexts.

The way this sort of literary construction works in the ancient world is that the center point – Jesus’ cruciform life, in our case – gives meaning and content to the rest of the section. So all I want to note is that, at the center of this section detailing concern for enemies in the midst of persecution, the definitive clue is the cross-shaped life of Jesus. This is the community shaping practice to which Peter will call his community. This is the posture the text presses us toward.

Here already we can make a fundamentally important point about our more particular text: the core concern of this part of the letter – with regard to those who do not know Jesus – is to seek their good. Thus, we can categorically rule out readings of this text that suggest that the faithful response of wives to husbands is to endure abuse. And here is the reason, it is never for the good of my neighbor to enable their pathologies or their endurance in a twisted and broken way of living. So, where emotional or physical violence enters into marriage relationships, the loving option is clearly not just to enable the aggressor to persist. That isn’t really the issue Peter is dealing with here – but I think it is clear that Jesus doesn’t love by allowing people to remain broken. There is much more to be said here – but it should at least be said strongly that allowing someone to abuse you does them no favors, it is not love, it only allows them to further diminish themselves.

Reading the Text:

When Peter addresses the household here, it is clear that he is addressing households in which only the wife is a Christian. Just as was the case with Jesus’ ministry, it appears that here, too, women were the quickest to see and understand the truth of the gospel. As people whose identity as ‘strangers’ and ‘sojourners’ is deeply evident in their own homes, women here – for Peter – are primary examples of how one should “live honorably” for the sake of the Gentiles. In this way, it becomes somewhat apparent that these instructions are not based on Peter’s ideas of inherent differentials in status between men and women. Instead, Peter is helping his community deal with the social structures of power.

Peter’s first word to wives is “in the same way…” And the most immediate point of contact is with the story of Jesus situated just prior to this section. Just as Jesus exercised his freedom and power in self-giving love for the sake of those who were against him (and even though it came at great cost), in the same way – wives – submit to the authority of your husbands. That “submit” word is a hard word – and it takes real care to read it. Here’s what it does not mean: Submit – hupotasso – does not mean unquestioned obedience by virtue of one’s inherently inferior position. Peter actually has another word for that – and we usually translate it “obey” and it is this word that describes our response to Jesus, to the Gospel, to truth. Peter is not reinforcing Roman household ideals here – but rather subverting them in careful and cagy ways. New Testament scholar Joel Green suggests that “submit” here is best considered as the opposite of “withdrawal.” That is, wives – don’t withdraw from the social structure that gives authority to your husbands. The word carries connotations of "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden." We might say it this way: the call to wives with unbelieving husbands is to give up the rights that come with their identity as members of God’s household – and to give those rights up for the good of their husbands. This is the reconfiguration of freedom that the Gospel brings – that our freedom is not to be exploited, but leveraged for the good of others – even our enemies. That Peter has this in mind seems clear from earlier in this section, where he teaches people to “submit” to authority of human institutions – but where that submission is qualified not by inherent status differential, but because his hearers act “for the Lord’s sake,” “as slaves of God,” and “as free people” in which the Gospel does not pluck people out of the culture, but sends them back in with new identities.

Peter’s vision of the Christian life is not one in which the new identity of believers calls for a sectarian existence at the margins of society – but one in which believers enact a new and greater reality in the midst of society. The pattern is the pattern of Jesus and the cross. And the point for wives here is that refusing to opt out of the social structure – but rather living within it in a new way – with honorable conduct toward husbands – is a posture that seeks the good of husbands. From this cross-shaped posture – a posture concerned with the good of even the enemy – there are many appropriate gestures. Again, the orienting force of love is precisely the reason that this text is not urging men or women to simply grit their teeth and bear with abusive situations in marriage. Instead, the idea is that somehow, as ‘sojourners’ in the household, women would live the story of God’s family. This is not easy, and giving up ones rights is often difficult, but this is the pattern set by Jesus. And maybe this is the time to note the quote by now deceased theologian John Howard Yoder has written that “those who bear crosses are walking with the grain of the universe.” This is a remarkable claim. Yoder’s suggestion, in a nutshell, is that those who use power exploitatively, those who organize the world around their own needs, and those who use violence or coercion are actually fighting against the deep structures of God’s world. But those who give themselves away for the sake of the other – those who live the pattern of life by which Jesus set the whole world free – are actually walking with the grain of the universe. This is a remarkable – and perhaps a wholly counterintuitive claim.

This cross-shaped pattern is extended toward husbands – precisely in the Roman rendering of the household. “Husbands, in the same way show consideration for women in your life together, paying honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they too are heirs of the gracious gift of life.” Two points to note – first, husbands are commanded – in the Greek, to honor not only their wives but all the women in their household. The translation in our bulletin betrays us here. And that honor is precisely because women hold a position of little power in the social structure of the day. So again, we do not hear Peter making a Christian distinction in which male = strong & superior and female = weak & inferior. Instead, within the Roman story in which this community is sojourning, Peter activates the Jesus story. Husbands, your position in society is never to be exploited for your own benefit. Instead, leverage your privilege for the sake of the powerless – for this is what Jesus did. The word honor is powerful here, as Peter has already said that the way to live in this overlap of stories is to honor everyone – and even the emperor. So now, Peter has changed the game. Women are not the Aristotelian “natural born slaves” – but rather women are to be treated in the same way you would treat the emperor – with honor.

We can extend this just a little further. Peter finishes this section by saying that it is the gift of all Christians, for the sake of their enemies, to return hate with love – to live the pattern of the cross. And we can begin to see that Peter’s primary concern is not the ontological differences between man and woman, but with the Gospel reality that – in the face of the shadow power of empire and status division and social coercion – true power is exercised in love. And because Peter is addressing the power of Rome and its order with the power of the cross, we can see that these texts apply not discreetly to males or females, but to people of any gender or status who find themselves either marginalized or empowered by the structures of the culture. And when you are weak, you don’t use your identity in Christ as an excuse to leave your relationships (though I say that with all the caveats I’ve given above). And when you are in a position of power, you don’t use that power to exploit – but to bless. This is the posture of the cross.

And, these sorts of deeds of radical self-giving are only can only be done for one reason – because of the radical self-giving love of God in Christ. We saw this care in the Sermon on the Mount, we have seen it in Jesus, and we hear it again at the end of this section: “For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer.” -- this is the reason we can live a cruciform life that orients itself toward God and toward neighbor – even when the neighbor is our enemy. And, when we do that together, the household of God exists as an alternative pattern of truly human community.

Questions for discussion - drafted by Bob Reid:

1. Can you think of someone who has set themselves up in an adversarial relationship to you? What would it look like to seek their good? Can you think of a tangible example?

2. Can you think of a relationship where you don't want to submit, but where God may be calling you to submit - in the way of the cross; and, for the missional reasons outlined above? What can help you see these opportunities of submission rightly? What role does your Christian community play in helping you tell the difference between submission and enabling an abuser?

3. In Aaron's remarks leading up to communion he said this: "Our habits and practices shape us in profound ways. Philosopher Jamie Smith says it this way: our practices – whether they are sacred or secular – 'shape and constitute our identities by forming our most fundamental desires and our most basic attunement to the world.' Our practices, 'make us certain kinds of people, and what defines us' [and is both revealed by our practices and shaped by our practices] 'is what we love' (Desiring the Kingdom, 25)." Question: in daily worship, what sorts of habits and practices should we be performing regularly so that we will be in a posture from which we may more successfully love our enemies?