From Above and Below

Our whole house has some sort of the cold. I could not sleep last night, either. So, I started thinking about this week’s sermon and other things that I’ve been studying.

I’m re-reading Wright’s Simply Jesus and Wright does a great job sketching the climate of Jesus’ world. He uses the storm from… The Perfect Storm as a metaphor for Jesus’ context. Great image, per usual from Wright. I highly recommend the book.

Anyway, I wanted to get a couple of thoughts down, sparing with Wright’s book and still having Christmas texts that are on my mind.

I found it interesting the two-pronged approach that is illustrated in Matthew and Luke. If you have not read Matthew’s birth sequence and Luke’s birth sequence side-by-side some “interesting” things emerge. If you’d like to chat further about that, let’s do coffee sometime.

Matthew brings Magi from a foreign country to visit king Herod and his entourage of scholars with a message that the savior is born in his country. Matthew also shows that confronting the rulers and authorities is not an easy business. Herod reacts strongly against this idea of a savior-king being born in his district by trying to neutralizing any threat. (see Matthew 2:1-23)

Luke takes a different approach. The rulers and authorities are still there, but the main characters do not bring direct challenge to those rulers or authorities. An unprecedented census is conducted so the Romans could get all of their register updated (and taxes collected, perhaps). Mary and Joseph have to travel during 3rd trimester months and Jesus is born in Bethlehem, as the prophets anticipated. The Empire’s insistence upon taxing the people actually helps prophecy to be fulfilled. (how about that for a revolutionary story??? Every Jewish reader/hearer would laugh a large, saintly-sinister belly laugh at that moment)

In Luke’s story, nearly everyone is doing what they would normally do (Zechariah is doing his priestly duty, Mary and Elizabeth are connecting as family friends, Mary and Joseph present Jesus in the temple 8 days after his birth, Mary and Joseph attend the festival in Jerusalem when Jesus is an adolescent, etc.) This is business-as-usual faithfulness.

Anna and Simeon, characters that we have not heard of before and will never again, have influential things to say about Jesus and have outstanding faithfulness to God in the midst of their struggles.

Matthew sketches a “from above” approach to confronting the powers that are holding God’s world in captivity.

Luke sketches a “from below” approach; a common life approach of the many whose faithfulness is not noticed, where the ordinary is really a signpost of the extraordinary.

These two frequencies are used today, as well. Some individuals and communities use one over the other as their way of desiring to serve Jesus. Without giving a critique of those who choose one over the other, I’d suggest that we figure out how to do the “from below” a bit more faithfully.

Our culture has seen the church’s influence go from center to the fringe, i.e. culture as a whole is not consulting the church as chaplain of culture anymore.

The first decade of the 21st century was a doozy. Diana Butler Bass cites no less than 5 cataclysmic (and public) stories that provoked the culture as a whole to hold church communities at arm’s length (at best) or have suggested that the church no longer be trusted (at worst). Each of us have friends who have had devastating interactions with the church which make us wonder if “church” can be renovated.

Of course, this is all hyperbole. But, it certainly allows us to feel how our interactions in our environment can be detrimental to our hope to have significant presence in our cultural moment.

Perhaps our first response should not be the Matthew-shaped “from above” approach, but the Lukan “from below” posture; to do a thousand, little-yet-faithful things that point those around us to consider Jesus. We have to admit, a lot of our attempts to share “from above” look like power plays… and there seems to be a reflex in our culture to resist that.

One of the ways in which I see this is the idea (binary) that people have created and use is that “there are times to love and times to speak the truth.”

That phrase does not scan with me. Give me a couple of months and I’ll work on that what I think could be an alternative.

Anyway, thus ends the ramblings of a dad that did not get sleep last night… time to get out of bed.


Published by joeskillen

I'm a husband, dad of 2, Pastor at Eastminster Presbyterian Church in Wichita, KS.

2 thoughts on “From Above and Below

  1. Hummm, since we are told that what is seen (the below) comes from what is unseen (the above) (Heb 11:3) and we are told to look not to the things that are seen (2 Cor 4:18) it would seem it is not about either or but the order and source of what/how we deal with the “below’. Love the two-pronged approach and as the British would say: mind the gap….

    1. Nancy- this is a good observation. There does seem to be a syncing of above and below, even though the cosmology I’d prefer is “among” instead of up there and down here.

      I like how a scholar put Jesus’ message (the Kingdom) as “the divine clean up”. Jesus’ contemporaries thought it might be more of an apocalyptic “out-sourced” divine event while Jesus seemed to suggest that it would come with human participation, too.

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