The Jesus Movement: Reconciling reality and ideal

Posted Sep 15, 2016

[Episcopal News Service — Detroit, Michigan] Texas Bishop C. Andrew Doyle gave the following sermon during the opening Eucharist of the fall 2016 meeting of the House of Bishops underway here from Sept. 15-20.

Our theme this week is: The Jesus Movement: Reconciling Reality and Ideal

My guess is that long ago before you officially became an aspirant you heard the Good Shepherd’s call. God called you and invited you to join God, to dedicate your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength to God’s mission.

Along the way, as you tried to make your words echo that voice you encountered an unforeseen obstacle – the pressure to fit God’s call and voice into the parameters of commissions and standing committees and a bishop’s vision and to fall in line with your clergy peers. That voice and the purpose for which the voice called slowly shape shifted into a voice that found a comfortable home in the vocabulary and ways of an institutional church. Subtly, ever so subtly, the Good Shepherd’s Voice started to sound a lot like the church institution.

I think this is a natural evolution. But our challenge, the great invitation, remains to embrace a different way.

This week we gather with a desire to stop reconciling Jesus’ call with the reality of church institution. We lean on each other to pull us out of the weeds of this static season, and out of the reality of the past, so that together we can step into the reality of God’s ideal for community.

The institutional church finds meaning in an immanent frame rooted in the powers and authorities of this world – a frame that gives lip service to the Jesus movement but that doesn’t really believe in the transcendent, the miraculous, a frame that doesn’t expect God to baffle human beings with God’s surprising and paradoxical presence. This immanent frame forms around our instinctual human need to regulate, to make politics, to gain power and hold onto authority, policy, structure, buildings, and organization. These have become millstones and stumbling blocks.

The community of God, the reality the Good Shepherd beckons us to discover, finds meaning in a much different frame: the transcendent reign of God and God’s mission, we find meaning in a context where humanity and heaven kiss.

The institution is prisoner to this world’s powers. It quiets the voices outside its incestuous conversations. But the community of God is different in that it frees us from the world’s constructs by the voice that calls us, and God’s spirit that even now is moving and speaking across the deep waters of the world’s culture.

The community of God is not an ideal to which we aspire. The movement of God in Christ Jesus is a reality and a movement that we are invited to live within. It is a reality that rejects the immanent reality of institution and powers and authorities. For to be baptized in Christ Jesus is to be a citizen of a very real and very different organism, movement, and organization. We are baptized into a community that God intends to be in the midst of the world but not to bend to its ways. There is no benign citizenship in the community of God.

Our passage about the shepherd, his voice, and the sheep, must be read in the midst of Jesus’ visit to Jerusalem for the feast of the tabernacles, the feast of booths – or as I like to call it, the feast of little boxes. [i]

In synchronicity with the great prophets, Jesus preaches and teaches and acts against the religious leaders of the day.[ii] Jesus offers a vision of the community of God that has come to earth. This community Jesus offers does not find its orientation in either its leaders, their cause, and their ideas of justice, rules, and virtue, their institutions, or their economies, their required sacrifices or their converted offerings – all which centralize community life around a given sacred site or some other narrow and idolatrous focus.

The message Jesus offers is a vision of a transformed reality that distances itself from leaders who teach for a price, prophesy and give oracles that comfort the powers and authorities of the immanent world. The message of Jesus rejects the ideas of justice at a price, and freedom purchased with servitude.[iii]

More than fine words and the ability to quote the scripture, the community of God is about relationships built among people outside the institutional frame. As Micah and Jesus prophecy: all will lie in ruins, all will pass away. The wilderness will over come it all. [iv] Even the finest houses will come to an end.

Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd, his words and actions, made the religious leaders of his day very nervous; and, they make me very nervous.

The words and actions of Jesus offer a different reality, and they must shape the vision of the ideal of the institution we serve. The Good Shepherd’s gospel is freed from religious convention and institutional life rooted in this world’s constructs.

Robert Farrar Capon wrote that instead of a religious institutional reality built on instruction, right teaching, financial sacrifices, and works…the community of God is founded on Jesus’ death and his cross.[v]  “[Jesus] death is the operative device by which the reconciling judgment of God works – that the crucifixion is God’s last word on the subject of sin, the final sentence that will make the world one flock under one gracious shepherd.”[vi]

Should the institutional church desire to follow this Jesus, and make his mission its mission, it must learn that the operative device is its own death as it gives itself away for the sake of the other. Leaning on Ephesians 2:15 and Colossians 2:14, Capon reflects: we must stop the business of trying to enforce our own ideas of righteousness, winning rules for successful living, and lawful ways contained in commandments and ordinances and instead nail them to the cross.[vii]

We are to nail the reality of this world’s authority and power base, the reality of broken institutions, the reality of trying to band aid failing church economies, the reality of empty and closing churches of failed mission imperatives, ideas about programs to fix us, and other old ways of thinking about institutional church, along with all our rules about how to be the very best super Christian, we must nail them ALL to the cross. For only then will we discover again the freedom of rebirth, resurrection, the remaking of mission. We will discover a new institutional ideal, a reverse mission – where the outside becomes our inside. We will engage in a generous evangelism, a mission that is not about us and our survival and comfort but about the discomfort of giving ourselves freely to the other wherein together we encounter Christ in a completely new type of Christian community.

Our challenge in the next few days will be to begin to remove our institutional church lens so that the old may dream dreams and the young prophesy and together turn our institution inside out freeing the gospel from the bondage of locked tabernacles and little boxes. Our challenge will be to follow the voice, the living word, the one that called us when we became an aspirant, to where it sits at tables set in the midst of cities, neighborhoods, prisons, bars, in fast food restaurants, dives and drive-ins, and people’s homes. To follow and find the voice out there in the midst of people who are gathering. The voice of the shepherd is alive in their conversations as they sit and eat and dream together, as they work, play, sing, make art and dance.

In this you and I shall hear again the shepherd’s voice calling and saying: I invite you to shape and mold and steward the institution I have given you, to move it towards an ideal aligned with the reality of the community of God for which I have prophesied which I have sown from the beginning of the age and all around you. The Good Shepherd invites you to rededicate your heart, your soul, your mind, and your strength to God’s mission. Jesus invites you to not feel the need to fit the call into the parameters of commissions and standing committees and whatever your colleagues are doing. God invites you to nail everything the institution deems so important to the cross, and experience resurrection as the Jesus Movement takes you to new and unexpected and wild and surprising places.

Hear the shepherd’s calling, hear the voice, “Come and follow me,” it says, “I have people not of this pasture and even now I am gathering with them.”

[i] Capon, Robert Farrar, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2002. 360.

[ii] Jesus’ teaching around the Good Shepherd passage is more in line with Micah 3 which we rarely read in the church and which comes right before the good part in today’s passage.

[iii] Micah 3.

[iv] Micah 3; Mark 13, Luke 21, and Matthew 24; Luke 7

[v] Capon, 360ff.

[vi] Capon, 365.

[vii] Capon, 366.