DiscipleChurch Family and Friends:
I am writing about Sunday’s service two days early to give those of you who care to the time to order and obtain a book from your “favorite on-line bookseller.” (You still have time to order and receive it by mail by Thursday or Friday).
But first, a story.
My freshman year in college, one of my courses was in the Religious Studies department. When it came time to do a term paper, I wrote on the Sermon on the Mount, and specifically on Matthew 5.38-41: “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give [them] your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile’.” These commands of Jesus seemed to me then not only to be unreasonable and unrealistic, but also insufficiently concerned with justice and with deterrence of evil and with protection of the innocent. So I wrote a paper summarizing the Roman Army’s history of atrocities against the weak in Judea shortly before and during Jesus’ career, and the Legion’s irresistible power. And I theorized that these teachings of Jesus were designed to protect the weak and innocent by advising them not to stand up pointlessly to the Romans, lest they get themselves hurt or killed. The grade I received on the paper was a 55. Yes, 55 out of 100. The paper had been graded by a young teaching assistant who was in the PhD. program in theology of the school. Well, I had received writing awards as a high school student. And this was Yale University, to which I had been admitted because, presumably, I had been a sufficiently accomplished high school student. So, I was incensed. Outraged. Convinced that I, like the weak and innocent Jews who were bullied and oppressed by the Roman army of occupation, was a victim of deplorable injustice. And I was certain that I had received such a pitifully, outrageously low grade merely because the teaching assistant was such a religious fundamentalist that he was censoring my well-reasoned position. So, not being willing to turn my other cheek to this charlatan and bully (yes, I am aware of the irony), I stormed the office of the teaching assistant and demanded to know if he really believed that I deserved this grade. “No,” he replied. “I don’t.” Now we are getting somewhere, I thought. But then he continued, “But according to the rules of Yale, it’s the lowest grade I could give you.”
That young teaching assistant was named Stanley Hauerwas.
Yep. I was trying to face down a real lightweight. Who knew whom that guy would become?
Many of you will recognize that name without further elaboration by me. Let’s just say that Stanley Hauerwas went on to have a bit more impressive career in theology than I have (in theology or in any other field). You might check him out on Wikipedia, which lists 48 books written by my old pal Stanley and six books written about him. Dr. Hauerwas went on to teach and write at the University of Notre Dame, Duke University (seminary and law school), and the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He has been described recently as the greatest American Protestant theologian of our generation.
This year is the 25th anniversary of the publication of a book co-authored by Dr. Hauerwas with his colleague at Duke and United Methodist Bishop Will Willimon, another real lightweight. The name of the book is Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony. It is still very much in print, and you can order it on line from “your favorite online bookseller.” The book was quite controversial when it was published in 1989. It is still so relevant that an updated and expanded version has just been released. The most recent edition of the magazine “The Christian Century” is a celebration and retrospective on the 25th anniversary of Resident Aliens. In the book, Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon describe a church called by God to be a “resident alien” in this culture, economic system and nation–called not to be at home here, called not to be a chaplain for the way things are, called not to “accommodate” itself to capitalism in order to make the system a bit more humane, or to this nation so that it can make us a bit more just, a bit more inclusive, a bit more compassionate, and a bit less violent. Instead, we the Church are called solely to be true to the actual teaching and life and Way of Jesus, who was not crucified, after all, because he accommodated himself to the economy and government and nations and ways of his time. The book has a great deal to say, much of it unsettling and all of it prophetic, to me and to you, to our particular and beloved church, to the Church, and to our culture, economy and nation. You will not agree with much that is said there. But you will at least be challenged to re-examine what you do believe. If you can obtain a copy of the book before Sunday (it would be a valuable read to you even if you can’t obtain it until later), I recommend starting with the 4th chapter. Much of that chapter deals with….Matthew 5.38-41.
Following this, our scripture for DiscipleChurch this Sunday comes from Acts 17:
“After Paul and Silas had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. 2And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three sabbath days argued with them from the scriptures, 3explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, ‘This is the Messiah, Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you.’ 4Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women. 5But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the market-places they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, ‘These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.’”
“These people who have been turning the world upside down…” Like the calling of the church described by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon. But how?
In your preparation for Sunday, whether or not you can get your hands on a volume of Resident Aliens, you might consider:
- How did the early church “turn the world upside down”? Merely by claiming that Jesus, and not Caesar, was Lord? Or by living a Way that was “upside down” to the cultures of the time?
- Are we called to turn this our beloved church upside down? How?
- Are we called to turn the Church upside down? How?
- Are we called to turn our worlds upside down? How?
- How do we turn anything “upside down” if we do not resist the evildoer, and turn the other cheek, and give up our coat as well as our cloak, and go the second mile?