Sunday, May 19, 2013

Breaking it down

Acts 2:1-21
John 14:8-17

"Deconstructionism" is in many Christian circles a dirty word and a threat to a long established order because the term means exactly what it seems to imply: taking what is (or, rather, what we have come to believe "is"), and then breaking it down to its base form (its beginning) so it can be better understood. 

What is disturbing to many traditionalist, conservative Christians is that the practice and theory of "deconstruction" interferes with what we believe has been long settled.  It rarely occurs to us that much of what was established so long ago was "deconstructed" in the 16th-century Reformation.  What has been offered to us since then as "reconstructed" in the anti-Rome fever of the Reformation has lost, shall we say, some of its "salt" as some doctrines have come under much closer scrutiny and have actually begun to fall apart.  And it's not because of "liberal" seminaries; it is because of a more careful examination of what we think already "is". 

In seeking to elaborate on the "Truth" as we understand it OR to try and make it make sense in a common way OR in the way we most personally desire this "Truth" to express, we are inclined to pile on and pile on fond notions, ideas, and opinions until what we sought to expand on has become virtually unrecognizable, self-justifying and just plain wrong, or completely outside of its appropriate context.  Peter's sermon is such a case in point as he quotes from the prophet Joel and concludes that portion of his "sermon" with "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved".   

True, of course, and not because it is "new" but because it is an expression of our Lord's Eternal Covenant with those who will repent and come forward to be counted among the faithful.  Then, of course, the Philippian jailer in Acts 16 is told by Paul and Silas when he asked what he must do to be saved, and they replied, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household" (16:31).  True also, but there is in verse 32 the part we overlook, the part that MUST ALWAYS accompany the first part: "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house ..."  Exactly what that "word of the Lord" was is perhaps anyone's guess, but it is a safe bet that in this "word of the Lord" shared with the jailer, "Jesus Christ" became much more than a phrase and even more profound than just a man's name.

There are other instances in which people are encouraged to "believe in Jesus Christ", "receive Jesus Christ as 'personal' Lord and Savior", and many other such phrases developed by human tradition (but not Scripture), but the invitation to "believe" falls short of what Jesus is recorded as actually teaching by His very life - the all-encompassing part of what it means to actually "believe", to go beyond simply acknowledging a "name".  The phrases the Church has developed over time become virtually meaningless because they lack sound context.  That is, we encourage people to "believe in Jesus Christ", but we don't really tell them much about Jesus Christ because we are typically unable to articulate what "Jesus Christ" really means. 

And we don't really know what "Jesus Christ" really means because Christians are too inclined to jump straight from the "Ten Commandments" directly into the New Testament.  It is the deficiency I found within myself as I challenged a Sunday evening gathering recently: Can you tell "The Story" as Moses commanded the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:7?  Can you tell "The Story" as Peter did in Acts 2 or as Stephen did in Acts 7?  If we cannot, then we cannot articulate in a useful or spiritually uplifting way what or who Jesus Christ is.  It is often as if Jesus sprang forth from nothing - or worse - becomes a "god" unto Himself.  And if we reduce Him only to a "personal Savior" role without an explanation and full context of "The Story" to back it up, we're saying virtually nothing of any real or lasting benefit to those who may hear us and want to hear more - simply because we have nothing "more" to offer!

It has long been necessary, neglected though it has been, to "deconstruct" in the contemporary Church because of the many who are choosing to walk away from the contemporary Church "in search of the Lord" even though we have excused ourselves from any responsibility because, after all, if "The Message" is good enough for "us", it should be good enough for them.  It has become in too many instances a "take it or leave it" proposition.  If they can't take it, they can leave it.  It's their loss.  Right?  WRONG!  Because what we only think is "The Message" is often so far removed from "The Story" that "The Message" has no meat - only "gravy".  And we cannot live on gravy just as "man cannot live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God".  Jesus in the wilderness with the evil one was not anticipating what St. Paul may write in the future!  He was referring to and Being the "Word" as it is already established!

So to paraphrase a popular 1970's TV commercial for a popular hamburger restaurant chain, "Where's the meat?"  This is what "deconstruction" aims to find out; dig under the gravy, remove the bread, get past the lettuce and tomatoes and pickles and onions and cheese and mayo or mustard or ketchup and hopefully find the "meat", the very essence of the burger itself!  The rest of the stuff has the potential to enhance the essence as long as it does not overwhelm the essence, but these are not what we ordered the burger for in the first place.  Otherwise we would have been perfectly satisfied with a garden salad.  Good stuff, of course, but lacking any substantial protein which feeds muscle growth.

So it comes to this.  The Gospel of John refers to the "Word made flesh"; that Eternal Word which always was "in the beginning", long ago established.  Not "Jesus", mind you; the "Word" Jesus came to exemplify and amplify.  So it is if we do not understand the "Word" or know the "Story", we cannot know Jesus the Messiah.  And contrary to popular belief, "Christ" is NOT Jesus' last name!

This is especially important on Pentecost because of what Pentecost ultimately means in the more ancient - and enduring - Jewish tradition of Pentecost, the Festival of Weeks; Shavu'ot.  It is a holy period commemorating the GIVING of Torah at Mt Sinai to Moses.  It is when the Lord gave of Himself to the people of Israel.  The distinction between "giving" Torah and "receiving" Torah is important in the tradition as well because we are "constantly" receiving the Word of the Lord when the people of God are at their best and firing on all spiritual cylinders.  And Messiah Jesus is nothing if not "The Word" come in the flesh.  This is the principle expressed by St. Augustine in how he seeks to describe the Lord as "ever ancient and ever new".

This is what "breaking it down" gives us.  You see, Pentecost did not begin only 2000 years ago with the apostles as is commonly believed among Christians.  Pentecost already is firmly established in Torah and celebrated as the Word of the Lord "given" to the Lord's people, but it is also much more than merely obeying a simple commandment to observe a holy festival.  Deconstruction breaks it down so it will not become so encumbered and weighed down by human traditions that it becomes only a single "event" never again to be repeated.  In a manner of speaking, deconstruction might crumble the foundations of the "institutional" Church in which we have become so comfortable so as to free up the "missional" Church; the "real" Church that was called forth on Shavu'ot, the Jewish Festival of Weeks.  Pentecost.

"This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him.  You [already] know Him because He abides with you, and He will be with you ..."

Pentecost is what the Lord our God has already given and promises to keep giving as long as we keep receiving.  It is now up to us to respond not only this day but each day we draw a breath; each day we interact with our families; each day we interact with our friends; each day we interact with our neighbors; each day we interact with a rude store clerk!  We receive what is eternally given as we "keep [His] commandments".

This is Pentecost.  We do not commemorate what has already passed; we celebrate what "is" and what "is to come"; the Word of God for the people of God.  In the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit.  Amen.  

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