Friday, October 5, 2012

Subversive Word

The message of the Kingdom and the Word of the Lord are subversive. The message is contrary to current status, a threat to the principal culture and prevailing perceptions. Though we like to put forth a message that never changes, even so, the message itself constantly produces change and creates new. Creating new does not seem threatening on the surface, but new is a threat to the sameness that supplies predictability and control. We prefer a managed view of the world.

When the message subverts, accepted norms may be seen as oppressive. As the Word creates inversion, our rules could be shown to be a means of keeping out the unwanted. With subversion, our reading of scripture may be seen as an editing of scripture. Could it be that a rigid interpretation of a wooden text is subversive the Word of the Lord? But when the Word is enlivened, becomes incarnate, suddenly it is close, immediate and un-managed. Now it is in your business, gets personal and presumes an intimacy with you that is startling. It gets behind the curtains, behind the facade, back where dirty dishes are, and the things we prefer to cover and ignore.

We can establish rules for interpreting scripture and these may be helpful, but the incarnate Word may not keep the rules. For good reason the sword is metaphorical for the Word - It cuts. It brings violence to the hearers. Most often believers use this sword parallel as a weapon against the enemy, but the enemy may be us. The sword pierces the heart of the believer as well as the unbeliever. The Word subverts believer and unbeliever. (See Mt. 10:34-39, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”v34)

The message is offensive and the offense is not accidental. We tend to remove the offense from the Gospel, that is, to shield people from its offensiveness, encouraging a hybrid, genetically altered gospel, a gelded version of the message. We know how to make the message socially acceptable and have become diplomatic with the Word – isn’t that nice? We are overly concerned with how the message may offend our unsaved loved ones. In the gospels, however, the offense was often directed at the community of faith. The outsiders seemed to be more receptive than those in the know.

To bring an inoffensive message is to say, “How ‘bout more of the old same?” It is to confess we have nothing new to offer. We have made the way to the cross too easy. We pave the Via Dolorosa, put in a street car, perhaps a trolley and fast track salvation. We just had to domesticate the message, for surely heaven did not intend to be so abrasive. So we display the gospel on the bargain rack with half-priced, buy-one-get-one theology.

“It is a free gift”, we love to say. Like signing up on Facebook, it’s free. Yet this is more than a little deceptive. In fact, there are strings attached. The Gospel doesn’t ask you for something, it asks for everything – not a yard sale, but a complete sellout. Not wholesale, but full price. Not only does it ask you to die – it asks you to “die daily”. The authentic message is not an easy message. It is disruptive. In the kingdom of God the last are first and the first are last. What was above is now below and what was below is now above. The proud are humbled and the humble are lifted up.

But make no mistake; they are “Beautiful words, wonderful words, wonderful words of life”. These are words for bright light and hope - words that deliver from grim despair and repel the mugging shadows, bringing unexpected laughter and amazement to the poor and oppressed, suddenly upstaging the lingering taunts of doubt. They open up passage previously unavailable and give sight and clarity of thought, creating faith in our hearts. To the desperate they are lifesaving, allowing not only distant hope, but present joy and peace. Yes, beautiful words, dear and precious, wonderfully powerful and un-managed.

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