And great rejoicing ensued.
If Beth Moore is radicalizing—“rooting” in the embodied, incarnational love of God—then perhaps there is hope for the rest of us white, well-to-do people of faith.
We are probably the most difficult to reach.
Our ears are so stopped with comfort and luxury; it is easy to forget the naked and hungry.
Our shoulders are so heavy with the expectation to perform, achieve, and get ahead; it is hard to distinguish between the cultural, shame-induced patterns of white upper-middle class church folk and the radically nuanced gospel that is really worth of our lives.
Beth Moore sounds like John the Baptist to me this week.
"You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (Luke 3:7-9).
Of course, unlike Beth, John was weird. He was a margin-hugger, a wild one. Perhaps a more apt doppelganger would be Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after the Civil Rights Movement—when he “went off the deep end,” as I have so often heard it said.
“What then should we do?” they questioned John.
And he said, basically:
If you have two coats, share one with she who has none—that goes for food, too (Luke 3:11).
If your job means taking money from folk, do not be greedy—“collect no more than the amount prescribed for you” (Luke 3:13).
If you are a soldier, do not use your position to get rich or secure your position by stirring up reasons to war (Luke 3:14).
“So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people” (Luke 3:18).
I wonder how that “good news” fell on first century ears. Perhaps it was something like when Dr. King started the Poor People’s Campaign and spoke out against the Vietnam conflict.
Folks started looking away.
Even from the Birmingham jail Dr. King said nice white people would be the hardest to reach.
“I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councillor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says, "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time; and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, page 3)
And it is all so very rational. Living by the code of love would cost comfortable white people the most.
How many of us have an extra coat? Store away in barns? Look so good because others look so bad in comparison?
With Advent calling, it is time to tune our ears to the wild and the weird ones—and the odd prophetic evangelical on the internet.
For this is good news, good news that leads to great rejoicing.
John’s wilderness dress-down prepared the way for people to receive the unlikely and unmistakable Messiah when he arrived.
Dr. King’s honesty still rouses folk from the grave of white and wealthy complacency.
Beth’s post pointed to an incarnational way of living in light of Christ that would transform the world as we know it.
For the good of us all.
The calling of Love through these prophetic words exists not to destroy or punish those within hearing. Rather, it is to unleash heaven on earth. Literally.
The Old Testament reading for today is the climatic hallelujah at the end of Zephaniah. It is beautiful.
Israel has come through the fires of refinement by chapter 3. In the prophet’s imagination they have turned away from chasing riches and exploiting one another. They have put aside the gods of gluttony, terror, and ease in exchange for real relationships with the Living God, one another, and the earth.
And do you know what happens?
God sings (Zephaniah 3:17-18).
Just about any labor or trial-by-fire in this world would be worth it for that, but God does not sing as an entertainer in Zephaniah. God does not sing for Israel because she did a good job; this is not reward.
Rather, God sings in pure delight. I can almost hear her chuckling, whooping into chorus after chorus.
For that is the divine response to holy and just community—
The call of the good news is simple. Sharing our coats. Playing fair. Seeing conflict through resolution, justice, and real peace, rather than feeding the war machine.
Simple and seemingly impossible at the exact same time.
That is the way of grace, though. And God does not leave it to us alone.
Another world is possible, thus saith the prophets.
We can rejoice that it is underway—and maybe join in God’s song.