Unarmed Empire (Jonathan Storment)

Screen Shot 2015-01-09 at 7.14.56 PMA few weeks ago, I listened to an episode of This American Life Podcast where a small town in Alaska has been at each other’s throats for the past few months over illegal immigration.

In the past year they’ve had acrimonious town hall meetings, threats of fights, name calling, and ultimately they are now a town torn in two.

The interesting thing is about this particular town in Alaska…there are no undocumented immigrants living there. Everyone admits that.

It’s not the reality that they are fighting over, it’s the ideas, the fears of what the “other” stands for, and two different realities that are becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile.

The thing about that podcast was that it was meant (and functioned) as a kind of parable for the world we live in.

We are tearing ourselves apart at the seams with one crippling anxiety after another. We angrily shout at each other much more than we try to listen to understand.

Enter Sean Palmer.

This past week, Sean Palmer’s Unarmed Empire released and I can’t tell you the last time I was more excited about a book releasing. This is a book years in the making and one that I hope gets a wide reading.

If you’ve ever asked the question “Does the Church matter?” or if you’ve ever wondered why God created this strange community, and what He’s trying to accomplish through it, this is the book for you.

Sean is a good friend of mine, and has contributed regularly to this Wednesday column Scot asked me to have Church of Christ preachers write. He’s one of my favorite writers, thinkers and preachers, especially when it comes to this.

Sean believes that the Church is called to be a beloved community, a community of reconciliation.

Sean is a “Child of the Church” he grew up in church, and while he sees all Her flaws, he is anything but cynical. He believes the Church is the hope of the world. And maybe it’s because I know him, or maybe because he’s such a good storyteller, or maybe because what he’s saying is so crushingly hopeful my heart swelled when I read this book.

Were you disturbed at the videos coming out of Charlottesville last month, but not really sure what you could do? This is a book for you.

Do you find yourself watching the news with an increasing sense of alarm at the tone of American politics and the rhetoric surrounding it? This is a book for you.

Do you find yourself unsure of what a Christian response is to all the ambiguous moral issues facing us and the fast changing world that seems so hard to keep up with? This is a book for you.

Not because Sean gives all the answers, but because Sean has a vision for what it looks like to be a community that is the answer. As a pastor for over two decades, Sean has walked through life with lots of different people, and his heart is for no one to be left outside the community of God’s people.

As a youth minister and later as a preacher he saw plenty of people leave church because they were picking up the subtle hints that church wasn’t “for them.” As a pastor, he’s also seen the alarming uptick in people who “graduated church” at the same time they were graduating from high-school, and is concerned about the disturbing amount of apathy toward the church today.

Not because he’s concerned about job-security, but because of what he knows the church can be…is called to be.

Sean points out that there’s a reason that KKK members bombed Churches and not the Department of Justice during the Civil Rights Movement.

There’s a reason that movement was led and sustained by preachers and deacons and church men and women. That’s because the vision for a more just and kind world didn’t come from the Declaration of Independence, it came from the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the community of God’s people as they steward this radical message that everyone matters and everyone is loved by God, and so anyone can belong.

Sean has seen and reports those rare moments when the church is exactly who She is called to be, and just by telling some of those stories, helps us see (in a time where we desperately need some hope) what she could be again.

Like the Apostle Paul, Sean knows the downside to church, but after putting down the book, I felt like Sean had the same kind of double-vision Paul had.

Paul wrote to his church of immoral, back-biting, honor-seeking Christians in Corinth and called them to “be pure…as you already are.” Paul, after planting so many dysfunctional churches, described the Church as radiant, holy and without blemish.”

There were times when I was reading this book, I felt like I wish I could see the world, and more specifically the church with as much love as Sean has for it. But then I realized what Sean was doing was just reflecting back the very thing that the Church gave and taught Him.

The Grace of God.

None of us are entitled to our place in the Kingdom of God, we were invited and so we don’t have to defend our place, police the borders and keep out the undeserving.

We belong to the Unarmed Empire of the Kingdom of God.

 

 

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