Tyrion’s Church Part 3: Incarnate Life

June 1st, 2013

Previous: Part 1 and Part 2

One of the traditional slams against the church is that it is all about “pie in the sky bye and by when you die.” Or, as Bob Marley sang, “Preacher man, don't tell me, Heaven is under the earth I know you don't know, what life is really worth.” ("Get Up, Stand Up"). In fact, the church has always been involved in transforming life on earth to be a little better, a bit safe, with an extra margin of grace.

4. "I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples, bastards, and broken things."

The world is not right. Children and women are still trafficked. Shady financiers cause problems. War rages. We have reached a point where opinion shapers shrug their collective shoulders and say, “What can you do? That’s just the way it is.” Meanwhile, the faithful still hear the words of Jesus of Nazareth warning in Matthew 25: 41-43:

“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was homeless and you gave me no bed, I was shivering and you gave me no clothes, Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’ (The Message).

Jesus tells us that any eternal judgment is going to be more on the basis of our lives than the contents of our words. Jesus is consistent in this, certainly. In his first hometown sermon, he reads from a version of the prophet Isaiah that; “God’s Spirit is on me; he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and recovery of sight to the blind, To set the burdened and battered free, to announce, “This is God’s year to act!” He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” (Luke 4:16b-21, The Message). Cripples, bastards and broken things, in Tyrion’s terms, matter to the Messiah. So, they ought to matter to his followers as well.

One of the reasonable critiques of the church by atheists is that we spend too much money on ourselves and not enough helping other people, those in need, and the defenseless. Not that there are any hospitals founded and funded today by atheists but that is another subject. We in the church do spend too much money on making comfortable, free of property tax buildings, more comfortable. We do spend too much time and energy arguing over how to make our buildings more comfortable. The expenditure of so much money, time, and energy might make sense if our buildings actually incorporated images of faith, conveyed openness and hospitality or simply did not leave the public with the impression that they were built “on the cheap”. That, too, is another subject. The point here is that, since, the least, the last, the lost, the hungry and destitute, the wanderers and lonely, the homeless and the isolated, the people society seems to care about the least are all around us; we have an imperative to aid them. Even more, we have an imperative to love them, not keep them at arm’s length, treat them like “clients”, or pretend that we are doing for others something that has never been done for us. The apostle put it like this:

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” (Ephesians 2:7-10 The Message)

So, we say thank you to God and do so with words and with works of service to people how can never repay us. Anticipating our reluctance to live like that, Jesus gave these instructions: “Then he turned to the host. “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be—and experience—a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned—oh, how it will be returned!—at the resurrection of God’s people.” (Luke 14:12-14 The Message) Cripple, misfits and bastards are our people. When we are honest, they are us. But we grow from that beginning into mature and healthy sons and daughters now able to help in the same way we have been helped. This leads us to the concluding point of Tyrion’s church.

5. Death is so final. Whereas life, ah life, is so full of possibilities.

Death begins when life begins to ebb. Recently, I saw my great niece and nephew at play during my father’s 90th birthday celebration. Both children played with abandon, with enthusiasm, with a full embrace of everything they could touch and every adult eye they could catch. Soon, they will stop playing so freely. Injuries or egos will teach them to be careful, to be moderate, to watch how others are acting and reacting. They will begin to die to childhood. In a similar way, I saw my great aunt sit on the porch of my grandmother’s house, dressed in Victorian style clothing and telling people that she was “waiting for Jesus to take her home.” Aunt Sally’s life was ebbing away long before she died. There is another option.

Tyrion’s church would realize that a life in Christ is the source of living until we actually die. Jesus said that he came to give us abundant life, life that is life that is “…so full of possibilities.” A church that enjoys Tyrion’s insight will always find new and exciting ministries. Our guide, after all, embraces many of the possibilities of life. Tyrion confesses to an absurd list of absurd crimes, hires a bodyguard with the promises of more gold than the swordsman can ever spend and even bids on his own life when he finds himself on sale at a slave auction. Life is full of possibilities, death is final. At a meeting of the Memphis Ministers’ Association one December, a United Methodist Bishop lamented that so many faith communities were simply surviving. The Senior Rabbi of the largest synagogue in the city stood next and said that, as a Jew, he believed absolutely that survival is better than what comes after. Death is final. Life is full of possibilities. One church in Memphis has refurbished itself as a mission center with showers and dorms and a full kitchen that will house mission teams from around the country. Another local church in Memphis now houses over a dozen organizations that work to transform decaying neighborhoods into vital, thriving areas. In both of those churches congregations still worship. The visible life, though, is in the possibility of nurturing new life. A church that closes its doors, actually or figuratively, begins the process of ebbing, its life force flowing away. Death will stop that church, that congregation from any worship, any praise of the Creator, and service in Christ’s name. A church that acts on the knowledge that life is not a prize to be horded but is a gift to be enjoyed, will find possibilities to actually be alive every day.

And, so, in these five quotes (see the first three in Part 1 and Part 2), we have some guidelines for Tyrion’s church. Such a church knows what it believes, celebrates and learns from its past without being bound to act the same way now, that the church did then. A Tyrion church knows the scriptures are to be studied as a whole, not simply in parts, and that the means of grace really do support us on our way. Such a church is not afraid to be about caring for those who cannot care for themselves, knows that we are all related some way or the other and that we may as well act like it. The holy life that fills a Tyrion church is amazing and transforming, celebrating every day as the gift that it is.

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