Dear Disciples of Jesus,
This invitation to Fall Bible studies comes as a pastoral letter as I begin my seventh year with the privilege of being your pastor. I shared in the ‘Tidings of Peace’ newsletter that our series on Criminal Justice was a very important experience as we renew our vision of the cross and what it means for our discipleship. Prince of Peace has the opportunity to move decisively forward as a ministry centered on peace and justice in the Way of following Jesus Christ. (Early Christianity was called belonging to the Way, e.g. Acts 9:2).
By now you know where my passion lies as a preacher and teacher. I’d like to clarify three main reasons for deepening our ministry with a passionate center of peace and justice:
- Following Jesus’ Way of peace and justice from God is most true and faithful to following Jesus himself. For centuries Jesus’ Jewishness was buried beneath Greco-Roman interpretations, overlaid by many other (mostly European) cultures. Over the past thirty years through listening to people of marginalized cultures, getting to know our Jewish sisters and brothers, and applying archeologically-informed history of the First Century, Biblical scholarship better understands Jesus and his Apostles as First Century Jews. Contemporary Biblical scholars tell us that Jesus was all about peace and justice like the early Hebrew prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, etc.). And that Jesus knew he was fulfilling their prophecies of God’s reign coming to power on earth, but with a vital twist: Jesus revolutionized our understanding of how a Lord and King should reign! His message was thoroughly and completely political as he took on the political leaders and systems of his day and turned them upside-down, bringing God’s understanding of power, Kingship and politics – the Way of peace and justice.
- Following Jesus’ Way of peace and justice from God is what the world desperately needs if we are to fulfill God’s plan for humanity. If we don’t follow God’s plan, we will continue destroying ourselves — and perhaps the earth as well. God created humans to help take care of the household of creation. Instead of following God’s politics – the Way of peace and justice, our politics of being human are grounded in creating separate households whose identities pit us against each other. God’s Way in Jesus is to be one united household of caring, especially for the least, the weakest, and the most vulnerable. Instead, from the very beginning of our species we have followed in the way of “Satan casting out Satan” (Mark 3:23-27) — which is to forever be a house divided where the least are regularly sacrificed. With Weapons of Mass Destruction and a consumerism that is consuming the earth, the world needs disciples to follow Jesus in God’s Way of running a household based on forgiveness and grace, and on loving care of the most vulnerable.
- Following Jesus’ Way of peace and justice from God is what the church needs to survive. I am more convinced everyday that the church without a peace and justice center leading disciples into relevant service of the world will and should pass out of existence over the next fifty years — or at best become a completely irrelevant relic of the past. Is the change the church is undergoing monumental? Yes! Is that at times painful and disorienting? Yes! But we cannot stop the process, nor should we. With the help of God’s Spirit, we need to carefully, and as graciously as we can, get on with creating a Way of discipleship centered on passionate peace and justice. The sooner the better.
This is a formidable and daunting task, as it challenges us to break free and leave behind many things the Church has taught us over the past 500 years. We need to recognize that many of those teachings are based on the early Church being co-opted by governments and politics in order to justify their sacrificing of the family of God.
I invite you to struggle through together as we explore the new possibilities for reclaiming the church as God through Jesus intended it to be. Together, let’s rediscover the Way!
Opportunities for study: This Fall’s Bible studies are designed to help move us forward decisively in peace and justice ministry. Bible studies are not the only ticket, but they are vital since the change in how we experience Jesus from the Gospels is the key to understanding the changing church we find ourselves in. Here is a brief introduction to the books we are using in the three studies and some hoped-for outcomes.
Tuesday nights, 7:00-8:30 pm, beginning September 25. Brian McLaren‘s Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope provides the best combination of renewing our experience of Jesus and taking a comprehensive look at the problems facing us as human beings. We will also use a video resource to spark conversation and enhance the learning together. An outcome I can foresee is initiating an Earthkeeping Team that leads PoP in the politics of caring for the earth. But this book is so comprehensive that we wouldn’t want to pre-determine where it leads us in fitting our gifts and passions to fresh peace and justice ministries.
Wednesday mornings, 10:30-11:45 am, beginning September 19. Ched Myers‘ “Say to This Mountain”: Mark’s Story of Discipleship will be the guide to enhancing our worship experience with this Fall’s theme of “Discipleship 101.” It is among the top Bible commentaries for making the renewed experience of Jesus accessible to laypeople and oriented to practicing our discipleship.
Sunday mornings, 9:15-10:15 am, beginning September 23. Brian McLaren‘s latest book (released Sept 11) Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?: Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World gets at the key element of peace and justice ministry of learning to reform what has blocked us from being one united household of God. Christian identity has been shaped in ways that cause division and hostility. How can we reshape Christian identity toward God’s intentions of hospitality and unity-in-diversity? Possible outcomes: rekindling Interfaith dialogue, deepening our antiracism work, and practicing greater inclusivity for LGBTQ persons.