Ferguson, a broken world, and the authority of Jesus

On Sunday, I preached from Luke 4:31-44 on Jesus’ authority and healing. Last night, the grand jury returned a decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown. I’m still processing and praying through this, still figuring out how I’m supposed to respond. I didn’t write my message or preach with the Ferguson decision in mind, but I guess there was a reason God wanted me to be thinking these things through before yesterday evening. What I do know is that we live in a fallen world, where authority is not always exercised justly and healing is an ever-present need.

So here’s an excerpt from Sunday’s message — “The Authority of Jesus, a.k.a. Kicking Butt and Taking Names.” (You can listen to the full sermon here.)

Preaching, Nov 23, 2014

I’m sure we can all call to mind people in positions of authority; we might think of the President, Members of Congress, judges, police officers, teachers, or doctors. And we might also be able to call to mind what it looks like when folks abuse their authority—the Watergate scandal, for instance; corrupt government officials who line their pockets at the expense of those they’re supposed to be serving; doctors who take advantage of their patients or teachers who take advantage of their students.

But just like sin is not just the things we do but also the things we should do but we don’t, when those in authority don’t exercise it when they should, that’s also a problem: recently, the police in Hong Kong chose not to intervene when peaceful protesters were attacked; or the last four years have seen the most unproductive sessions of Congress in recent history—and, given that there’s so much still to do, I think we have the responsibility to call our elected representatives to use their authority to better serve the common good. Because, in fact, everyone exercises some sort of authority: parents over their children, celebrities over their fans, pastors over their congregations, voters over their representatives, and so on.

The biblical understanding of authority is much like the non-biblical understanding of authority, in that it’s connected to power, particularly to the legitimate use of power, and it could simply be defined as the “right to effect control over objects, individuals or events.” But the biblical understanding of authority is much more than that, too. It goes right back to creation, when God created human beings in his image—to be like him—and said to them, in Genesis 1:28:

Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.

That’s God delegating power so that the world might flourish, so that God’s kingdom might be seen on earth, so that all might be in right relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.

That’s the purpose of authority: that humanity might flourish.

That’s how authority should be measured: does it move us closer to God’s kingdom on earth?

In Jesus, we find the truest embodiment of authority rightly and responsibly exercised. Everything Jesus said and did brought more of up there down here. Theologian Darrell Bock writes:

Evil has severe angst in the presence of righteousness ready to be exercised.

When authority is rightly and responsibly exercised by a president, by a legislator, by a judge, by an officer of the law, by a teacher, by a doctor, by a nurse, by a famous person, by a parent, by a pastor, by you in whatever capacity you have been given a measure of control—when authority is rightly and responsibly exercised to bring more of God’s kingdom to earth, evil has severe angst.

Think about that: what you do matters; what you do with your life on the big picture level as well as what you do in your everyday has bearing on whether the kingdom of God advances or not. How you treat the homeless person you pass on the street; how much effort you put into your work; how much attention you give to your spouse; how you respond to people who are different from you or who disagree with you; how you forgive those who wrong you; how you deal with messing up—these are all instances where you can exercise the authority you’ve been given, and they all have bearing on whether the kingdom of God advances or not. What you do matters.

We inhabit what some theologians call the already-but-not-yet. See, the kingdom of God is at the same time past, present, and future. We know that Jesus came to earth, 2,000 years ago, and at that time, the kingdom of God entered into human history in a way it had never done before—the demons were cast out, the sick were healed, the truth of God and the word of God were embodied in a living, breathing human being—that’s the already. We know that Jesus will come again, to finish the work he started, setting all things right, reconciling all things to himself, bringing the fullness of heaven down to earth—but that is not yet here. And so in the present, in the here-and-now, the Holy Spirit is at work in us and through us—as the people of God and the body of Christ—revealing more of that same kingdom, proclaiming the good news of that kingdom, in the midst of the ravages of the Fall in sin and sickness and death.

Any healing that happens this side of Christ’s return points toward the story of the gospel and the renewal that has not yet come but is promised. But any healing that happens this side of Christ’s return will always be incomplete. We and our loved ones will still get sick, we will not always be healed, we will still die. But God’s story moves toward ultimate healing—no death, no sickness, no tears. It’s coming.

Lord Jesus, even as we give you thanks for living the life we could not live and dying the death we could not die and being raised to life that we might be made new, we long for you to come back.

In the here-and-now, break the chains of our sin and sickness and death. Heal us from the ravages of our wounds both physical and psychological, both mental and emotional. Liberate us from our addictions. Be the light in our darkness; be the hope in our disappointment; be the joy in our loss.

Set us free so that we might walk in the life you desire for us to live—life to the full, eternal life. Remind us that we live and move and have our being in Christ, that we have been given authority as image-bearers of the Most High, authority as redeemed children of our Father in heaven, authority as ambassadors of Christ in a hurting and broken world.

We pray these things in the name of the One who was wounded so that we might be made whole, in the power of the name of Jesus. Amen.

A few things to start 2014

A week and a half into the new year, and I have a feeling it’ll be no surprise to you that life is busy! God is doing a lot, including much that I’ve yet to fully process; but I’m so excited for what this year will bring (not just for the wedding!). A few things:

1. The District Church continues to grow.
In the absence of a larger space (which we’re still looking for), we’re going to start having THREE services in Columbia Heights, in addition to our East Side campus. Which means that tomorrow I get to preach FOUR times. Pray for me!

TDC_NewService

2. God continues to use us.
After TIME covered DC127 in the fall, our local paper (well, The Washington Post) wrote this story in late December — “DC127 aims to connect city’s foster children with families.” I’m so grateful to be part of a community that positions itself in such a way that God can use us and be glorified.

3. Catherine continues to heal.
My dear friend Catherine, who was hit by a car last fall, continues her recovery by the grace of God. She shares some of her thoughts on how trauma has impacted her here — “A New Normal” — and I’m so proud of her for putting this out there. I know, from talking to her, that it was difficult, even to post it. As she writes:

“Trauma upends everything we took for granted, including things we didn’t know we took for granted. And many of these realities I wish I’d known when I first encountered them. So, while the work of life and healing continues, here are ten things I’ve learned about trauma along the way.”

4. Wedding planning is full steam ahead.
We’re getting married in July, so it’s all systems go. A number of things have come together already, but there remains much to do. Prayers would always be appreciated. (You can check out some of our engagement pics on Facebook.)

Engagement_FungSchneiders-26

The scars we bear

Original post: August 8, 2007. Update: January 17, 2010.

“Scar tissue that I wish you saw …” (Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Scar Tissue’)

Just below my left knee is a scar from slicing my leg open roller-skating when I was about 12. When I was 14, I managed to explode a small (fortunately almost-empty) canister of gas while throwing a tantrum; as a result, I have a faint scar on my nose that shows how close I came to being blinded. When I was 21, a kid fractured my fibula with a bad tackle while playing soccer; it still aches now and again, and still affects my ankle a little when I run. When I was 24, I jammed my right ring finger playing sports; now, whenever I uncurl my fingers, it clicks. When I was 26, I split my leg open to the bone (and had to get 18 stitches) trying to impress a girl.

I’ve picked up a few scars over the years; we all do. Some of them are physical; some are emotional; some psychological; some spiritual. Living in a fallen world, there’s no way to not get hurt in some way or another. Some of the wounds that we suffer hurt like hell. And sometimes, it can feel as though these wounds will never heal.

Humans are paradoxes: we are both fragile and resilient, made of stuff both frail and indomitable. We do heal, though sometimes it can take a long, long time. Yet though we may heal, we often still bear the scars from these wounds–from the experiences, relationships, events, that cause us to hurt.

Looking forward, I wonder if we’ll bear these scars—these healed-over wounds—on our new bodies, our bodies fitted for eternity. Each scar carries a memory, an association, good and bad: for instance, when my leg got broken playing soccer, Ally looked after me the entire weekend, driving me around and basically nursing me through my grumpy times; when I split my leg open, my new friend Kelly came to the clinic with me and watched the doctor scrub the dirt out of my leg; when Amanda broke my heart, my friends–Matt, Adam, Benjie, and Tim–came around me to help me back on my feet.

Upon noting that Jesus still bore the scars of the nails in his hands and feet after the resurrection, one of my friends posited this hypothesis: maybe we’ll bear the scars that we bore for the sake of the kingdom; and they will be scars that we can be proud of.

Now I’m not glorifying pain, or making light of (by philosophizing about) deep wounds (especially emotional) that we suffer. But I found this definition helpful:

Scar:

  1. a mark left by a healed wound—an area of fibrous tissue that replaces normal skin (or other tissue) after injury. A scar results from the biologic process of wound repair in the skin and other tissues of the body. Thus, scarring is a natural part of the healing process.
  2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, trauma or suffering.

“There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Rom. 5:3-5, Message)