The Bible is an open book. It is open in its truth about how it emerged and changed over time, open in the truth of its internal inconsistencies, open in its demand for ongoing interpretation. So is the Christ.
Somebody lost the Bible.
Somebody in ancient Hebrew history, sometime after the expulsion, flood, exodus, wandering, and settlement, and after the rise of the kingdom and the split of the kingdom, sometime in there someone lost track of the Bible, or a portion of it.
Not the Bible in the form we have it, of course.
The Bible wasn’t comprehensively copied out, let alone decisively codified, until many centuries after its stories emerged and its prophecies and poems circulated.
But during the 18th year of King Josiah’s reign, in the middle of the 7th century before the common era, a high priest finds a scroll that he doesn’t know yet recognizes as being part of their tradition, part of his peoples’ walk with God.
And so he gives it to his king, Josiah.
Josiah is a hereditary king of Judah, the southern portion of the original united kingdom of Israel. His father and grandfather alike are described as doing “evil in the eyes of the Lord.” The collectors of the books of Kings define this evil as a lack of exclusive devotion to God.
But Josiah does what is “right in the eyes of the Lord.” That rightness is tied to his response to this scriptural find, probably a version of Deuteronomy: Josiah implements a host of reforms to worship and repairs of the temple. From an old, old scroll, Josiah breathes new, new life into his community’s faith practices.
I am hoping we can do a little of the same today.
You may have noticed the blue cards and pens distributed in the pews. On the front they read “covenant card,” with room for contact information below. These are the outcome of a year’s worth of discussion on the Executive Board about what church membership looks like in 21st century Ames.
Up until today, becoming a formal member of the church, at least in my pastorate, has required participation in a class and then standing up and exchanging promises with everyone else seated in the pews. Participating in that ritual came with the benefit of being authorized to vote in meetings, like next week’s on the budget and Pr. Hannah’s ordination, as well as receiving discounted use of the building for parties and events.
It also created a tiered system, a hierarchy of insiders and outsiders within a place that professes to the world that Jesus Christ wants us to make sure there are none of either.
While that model served our church well for many, many years, it not only contradicts the gospels, it also comes short in acknowledging the risk and generosity evidenced in your choice to be in worship of a Sunday morning.
When contemporary Christianity has come so far afoul of its message, has so lost moral authority, has caused so much moral and actual injury, a willingness to walk through those doors reflects a substantial commitment. And one we need to honor.
So now a few times a year you will have the opportunity through a simple card to affirm or make new a covenant—a three-way commitment—with God and this house of prayer for all people. Sign it once and you are a member for good and if you are already a member, that does not change. Then, over the next year your Executive Board will bring a proposal to change the by-laws so as to eliminate the membership requirement for voting and the tiered rental system.
If everyone is part of the body of Christ, everyone is part of the body of this church.
But that’s not the only opportunity on this card. There is also space to share WHY this is your spiritual sanctuary. In ancient Israel there was only one temple, but you now have a broad range of choices for your spiritual life. On the back of the blue card, there is a little space to share what is it about this place that has brought you through those doors once, if not a thousand times.
I will compile your answers to share because your experience, your choice, is part of our gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ according to Ames UCC, the scroll of witness we write for the generations to come.
And there is one last question on the card: What is the Christ to you, today?
Today our church worship calendar, speaking of priests and worship rituals, calls on us to proclaim the Christ king. In doing so we make the countercultural claim that our lord is not money or success but Jesus, Jesus Messiah, Jesus Anointed One, Jesus Christ.
There is an element of triumphalism to the notion, too, which is reflected in the national United Church of Christ’s original logo: Here the crown and cross rule the globe of the world. It is tricky iconography for era when we are trying to be post-colonial and anti-patriarchal. While it was a revolutionary statement for our forebears who lived under functioning lordships and kings, to call a Jewish man killed by a crown their real king, we are not those people.
So how do we name Jesus’ significance for us in this time without reinforcing destructive, or at least no longer as productive, models and metaphors? How do we find a descriptor for the Christ that encompasses how we are to live? Because our tradition, from that of ancient Judaism through us here today, exists to be responded to, as Josiah once did, not frozen in time. That’s why we will keep working to make sure that our church practices align with our professed faith.
But more importantly, we will we continue to ask the Christ how to do the same in our lives.
We will keep asking Christ how to renovate our lives to be more faithful to God’s manna and mercy.
If we do not, if the Christ in daily life is not the central meaning of this place, then we are just like that old scroll—sitting in a house of God, but dusty and unused, lost.
So go to the temple of your own soul, the spark of God you carry, and ask what Christ is for you, today. Do not be afraid to be honest as there is no wrong answer.
Christ the King, Christ the Servant?
Christ the Mystery, Christ the Problem?
Christ the Lover, Christ the Agitator?
Christ the Absent, Christ the Disappointment?
Christ the Impossible, Christ the Probable?
Christ the Redeemer, Christ the Relentless?
Christ the Man, Christ the Holy?
Christ the Comfort, Christ the Hope?
Christ the Lie, Christ the Truth?
Christ the Way, Christ a Way?
Christ the Dead, Christ the Living?
Christ the Risen, Christ the Still Rising?
A book of the Bible was once lost but together, in Christ, we can still be found.
Delivered at Ames UCC on November 24, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.