Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The art of preposition - too sensual for Christians?

I remember, as a seminary student, studying Greek and being told that the prepositions in a sentence are, in many ways, the most important words, as they declare the relationships between subjects and objects, and the proximity of the players involved in whatever drama is unfolding.

Little did I know how right my teacher was. Over the years that I've been in ministry, I've found that 'IN' is one of the most important words available to authors, especially when it presents itself as an upward evolution. What was once, 'WITH' has now become 'IN'. This is the subject which Christ goes to great lengths to embody and declare throughout His entire life. But this distinction reaches its apex in John 14 and 15, the passages I'm studying today in preparation for this coming Sunday.

In the Old Testament, and even in the early days of Christ's arrival on earth, the prophets vision for Messiah was limited by virtue of preposition. They could see God WITH us; by our side, coming to our aide, our helper, even our guru. But they were unable to see the far more radical, for more powerful reality of Christ IN us! Suddenly, by virtue of a different preposition, we are changed from weak to strong, from some sort of spiritual celibacy with Jesus as friend, to the powerful reality of spiritual union, with Christ as our bridegroom and we, his followers as the bride. We are loved and cherished. We are united. It's not a stretch to say that we are penetrated, recipients of His seed in order that we might bring forth life, something we can't do on our own.

I don't know if it's because we love legalism, or because we're afraid of the sexual imagery, or perhaps both, but we are often missing the power of this reality. We settle for God WITH us, and reduce what is intended to be a passionate love relationship to nothing more than a moral code, or an institution with codified political alliances, blind to it's own weaknesses because she has cast off her lover, perhaps preferring political or economic power instead.

The most important truth in Christianity, the element that ultimately gives our faith a distinction, is that Christ is united with us, that we are IN Him. And, in fact, the overwhelming teaching of Paul and Jesus is that our first, our primary consideration, is simply to remain in Him, trusting that out from that will flow all that we need - our daily bread, our kingdom ethic, our power to change lives, our passion for each day, our capicity to love (both neighbor and enemy), and our many gifts along with the opportunity to use them to further God's purposes.

Why would we settle for a shabby moral code when we are offered so much more. A favorite quote of mine says,
“We believe our moralism sets us apart as exemplory Christians, when it merely confirms our mutual fixation, with the rest of humanity, on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At best, moral exertions will produce the tinny kindness of well-meaning persons who are not entirely engaged, not entirely there. Death, not life, is so served
There is a better way. It's the way of living in union, but of course union means relationship, and relationship means time, and messiness, and ambivilance, and so many things that are, at times, taxing, as we're forced to relinquish control. Maybe that's why the preposition 'IN' is so threatening; you can leave'WITH' behind when things get messy.


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