Lectionary Commentary: “A Practical, Pragmatic, and Progressive Pentecost” (for June 12, 2011)

Lectionary Commentary: “A Practical, Pragmatic, and Progressive Pentecost” (for June 12, 2011) June 3, 2011

As some have joked, Christianity is not about “Twenty impossible things to believe before breakfast.” Instead, Christianity is a set of practices that cultivate habits of loving God and neighbor.  These practices help form a community of faith called the church that is centered on God’s ways of love and mercy, justice and grace.

The traditional Christian way of loving God is contemplative prayer: setting aside time and space each day to spend in God’s loving presence.  Jesus often withdrew from the crowds to spend time alone with God.

The traditional Christian way of loving others are the works of mercy as named by Jesus in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.  The “Great Commandment” practices of loving God and neighbor are how Christians have sought to live as citizens of the kingdom of God.  Indeed, it is not until the eleventh chapter of the book of Acts – after Jesus’ Ascension – that the “disciples were first called ‘Christians.’”  Until then, the disciples of Jesus were simply called “followers of the Way” — that is, people who tried to practice ways of loving God and neighbor the same way that Jesus did.

One of the earliest examples is the church at Jerusalem, which is described at the end of the second chapter of the book of Acts.  In response to the example of Jesus’ life and their first-hand experience with God at Pentecost,

44 [they] were together and had all things in common; 45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts.

We see similar examples from the 4th century with the desert Mothers and Fathers and the early monastic communities; in the Middle Ages with Waldensians, the Beguines, and the Franciscans; and today with the New Monastic Communities like the Simple Way in Philadelphia, Church of the Sojourners in San Francisco,  Rutba House in Durham, North Carolina, and The Open Door in Atlanta – as well as the L’Arche Communities founded by Jean Vanier, the Catholic Worker Houses founded by Dorothy Day, and the Christian Peacemaker Teams from the Mennonite Tradition. Each of these communities, both historical and contemporary, demonstrate that kingdom of God is not just a dream; it is a practical, pragmatic way of transforming your life in this world through relationship with God and neighbor.

Notes

1“Twenty impossible things to believe before breakfast.” In Alice in Wonderland, the White Queen famously boasts, “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

2Christianity is a set of practices that cultivate habits of loving God and neighbor. For an accessible, practical guide to cultivating first-hand experiences with God, see Daniel Wolpert, Creating a Life With God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices.

3Until then, the disciples of Jesus were simply called “followers of the Way.” See, for example, Acts 9:2, “[and [they] asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”

4 For a “thick description” of “Great Commandment Christianity” in the twenty-first century, see Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical.

5Each of these communities, both historical and contemporary. For more information on these and other related groups see Diana Butler Bass, A People’s History of Christianity: The Other Side of the Story.

For Further Reading

Reta Halteman Finger, Of Widows and Meals: Communal Meals in the Book of Acts.


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