Thursday 19 December 2013

Ambassador: Bridges, Dreams, and Timely Preaching

This article was originally published in Christian Courier, Issue 2969, September 23, 2013.

I selected the title of this column, and then worked with others to visually symbolize it. We came up with the image of a bridge. I am now starting to see how apropos this is.

Timeless Preaching
A retired Christian Reformed pastor sent me a note saying that he appreciated the attempts to connect theology and daily life. He commented that he hears too much timeless preaching. At first I was perplexed by that comment, but then he explained that he was hearing preaching that did not connect to the events of the day or the world in which we live, the world with which we wrestle. A friend told me that he had gone back to his childhood church and was troubled by the highly un-Reformed sermon he had heard on heaven as the goal of the Christian life.

Timely History
In celebration of 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, I saw the pictures of the march across the Selma, Alabama bridge. My wife and I went to the movie “The Butler,” which recapped the terrible history of racial segregation in the US. I heard the “Dream” speech on the radio with its powerful rhetoric and Biblical imagery and was again inspired and troubled.

Troubled Mind
I am inspired by the Biblical vision, words, and leaders that brought change. I am troubled by what has been done, even sometimes in the name of Christianity, to keep people separate and oppressed. I am troubled that I was raised too much in a “colony” of Christianity that was sometimes more prone to walls than bridges. I am troubled that my Christian tradition has a reading of the “antithesis” that tends to place us over against others rather than recognizing the struggle between following God or an idol within each one of us. I am troubled that I do not know the struggle of my neighbor well because I live in my fortress. I am troubled that I am often with the oppressors and the privileged. I am troubled that I often do not hear the dreams of my fellow believers, and if I do, they are timelessly vague and heavenly escapist dreams to silence the nightmares of the oppressed.

I wonder what should be my bridge. Where am I willing to take a stand for justice? With whom am I willing to walk against the powers of darkness, the threatening dogs, and the drowning waters of opposition? I need you, we need each other, to stimulate our vision and our action, sometimes even troubling ourselves.

Timely Preaching
What of the preaching in our churches? Has it become too safe because churches are too ready to dispose of pastors? Have we addressed issues of doctrine, sure that we are right and showing how everyone else is wrong? Maybe that is even too risky. So we turn to individual piety. We want people to experience God in their lives, to be restored in forgiveness and faith, but we stop there. What about saved for service? How do we specifically engage our neighbors in love?

While I hope this column helps ICS participate in the church community, I typically will not reference ICS directly, but these questions are what we are about. What is the role of the Christian community in issues of justice? What are the Biblical visions and words that should drive us into the details of our society? Why are the church and leaders often afraid to be prophetic? How can we support each other and talk with each other, especially when we disagree? How can we be a Christian community with each other, with other Christian communities, with other faiths wrestling with the same issues, and with the oppressed, who often can no longer dream, hardly sleep, and feel like they are on the other side from us?

A Biblical text I love is Ephesians 2:11–22. Here Paul celebrates what Christ has done to bring divided humanity, especially Jews, who saw themselves as God’s people, and Gentiles, who felt rejected, condemned, and oppressed, together into one household of God. “For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” (Ephesians 2:14, NRSV)

Where are the barriers here? What wall of hostility does Christ still need to break down now? What is the Selma bridge of our day? I have a dream.

Tom Wolthuis, President