By Rick W. Maupin,
Council of Twelve Apostles
At the conclusion of the Brian McLaren video, “Jesus and the Kingdom,” he states, “…the kingdom of God is a liberating and yet disturbing message for people today.” How is it that the message of Jesus is one of liberation but also carries elements that disturb and disrupt?
As I explore this counsel I am challenged by the thought that faithfully living out the way of suffering love will result in experiencing some unrest and disturbance along my spiritual journey.
We are now moving through that part of the Christian calendar when we contemplate and celebrate the ultimate story of disturbance and liberation. This is the story of Jesus turning toward Jerusalem, resulting in his crucifixion and resurrection.
Because of his deep compassion, suffering with the marginalized and oppressed, he challenged government authorities and rigid religious traditions of his culture. Those challenges became stones of disturbance and disruption that paved the road to the cross. He spoke for those with no voice, and his voice disturbed the norms of society.
Jesus publicly called out the power structures. He created disruptions that institutions in power could not allow to go unaddressed. The cross was the authoritarian way of quelling these disturbances. The authorities used it not only as a tool to execute offenders, but to convey a message to all who witnessed the crucifixions.
The message was clear: “If you challenge and disrupt the system, disturb the status quo, the consequences will be grave.” Little did the authorities realize their intended message of fear and dominance, through a cross, would evolve into a much different message. Soon the message of the cross was about a God of love, a God who was on the side of the suffering, oppressed, and marginalized.
This new message of the cross said the institutions and traditions that use oppression and marginalization to protect and preserve the status quo would not win the day. This is the message we must celebrate at Easter.
In his book, The Cross in Our Context, Douglas John Hall discusses how the cross has been used in ages past as a symbol by imperial powers to claim ownership. Persons acting on authority of colonial powers would erect a cross to signify they had taken control; they were claiming a particular land. Hall suggests the significance of the cross for Christians is about a different type of claim. He states:
The cross of Jesus Christ is God’s claim to this world—the claim, however, not of a despot, yearning for greater power and glory, but of a lover yearning to love and be loved, and thus to liberate the beloved from false masters.
The cross signifies God’s compassion, God’s suffering with creation. The cross becomes an ensign that goes before all Christians, calling them to engage in ministries of suffering love.
It is difficult to consider suffering love and the cross at Golgotha without eventually confronting the question of what kind of God we claim. At times, I want to claim an all-powerful and all-loving God. However, would suffering love and the cross make any sense of that fully described God?
I recently received the news that a friend who was quite young had died of a rare cancer. We all can recall such tragic, seemingly senseless situations—situations where good people suffer catastrophic loss. We can always opt for a somewhat popular but questionable response, “It was God’s will.”
For some, however, that describes a God we would prefer not to follow. What God do we claim if we have difficulty connecting with a God who wills pain and suffering, and if we question the concept of a God who can wave a magic wand and take away all suffering?
I would suggest that in Community of Christ we claim neither a capricious God nor a God who waves a magic wand. The God we follow is defined in Matthew 1:23 NRSV:
“Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’”
“God is with us” does not describe an arbitrary God, picking and choosing who will suffer. “God is with us” does not describe a God who sits in some remote location of the cosmos, watching creation tumble to destruction. Hall describes God as “a lover yearning to love and be loved.” This God is fully in love with and fully immersed in creation—claimed by humanity’s plight. God is with us; God is in solidarity with us in our journeys of joy, as well as our journeys of pain and loss.
We align with a God who “weeps for the poor, displaced, mistreated, and diseased of the world because of their unnecessary suffering” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:4a).
To be fully “with” another requires one to become vulnerable to the other. However, we live in a world where vulnerability is not a valued virtue. People often view vulnerability as a weakness and go to great measures to be less vulnerable.
For good reasons we protect our sensitive information with passwords and activate electronic protection systems when leaving our homes and cars. But what about our vulnerability with God and others? Can we really be “with” another if our own spiritual journey has not been marked by moments of deep openness with God?
I would suggest that those who are best equipped to be “with” another are those who have responded to the invitation in Doctrine and Covenants 163:10a:
God yearns to draw you close so that wounds may be healed, emptiness filled, and hope strengthened. Those who would more fully understand the path of suffering love, which leads to communities of peace, will be those who have accepted the challenge to “be vulnerable to divine grace” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:10b).
Angela Ramirez, Dominican Republic Mission Center financial officer, tells of a 60-year-old woman who had been paralyzed since she was 17. The woman greatly desired to be baptized, but there was concern about a full immersion with her condition. After much planning the baptism occurred in a nearby river.
Angela indicated that following the baptism the woman did not want to leave the water. When asked why, she stated that this was the first time since she was 17 that she had been able to be bathed head to foot.
Angela said the woman views the day of her baptism as a point of liberation. Liberation that followed acts of vulnerability by this sister and the ministry team.
Jesus’ mission statement of 2,000 years ago in Luke 4:18–19 gets our approving nod. But what about our contemporary pledges to that message? As a faith community we have corporately agreed the call to disturb the world on behalf of the oppressed, the blind, and the captives is our call. This call is reflected in our Mission Initiatives of Abolish Poverty, End Suffering and Pursue Peace on Earth.
We also have taken the sacred step of canonizing this challenge to “courageously challenge cultural, political, and religious trends that are contrary to the reconciling and restoring purposes of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 163:3b).
My friend and colleague, John Glaser, often speaks of daily struggles by immigrants in our society. He speaks with deep passion, and it is clear he has opened himself to others. Though it sometimes is painful, he has become vulnerable to the plight of marginalized immigrants. John’s compassion has moved him to become an advocate for them.
Some, however, might consider him disruptive when he raises his voice on behalf of those who have little or no voice. John says:
When others finally confront the immigrant’s cross and feel the extreme burden of that cross, they come to understand the sacrifice and love of Jesus Christ.
This level of authentic compassion and vulnerability can become contagious. The challenge to move along the path of suffering love to the cross, to resurrection, and ultimately to Zion requires more disruptive and disturbing disciples.
SHE CAME from the dark corners along the street, fearing she might be seen. She knew touching Jesus would bring healing. Her actions caused Jesus to stop in his journey. She was healed, and peace in her life was restored.
The blind beggar was at his daily post along the street. As Jesus and his entourage neared the man, he screamed to be healed. Those with Jesus tried to quiet the man, but he became even louder. Jesus stopped and touched him, and the man regained his sight.
The house was full, and Jesus was teaching when suddenly pieces of the roof began to fall. Through a hole, a makeshift bed cradling a sick man was lowered. Jesus stopped and touched him, and the man left healed.
Interruptions, interruptions, and more interruptions. In each of these stories Jesus’ attention was diverted in ways that some saw as interruptions. Those cries to be touched, healed, and loved did not fit neatly into his schedule. It meant the agenda, the “more important work” of the day, would have to be modified.
However, Jesus demonstrated that suffering love does not see interruptions, but opportunities to invite others to liberation and peace.
IT WAS a typical hot Sunday morning in the Democratic Republic of Congo with about 200 present. I had been tasked with bringing the morning Communion message, and Apostle Bunda Chibwe was translating into French. Brother Chibwe and I had moved into a good speaker-translator pace, and I was feeling a bit confident in my sermon.
In the middle of my sermon I noticed a man standing in the back corner. I paid little attention to him. He began walking down the aisle toward the front. I continued working “my agenda,” but the man was becoming a distraction to me. He was beginning to annoy me because he was distracting the congregation. Only a few feet away, he fell to the floor.
I am not proud to admit it, but as we knelt and prayed for the man, I was more focused on how I would regain the attention of this congregation than I was on the prayer. Later that day I discovered this man had been wrongly accused of a crime. As a result, he had endured much pain. This was his first participation in church since the accusation.
He said that after hearing the scripture about the woman touching Jesus’ garment and words about releasing pain and fear, the Spirit had moved him. What I interpreted as an interruption was the beginning of this man’s journey to liberation and wholeness.
Suffering love, the cross, resurrection, and Christ’s community of oneness and peace. As I reflect on these final words of this counsel, it is clear that they can serve as a lens, helping us focus on the journey ahead. Let us be prepared for what we will see: a path paved with some of the same stones of disturbance and disruption that paved the way for Jesus.
But we also will see the Living Christ going ahead of us. The message to the disciples in Mark on that first Easter morning was that Jesus had gone ahead of them into Galilee. As we faithfully follow the Living Christ into new Galilees, we must claim the promise that this journey will lead to liberation, the peaceable kingdom, Zion.
Faithfully living out the way of suffering love will result in experiencing unrest and disturbance along my spiritual journey.
God is fully in love with and fully immersed in creation—claimed by humanity’s plight.
Those who would more fully understand the path of suffering love which leads to communities of peace, will be those who have accepted the challenge to “be vulnerable to divine grace.”