A counter-song of self-giving love (words of the journey 6.19.16)

by susan on June 19, 2016

[Before we explored scripture, we watched a portion of this video clip together: What Is Empire?  For more about Mark Van Steenwyk, visit his website.]

In a week filled with violence, heartache & hate, what will put us back together?
Will we look to empire or to something else to restore us?

The morning after the worst mass shooting in American history, my daughters, mom, sister, niece & I left to spend a few fun days touring New York City. It was very strange timing, but it didn’t take us long to get into the New York groove.

FullSizeRender (5)SO much happens there. It’s where culture, entertainment, finance & fashion come together. It’s where money, power & fame collide.

Huge billboards,
massive advertisements,
bright lights and
seemingly unshakable skyscrapers
line city streets that stretch for miles.
Steady streams of people move from place to place –
everyone is in a hurry.

It’s a shopper’s paradise and a people watcher’s dream come true.

It’s also where the subtle influences of empire become inescapable.
There are bold symbols of what we have allowed to shape our lives and our imaginations everywhere – symbols of what we have believed will rescue us.

We are not alone. These early Christians living in Colossae also knew the overwhelming influence of empire.

roman coinsSymbols of Roman power were imprinted on everything – they were found in the market, on coins, in the gymnasium, at the gladiator games, in art, jewelry and even on dishes. They had it ingrained in them that they were FIRST and FOREMOST Roman citizens & consumers.

Empire identity was inescapable and even after being captivated by stories of Jesus, it was extremely difficult for people to imagine any other way.

Maybe that’s why Paul and those writing in his name reached out to these early Christ followers in Colossae. They needed to be reminded that their new lives in Christ had changed the nature of their relationship to the Roman empire. They were no longer citizens & consumers first and foremost.

Now, they are:
learners of a new way,
God’s holy people,
citizens of a different kingdom.

This new identity needed constant reinforcement because it was always being challenged.

Let’s listen together to the continuation of our scripture reading from last Sunday – this week, using The Message translation. This portion of the letter is set up like a poem, a song, perhaps even a hymn of the early church. Listen for how this passage is a counter-song to the one of empire.

We look at this Son and see the God who cannot be seen. We look at this Son and see God’s original purpose in everything created. For everything, absolutely everything, above and below, visible and invisible, rank after rank after rank of angels—everything got started in him and finds its purpose in him. He was there before any of it came into existence and holds it all together right up to this moment. And when it comes to the church, he organizes and holds it together, like a head does a body.

He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.  -Colossians 1:15-20

What do you hear that challenges the claims of an empire?

Here are a few ideas:
Paul names Jesus the original purpose,
he announces Jesus the one who holds everything together,
he calls Jesus the head of the body,
he declares Jesus supreme in the beginning and supreme in the end.

According to Paul, if you want to know what God is like, you don’t look to the empire. You look to Jesus. If you want to be rescued and put back together, don’t look to the empire. You look to Jesus. And, when we look to Jesus & to the stories about him in scripture, we find a very unique set of symbols.

LastSupper by Taina FrescoWe see Jesus:
Healing, touching & eating with all the wrong people.
Acting like a slave by washing the feet of his friends & followers.
Being executed & enduring a criminal’s death on a cross – dying rather than
retaliating against his enemies, bearing the full weight of their sin.

When we look to Jesus, we do not find the self-serving gods of empire. Instead, we find the God of self-giving love.

We find a God who
enters our struggles,
who suffers with us,
who heals, forgives &
through this way self-giving love,
makes new life possible.

We call that new life “resurrection”.

There is a curious phrase in The Message translation that describes Jesus as “leading the resurrection parade.”

colorful-confetti-wallpaper-backgroundLast week we looked at part of an alternative interpretation of Paul’s words and here is how they expand on this week’s passage in our context. THIS is the song we are told to sing:


In the face of a culture of death
A world of killing fields
A world of walking dead
Christ is at the head of the resurrection parade
Transforming our tears of betrayal into tears of joy
Giving us dancing shoes for the resurrection party.

-from Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire by Brian Walsh & Sylvia Keesmaat

Paul’s invite us to step away
from our empire-aligning ways
and to sing a counter-song.

On the same streets of New York where empire images stretched for miles, there were also some counter-songs being sung. Here are a few that captured my attention.

We encountered a construction worker just a block away from where the twin towers came crumbling down on 9/11. While voices of empire tell us to be afraid & to build walls of protection, he was instructing passer-bys: “tell your friends and family you love them today – give a hug, a smile, let them know”.

FullSizeRender (6)On a park bench in central park in a section referred to as Strawberry Fields, we encountered a lonely musician who was playing his guitar and singing songs of hope and peace: “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one. I hope one day you’ll join us and the world will live as one.” He greeted us warmly and told us a little of his story. Hearing we were from Florida, he shared his concern & hopes for healing from the tragic murders that took place in our home state.

And, finally there on the steps of a Broadway theater, a famous play-writer came out dressed in street clothes and stood among thousands of everyday people, speaking words of remembrance and love for the victims of the Pulse shooting. A love song was shared with all gathered there.

Counter-songs are being sung. I even heard one yesterday as men & women dressed as angels protected mourners from hate-filled protesters.

In a week when we have been undone, when we have witnessed the worst of humanity, when we are desperate for something to to put us back together, the voices of religious & political empires will shout words of hate & fear.

Yet, we have a counter-song to sing –
one of hope & love,
of belonging & inclusion,
one of beauty & solidarity,
one of justice & freedom.

What might happen if THAT was the song people heard?
And what might happen to US as we sing?

Retaliation will not heal us.
Division will not heal us.
More money, more security,
more weapons will not heal us.
Only self-giving Love will heal us.

The world needs this from us. We need it from each other.

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