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Generosity in Scarcity

A little over a year ago, we received Sara* into our program at the Valley Community Center. She is now 8 years old and in the second grade. An only child, Sara lives with her parents, who are unofficially married, in the home of her paternal grandmother. Their home is in a neighborhood that is cut off from the rest of the city by the railways. Still, the family is fortunate to have electricity and running water.

S's neighborhood 2Just last year Sara’s father was released from prison, where he had served a 3 year sentence for theft. Those three years were very difficult for Sara’s mother, who had never been to school, had no job, and was trying to care for Sara all by herself. Although her parents are now together, they are still unemployed and work odd-jobs when they manage to find them. From time to time, they receive some financial help from a brother who is working abroad. Otherwise, their only consistent income is Sara’s school stipend, which amounts to about $22 per month.

One morning, a few weeks into this school year, Sara told her mother that she wanted to bring some money to the Community Center to give to the poor. Sara’s mother protested, asking, “What? Do you think we are rich?” Sara replied, “Yes, we have a house. There are other people that live on the street.” Since then, all of our second grade children decided to save half of their milk money every day in order to give to those in need.

IMG_2001One day, Bobby, another one of our second graders, took out his money to put in the donation box, while Sara registered the money in the notebook. It seemed that Bobby was struggling to live up to his commitment to be generous. Still, he put his money in the box. Lenutsa noticed this and praised Bobby for his sacrifice. But words were not enough for Bobby. He quickly turned to Lenutsa and asked, “Yes, but what about you?”

The generosity, the sacrifice and the initiative of these children have challenged us. These kids live in dilapidated houses. Some of them are squatting in parts of abandoned buildings. Most have no running water or electricity. And yet they notice others with greater needs than their own. What is more, they want to help them.

Every day on their way from school to the Community Center, the IMG_1978children pass by a family that is living in make-shift tents. The family was evacuated from their home after it was re-privatized and returned to its pre-communist owner. But since the family has nowhere else to go, they have set up camp in an open lot. Last week, the children took their collection of funds and decided together that they would help this family.

As they gathered the money and were preparing to go, Sara’s dad arrived early at the Center to pick her up. As Sara got her backpack and left to go home, she started to sob. Although her father is a pretty tough guy, he stopped to ask her what was wrong, but Sara was crying too hard to talk. So, he asked Lenutsa, and she explained what they had been planning. Sara’s father smiled and said he would wait.

Sara’s tears quickly dried, and the kids walked together to visit the homeless family. Sara was the spokesperson and asked them if there was a way that they could help. The grandmother, with weathered and wrinkled skin, said, “No one has asked us what we need or how they could help us.” Sara and her classmates took their money and bought some bread, cheese and cold-cuts. To protect the dignity of the family, Sara and Lenutsa returned by themselves to discretely give them the groceries.

This is a sample of the lessons of generosity that we are being taught by those living in scarcity. A child challenges the assumption that gift-giving is the privilege of the powerful and that the needy are objects of our philanthropy. Sara and her classmates show us that sacrifice and a shared commitment can become a profound gift that meets desperate needs and touches neglected hearts.

*Names have been changed to protect their identities.

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Resisting Fatalism

I sometimes find myself caught in the clutches of fatalism. I grew up in a family with an alcoholic father. Although he went through medical and psychological treatments, worked the Alcoholics Anonymous program, and managed to stop drinking for months and even years at a time, he is beaten by his illness. He is resigned to his addiction. And his resignation finds reflection in mine.

For the past 16 years, I’ve served among youth and adults with addictions – addictions to the streets, to gangs and to substances. While we’ve seen many of them come off the streets and some of them into healthy situations, a number of them are in jail, in hovels or on the streets. I feel like Lazarus’ sister, Mary, who went to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died,” and Martha, who said, “‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days” (John 11:32, 39). Despite love, prayer, support and opportunities for change, we are watching our friends die in their addictions. I find myself being moved unwittingly by an undercurrent that says that people cannot change.

I also look at my own life and the changes that I hope for, pray for and work for but which, after years, I still don’t realize. The lack of change, of answers to prayer, of expected results all cultivates fatalism: no hope for the possibility of change. This reminds me of Albert Camus, a philosopher who deals with fatalism in many of his novels. In his book The Plague, Camus depicts the torturous disease that dominates people and over which they have no control. Camus’ character suggests that we resign ourselves to eminent death because we “… will [only] have suffered longer.”

The flicker of fatalism is fanned by society. Most of the public replies to the government with a defeatist sigh. They look at our environment and say, “That’s just Romania”. They look at the disenfranchised population among whom I serve and say, “Why waste your time and resources? They will never change. And if they do, they won’t amount to much. They were born into poverty, into a bad family, into dysfunction, and that’s where they’ll remain. That’s just the way they are.”

Of course, our kids, youth and families are raised and living in this very fatalistic society. Social psychologists, like Csikszentmihalyi and Seligman, affirm that helplessness is learned. Many of our kids lack any vision for the future other than what they see in their parents. There isn’t even a perspective which hopes for something different.

What is worse is that we witness fatalism creeping into the church. There I see mixed messages. Some overstress God’s determinism to such an extent that they make God responsible for sin and minimize any human freedom or responsibility. Others proclaim a prosperity gospel, which is a form of positive thinking that has no basis in reality. It is a positive fatalism, believing that certain determined effects follow certain human actions. On the other side of this unhealthy optimism is a millennial pessimism. Those that purport this view believe that things will get worse and worse and then the end will come with cataclysmic destruction. What is worse is that some think that they will be raptured to heaven and saved from the pain of the world, thereby relegating God’s passion for the redemption of creation and skirting any personal responsibility for the stewardship of creation. And even worse is that these bad theologies project fatalism onto the character of God.

These are the shackles of fatalism – a chain that binds the families I serve among, the society in which I live, and my own life. But I would concede to fatalism if I stopped here. There is an alternative, transformative vision for the history and destiny of humanity. There is a reality that breaks our despair.

This reality is God. God, who is Creator, has a plan for the renewal of all creation and refuses to let us go. It isn’t so much that I need to find resources of hope for God, for the world or for our kids; rather, I find that God himself hopes. God hopes for us. In the person of Jesus, God met fatalism and all its correlates at the cross, bringing fatalism to its end. In the resurrection and ascension, Jesus is the declaration, sign and execution of all God’s promises of healing, redemption and transformation. This is the Good News that snaps the chain of fatalism. And it is here that I am invited to live and hope. Our hopes are rooted in God’s.

This does not mean that we simply believe without acting. Ultimately, it means standing in the face of addiction, dependency, death, destruction. There we must either resign ourselves to these domineering finalities, or we must find grounds for hope. And that ground is God. We see that Jesus acknowledges death, destruction and decay. He experiences the weight of this finality, for example, in the death of Lazarus. Jesus wept (John 11:35). But God brings hope, the possibility of change, and even the possibility of the impossible. Jesus said with a loud voice, “’Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’” (John 11:43-44).

This is not hope that evades and avoids fatalism; rather, it addresses it head on. It is the hope that, with Abraham and Sarah, looks at our bodies and our possibilities and still hopes in God. That is, against possibilities for hope, still they hoped (Romans 5:18).

Hope isn’t something we always have at the start – a source that motivates us in the midst of trials. Rather, it is a result. St. Paul tells us that sufferings produce endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope (Romans 5:3-4). This is hope that is formed in the fire of pain and waiting and unfulfillment.

And this is the place where we must cultivate in the lives of our kids and their families, in our church and in our society. Although hoping hurts and although the things we hope for are not seen and often contradicted, we hope against hope in the promises of our Father in the Son and through the Spirit. Apart from the discipline of hoping against hope, I would also suggest two other actions.
First, we can pray. We pray for the things we hope for. In this way, the very act of prayer cultivates hope. In prayer we affirm our own powerless to transform and our faith that God can. Here I am reminded of the prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr that is said at every Alcoholics Anonymous meeting:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Second, in our communion with God our imaginations are infused with God’s dream for humanity and for creation. As ambassadors of Christ, we are called to give articulation to God’s dream. This is part of the prophetic office of the church. One way that this gift may be manifested is by affirming God’s dream and vision for those that are given over to fatalism.

Although this isn’t necessarily an example from within the church, the move The Cider House Rules depict such words of destiny spoken over children’s futures. It is a story of an orphanage – children that are abandoned and from the very early stages of life are in positions of disadvantage and despair. But every night as the children go to bed, the director of the orphanage tells them, “Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.” This is a prophetic vision that refuses the temptations of fatalism, opening up possibility and horizons to those who thought they had none.

We can affirm the destiny of the children and their families as being God’s creation and God’s beloved. We can affirm God’s plans of good and hope for every life. We can affirm life, wholeness, health and salvation in the face of fatalism. We can invite them to God’s dream and God’s hope for each one: Christ in you, the hope of glory!

Cemetery at the Margins of Galati

Our community practices remembering: remembering the forgotten, the marginalized and the lost. This past summer a group of students from George Fox University spent a few weeks serving with us. One afternoon we visited a cemetery on the periphery of our city where many of our kids have been buried. Sadly, many of their graves are no longer marked; some have been removed altogether.

Margi Felix-Lund, one of the leaders of the summer team, wrote this poem:

God remembers…
…the birth of each child
the smiles & the tears
the injustice & the sorrow
the hope & the joy

God remembers the death of each child.

Although men & women may try
to wipe these children from the face of this planet-
although they may succeed in eradicating
the physical commemoration of their death-
these children, these vulnerable ones
will remain forever present
in the memory of God.

Roma, Romanians, Racism and Racial Differentiation

Since this image has been shared on facebook at least 9,200 times and multiplying, I thought I would respond.  Along with the image is the “hope that there is no more confusion” about these two ethnicities. And “those of the opinion that Romanians should no longer be considered Gypsies,” then they should “share this picture wherever they can.”

This message, it seems obvious to me, is racist. However, some think it’s simply a correct view of reality that doesn’t conform to the trends of political correctness. But I think that is a misunderstanding of “political correctness.” To be politically correct would mean that you, at least, adopt terminology like “Roma” or “Romani” rather than “Gypsy” or “Tigani”, which the Romani have rejected because of their derogatory roots and connotations. In this case, I don’t think we succumb to secular liberal ideology by using “Roma” or “Romani”; rather, it seems to me to be an opportunity to show a basic respect, or what Romanians call “bun-simt”. But I don’t want to die on the battlefield of politically correctness. I am willing, however, to fight against racism. This caricature is not simply politically incorrect, it is racist. Let’s walk through this:

1) To caricature the Romanians with 19th and 20th Century great males on one side but the Romani by females in traditional dress is full of denigrating undertones. If it were Romanians in traditional dress on one side and Romani in traditional dress on the other or Romani greats on one side and Romania greats on the other, that would be a step in the right direction.

2) Some have heard the Roma claim that these preeminent Romanians (Eminescu, Enescu, Brancusi, Blaga and Eliade) have Roma heritage. It isn’t unusual for various ethnicities to lay claim to great people. When I was studying in Moldova, I heard Russians laying claim to Eminescu. But I don’t hear those claims much from the Romani or from other Europeans. This is a straw-man argument; it doesn’t support the argument for ethnic differentiation.

3) With over 2 million Romanians spread across Europe, the US and Israel, it begs at least to nuance the affirmation that Romanians are from Romania and Romani from everywhere. There are millions of Romani from Romania. By stating otherwise, this caricature is false. Without any nuancing, the caricature is also racist.

4) It would also be helpful to nuance national identities and ethnic identities. Romani are nationally Romanian, and Romanian Romani are different than Romani from other nations. Additionally, there are many, many who are of mixed ethnicities (i.e. Romani/Romanian) in Romania. What is worse is that many “Romanians” with Roma ancestors deny their own history because of the dominant culture’s views of this marginalized minority – an attitude that amounts not only to the hatred of the other but also the hatred of one’s self.

5) This gets to larger problem with this caricature, which presents the “Gypsies” as the problem, and Romanians as good contributors to culture. If Romanians thought Gypsies were good, I believe that they wouldn’t be so offended when ethnicity and nationality are conflated. This cartoon is a rejection or exclusion of the other.

6) While I don’t paint the whole ethnicity with the same brush, I realize that there is a significant amount of criminal behavior by the Romani in western Europe that attracts the press and portrays the whole ethnicity and even nationality in a negative light. I decry the criminal behavior of Romani. But this can also be said of ethnic Romanians. I personally know dozens of Romanians who are involved in illegal activity in western countries, some of whom are now in jail, who attract the attention of the media. Just look at the area of cyber crime: http://www.news24.com/World/News/Romania-FBI-crack-down-on-cyber-crime-20111219 and http://www.fbi.gov/news/news_blog/u.s.-and-romania-targeting-organized-romanian-criminal-groups. To place the negative image of Romanians on the shoulders of the Romani is a way of scape-goating, and it is racist.

7) Some are upset that the Roma moved to western Europe in the 1990’s, told stories of persecution in Romania, and requested asylum. They were then seen as being “from Romania.” While I realize that many claims of persecution were false, we also need to recognize the places where persecution did occur. For example, Human Rights Report from attacks on Roma villages in the early 1990’s: http://dosfan.lib.uic.edu/ERC/democracy/1993_hrp_report/93hrp_report_eur/Romania.html

8) We also need to introduce historical factors into this discussion. Many Romanians, at best, do not know or, at worst, fail to acknowledge that the first evidence of Romani in Romania was in bills of sale as slaves. I would not promote the idea that contemporary Romanians are presently guilty of slavery or that they must atone for the sins of their ancestors, but I think we would do well to recognize the benefits we reap today by not having a heritage of slavery. The social conditioning that slavery and discrimination has on a people, as we see, is passed from generation to generation. And that is where I think we must share not in guilt but in responsibility for creating equity and inclusion in society.

9) As a Christian, it seems to me the issue is how do we live together and move together toward being what God intends us to be as a human family – without diminishing or confusing identities. If we want to differentiate ethnicities, there are healthier and more constructive ways of doing it.

Identifying Assumptions in Christian Approaches to the Poor

Today with the George Fox Discovery Team, we discussed the assumptions of different Christian approaches to the poor.

We looked at:

– Evangelism leads to social change

– Social action is pre-evangelism

– Transformational ministry

– Christian presence

– Microfinance

For each approach we asked the following questions:

What are causes of poverty for this approach?

What are the assumptions of this approach?

What would this approach use for scriptural support?

What are other examples of this approach?

What are positives? What are negatives?

How would you answer these questions?

Blessed or Cursed?

(I wrote this reflection in the spring of 1998, while living with boys that we were taking off the streets.)

Every time I return to the US, I have been asked by my brothers and sisters in Christ, “Seeing the poverty, did you realize how blessed we are here in the States?”  It is difficult though for me to find a response.  If we reverse the question, we ask, “Do you realize how cursed they are?”

Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the Kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”  I am living with four children who have spent most of their lives scrapping to survive on the streets.  They have known poverty.  They have known hunger.  They have known sorrow.  And they are blessed?  They have experienced disease, sexual abuse, and rejection.  And they are blessed?  Everyday I have to remind them of normal habits like to change their clothes, to speak without screaming, and to resolve their problems without beating each other up.  And these teenagers are blessed?

I would say they are cursed.  They have little education and little hope of reintegrating into society.  They are stigmatized by a city who knows the faces of her beggars.  They bear the emotional and physical scars of being beaten, being rejected, and being cursed.  In turn they beat, they reject, and they curse.  Sin and evil in people and society perpetuate the curse.

But as I seek to know Jesus intimately in the least, He begins to reveal their blessedness.  It is hidden and sometimes evasive, but let me tell you how they are blessed.  In a few words: they need a Savior.  These boys realize they can’t save themselves, as opposed to some of the wealthy who do just fine on their own.

Last night I had a one-on-one discussion with each boy.  They had each been misbehaving and asked me to discipline them.  We discussed their consequence and then prayed.  Each one asked God to forgive them and to change them.  I wish I could so easily admit my errors and recognize my need for correction. They are blessed because this is the posture of the heart that pleases God, and God joins them and fights on their side.  Blessed are the poor!

These former street children are teaching me how to seek God.  My understanding of “blessed” is not God’s understanding.  The Father sent the blessed Son to “redeem us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us – for it is written ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree.”  He was not only cursed but became the curse for us.  Jesus identified with the cursed of His day – those working in commercial sex, the outcast, and the diseased – and calls His church to do the same.  Jesus even countered the blessings with the verses under which I tremble:  “But woe to you who are rich, for are receiving your reward in full.  Woe to you who are well fed now, for you shall be hungry.  Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.”  In the past, I identified the blessed as having enough money to sustain a comfortable and healthy.  But my own life identifies much closer with what Jesus warns against than with what He blesses.

And that brings me back to the question which I struggle to answer, “Do you see how blessed we are?”  I think it is better asked, “Do you know how blessed they are?”

How do we understand “advocacy?”

What is the goal of advocacy? We have said it’s “raising awareness.” Others who advocate say “to create change” or “to acquire justice.” I think we are saying, “to create relationships.” This is not “networking” – as I don’t really like the mechanistic language – but it is connecting people. We are a channel that connects the non-poor to the poor; we help create space where the voice of the poor is heard. Here too advocacy implies justice, but we understand justice as a relational category.

Here is a brief sketch of what I think is a good trajectory for the kind of advocacy we’re talking about:

The OT word for redeemer is “Go-el”. We read this word today as “personal Savior”, the One who has purchased us by His blood and given Himself as a ransom for all. That’s fine and good, but it’s bad exegesis to impose contemporary usage on concepts formed in a different historical context.

Go-el meant “kinsmen redeemer”. It means that the next of kin, the closest family member, is obliged to buy back property or to buy out of bond-slavery. See Leviticus 25:25ff. The whole chapter is about the jubilee, the context of redemption, reconciliation and redistribution. See also Lev. 27:13ff.

Justice isn’t just positive for the poor; it is negative for the perpetrator. So, Go-el also means “avenger”. If your family member was murdered, the kinsmen redeemer would kill the murderer. If the murder was not intentional, the kinsmen redeemer would still seek compensation for the family. See Number 35:18ff and Deuteronomy 19:6ff. This is not, then, simply legal justice but relational justice that seeks restoration.

The word “Go-el” is close to the verb “ga-al” which means to liberate, to redeem, to ransom. The Go-el, then, is the one who pleads justice and does justice; he/she is the avenger, arbiter and redeemer. The goal is familial freedom and restoration.

If there is no kinsmen redeemer, then the Lord is the kinsmen redeemer. See Numbers 5:8.

In Job, he calls God his Go-el (19:25). “I know that my redeemer lives and that he shall stand on the latter day upon the earth.” Here there is a hint of resurrection and new creation.

Ruth is the best narrative on kinsmen redeemer because Goaz plays this role and redeems Ruth. Read chapter 4.

God is also called the kinsmen redeemer in Exodus. He hears the cries of His people and redeems them.

We can draw a lot from this and I think it fits well within the frame of awareness, worship and action.

–       Family – We cultivate community among the poor, creating familial relationships, and take on the obligation of kin. God also calls the poor family and names Himself as their kinsmen redeemer. If He is our Father, then His family is our family. So, we also are kinsmen redeemers. It’s about being family to one another.

–       Justice – We put justice in relational categories not legal ones. Raising awareness means creating relationships. We work towards modeling communities of liberty, restoration, reconciliation, and redistribution. Doing justice might be hard and even ugly, as the cross is hard and ugly, but it beautifies.

–       Voice – The vulnerable are not voiceless; their voices are marginalized and silenced. We hear the cries of the poor and respond.

What Do We Bean By ‘The Kingdom of God?’

This article originally appeared in The Cry: The Advocacy Journal of Word Made Flesh vol. 11, no. 2 (Summer 2005). Ten years ago we were struggling to understand what it meant to be a sign of the kingdom of God, while serving among those who were promised that theirs is the kingdom of God. Those like Tom Wright, Jurgen Moltmann and Miroslav Volf helped us find some bearings. Although we continue to struggle with seeking first the kingdom of God, and although an article written today would look a bit different, I hope that this article may help others to find their bearings and provoke the ceaseless prayer: May Your kingdom come…on earth as it is in heaven.

In recent years Christians have become increasingly familiar with the phrase “kingdom of God”, but because its definition is rarely articulated, we do not always know what it means. Many equate “the kingdom of God” with an ethereal heaven for disembodied souls in the afterlife, building earthly utopias, or the expansion of the Church. Recently, “kingdom” has become a trendy adjective to indicate anything “truly” Christian: kingdom community, kingdom persons, kingdom culture, etc.1 But when a word is used without a clear and common consent of terminology, it loses its semantic value and leads to confusion.

The use and misuse of “the kingdom of God” means that we need to rearticulate the phrase if it is to carry any real meaning. In this short article, we will ask: what did the kingdom of God mean when Jesus said it, who were the primary recipients of His message, what is the nature of the kingdom of the Triune God, and what are some implications for us today?

The Kingdom of God in the First Century

“After John the Baptist had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel'” (Mk. 1:14-15).2Thekingdom ofGod was the central motif of Jesus’ mission (Lk. 4:43). When Jesus preached thekingdom ofGod, He was not introducing a new concept that had to be explained in first centuryPalestine. Rather, Jesus was evoking the burning expectations ofIsrael.

For a Jew in the first century, the kingdomof Godmeant the restoration of the shekinah glory3, the return from exile, and the defeat of Israel’s national enemies.4 But Jesus scandalously redefined these expectations. When Israel was taken into exile and Solomon’s temple destroyed, the dwelling of God’s shekinah glory was displaced from the Holy of Holies. The promise of the coming kingdom meant the restoration of the glorious presence. But when the second Temple was built, the shekinah glory never came. Jesus asserted that Herod’s construction was redundant, affirming that His own body was the true temple (Mt. 12:5; 26:61). The shekinah glory tabernacled among us (Jn. 1:14) and continues to inhabit the earth through God’s people (17:22), moving towards the consummation of filling the earth as the waters cover the sea (Rev. 21:23; Hab. 2:14).

Israel was exiled as a sign of judgment for her iniquity. In the first century, only a remnant of Israelhad returned to Palestinewhile most remained in Diaspora.5 Even those who had returned to Palestine were painfully aware of their exile because the Roman soldiers were patrolling the streets. The prophets had prophesied that the return from exile (the real or new exodus) would come through the renewal of the heart, the internalization of the Torah and the forgiveness of sins (Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:24-33). Therefore, when Jesus says “your sins are forgiven” and brings sinners into fellowship, it is another way of saying “you have returned from exile.” When Jesus summoned people to repentance and offered forgiveness of sins, He was inaugurating the kingdom of God (N.T. Wright, JVG, 269-72).

Jews believed that the coming of the kingdomof Godmeant the ousting of Israel’s national enemies. The Promised Land was being ruled by the Romans, who kept Israelin bondage to feed its empire. The battle cry for exiled and subjugated Israelwas “there is no king but Yahweh” (N.T. Wright, NTPG, 302). However, Yahweh’s kingdom was not made manifest through the ousting of Rome, but rather through the defeat of humanity’s real enemies: namely, sin, Satan and death. Jesus said, “If I by the finger of God cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Lk. 11:20). This indicates that Israel’s God is becoming king and that the enemies – sin, Satan and death – that have held Israel captive, are being cast down. The kingdom of God denotes the coming of Israel’s God in person and power, and this, through forgiveness, deliverance and resurrection, is happening now. He will do again what He did in the exodus: come and dwell in the midst of His people. The kingdom is the fulfillment of Israel’s destiny. Israel’s God becomes king through Jesus’ work, life, death and resurrection. The people of God are summoned to follow Jesus as king. “How lovely on the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who announces peace…who announces salvation, and says to Zion, ‘Your God is king'” (Is. 52:7)

The Recipients of the Kingdom of God

The message of the kingdomof God was proclaimed to the poor because the poor suffer the most from exile. In the absence of God’s reign, they are most vulnerable to subjugation by worldly powers; they endure the greatest loss when marginalized or cast out of fellowship; and they are the first to bear the effects of sin and death. That is why the Magi did not find the king in Herod’s palace but among poor shepherds; that is why the shekinah went out to the outcast and touched the untouchable in the person of the King; and that is why death is crushed through the King’s death and resurrection. Jesus’ welcome of the poor and outcast was a sign that the real return from exile – the new age, the resurrection – was coming into being in the present time (Is. 35:1-10) (N.T. Wright, JVG, 255).

Jesus affirms that the poor are blessed because theirs is the kingdomof God(Lk. 6:20). The poor are given the inheritance of the King. They are made princes and princesses because the kingdom belongs to them. The kingdom is at hand and the primary point of its entry is among the poor:6 sick are healed, demons are cast out, lame are made to walk, deaf are restored to hearing, and Good News is preached to the poor (Lk. 7:22; Is. 61:1-4). God did in the middle of time through Jesus what the Jews expected He would do through Israel at the end of time (N.T. Wright, What St. Paul Really Said, 36).

In Mark’s gospel, the word for “people” or “multitude” that follow Jesus is ochlos, which denotes sinners, the excluded, the impoverished, and the disinherited. This is the preferred audience of the message of the kingdom. Jesus calls the people to the way of the cross (8:34), teaches them (7:14), has compassion for them (6:34), heals them (1:34), and identifies with them (3:34). The ochlos is the primary addressee of Jesus’ gospel, and the kingdom is revealed among them.

Jesus also says that the kingdom of God belongs to the children (Mt. 19:14). He takes the first and makes them last, and He takes those that cannot compete and makes them greatest in the kingdom (18:1-3). Sometimes we refer to the “upside-down kingdom”, since Jesus subverts the ways of the world, but really nothing is more right-side-up than thekingdomofGod.

The kingdom of God is a gift; it is not imposed. We are invited to ask for it: Let Your kingdom come and Your will be done! (Lk. 11:2). In the Lord’s Prayer, we release our rule and our will and ask the Father to give us His. Lesslie Newbigin calls this an open secret. The kingdom is a secret revealed as a mystery through weakness, but it is open in that it is to be proclaimed to all (The Open Secret, 35-37).In Luke’s gospel, the invitation to the kingdom is made, but those bidden do not come. The master reacts by inviting the poor, the maimed and the blind (14:15-24). The King’s banquet table is made for fellowship with the poor. Those that are crushed by the worldly empires are particularly enthused by the promise of the coming kingdom, but those with vested interests in worldly empires, like the excuse-filled invitees, are not open to God’s reign or His will being done. The invitation is also a demand: all are invited to leave everything, to follow Him and to receive theKingdom ofGod (Lk. 12:32).

In John’s gospel, the kingdom of God is synonymous with life. Jesus says, “But a man be born again, he cannot see thekingdomofGod” (Jn. 3:3). ThekingdomofGodis a totally new reality represented as new life and as the true way of being human. All opposing kingdoms mean death – especially for the poor – and their beneficiaries cannot see or enter into this new reality. The only way to see, taste and experience eternal life in God’s kingdom is by receiving new birth from God’s life-giving Spirit.

The Kingdom of the Triune God

The kingdom of life is the kingdom of the Trinity. This is where the analogies between worldly kingdoms and God’s kingdom reach their breaking point. The kingdom of the Triune God confers a reciprocal loving relationship, not hierarchical power. The kingdom of the Trinity offers liberation, not domination. The kingdom of the Father, Son and Spirit is where justice and peace kiss (Ps. 85:10) and where all things are renewed (Rev. 21:5).

The kingdom of the Triune God ushers in the reign of love. God is lover, beloved, and love. The kingdom of the Trinity is not revealed as power but as love (I Jn. 4:8); His power is exercised only through His love. The Father loves us so He gives His Son. The Son loves the Father so He gives His life up. In the New Testament, Jesus is not Lord by virtue of His sovereignty, His power, or His rights as Creator over His creation; He is Lord by virtue of His incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection. Jesus says, “No one takes My life from Me, but I lay it down on my own initiative” (Jn. 10:17-18). Here power means surrender. The power of powerlessness is depicted on the cross labeled “King of the Jews”: nail-pierced hands outstretched and a brow crowned with thorns. Christ reigns from a tree. Powerlessness takes the place of power. In John’s Revelation, we see the slain lamb on the throne (Rev. 5:6). Worthy is the Powerless to receive all power (5:12).

Empires of this world divide and conquer; any resulting freedom is the luxury of the minority at the expense of the majority. The rule of the Triune God is translated as freedom for all. The Trinity reigns by creating community. St. Paul says, “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). In God’s kingdom, lordship means liberation, not domination. Through our obedient submission, God’s reign liberates us.

The consummation of the kingdom of God is the New Creation, which is already taking place. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). That ‘already’ signals that which will be in full. The fulfillment of the kingdom of God is where the kingdom of this world becomes the kingdom of the Triune God (Rev. 11:15), where heaven and earth are renewed (21:1), and where humanity comes home and is filled with the shekinah which radiates from throne of God (22:3-4). The Spirit and the bride say to the Bridegroom, “Come! On earth as it is in heaven!”

The Kingdom of God Today

“Yahweh has established His throne in the heavens and His kingdom rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). Christ is Lord and He challenges and ultimately defeats any other claim to His rule. The kingdom is manifested where Christ’s rule is accepted. It is revealed in the remnant through which God has worked and is working. It was Elijah during Jezebel’s reign (I Kng. 19:18), David’s ragamuffin band under Saul (I Sam. 22:1, 2), Daniel and the three Hebrew boys exiled in Babylon(Dan. 3:12), Jesus and His disciples (Lk. 6:12ff.), and small, often hidden, pockets of faithful today in what we call the church.

The kingdom of God is not equated with the church, nor is the expansion of the church equated with the building of the kingdom. The church is not the custodian or possessor of the kingdom. The kingdomof Godis not contained by the church but presses it beyond its frontiers (Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World, 22). “The meaning of the church does not reside in what it is but in what it is moving towards. It is the reign of God which the church hopes for, bears witness to and proclaims (Hans Kung, The Church, 96). The mission of the church is not the globalization of the church or the extension of a denomination’s programs. These agendas are submitted to the mission of the kingdom, which is to return humanity from exile and to fill the earth with the glory of the Triune God (Is. 6:3).

The Kingdom is not simply God’s own activity but His activity worked out through His people. Therefore, “we are receiving an unshakeable kingdom” as God’s gift and God’s initiative (Heb. 12:28), but we are also “seeking first the kingdomof Godand His justice/righteousness” (Mt. 6:33). Seeking entails surrendering our allegiance to the King and to His justice. In our surrender, God doesn’t make us His subjects, but active participants in His kingdom. God calls us co-heirs with Christ (Rm. 8:17), destines us to reign with Him (2 Tim. 2:12), and sets us on thrones in heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). The church is made a kingdom of priests (Rev. 1:6; I Pet. 2:9). Through participation, we co-labor with the King in establishing His kingdom.

In service of God’s reign, the church “is the supreme manifestation of the kingdom in any generation” (Dewi Hughes, God of the Poor, 76). But the church only serves the kingdom when she serves and identifies with the recipients of the kingdom, that is to say, with the poor. The people of God drop their nets, leave all, and follow Jesus in declaring the kingdom of God to the poor. It is only to the church of the poor that the King will say to her: “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Mt. 25:31ff.)

We do not, however, need to wait until the Last Judgment to know where we stand in the kingdom, for Christians are socialized into the culture of God’s reign. Dr. Samuel Kamaleson has taught us that in the kingdomof God, culture means values. He describes five non-values of the kingdom: pride (enthroning the self), prestige (elevating status), parochialism (finding corporate identity through exclusion), possessions (consumerism and prizing things more than persons), and passion of the flesh (gratification of oneself at the cost of another). This does not mean that the kingdomof Godis a moral code (Rom. 14:17), or that these are private values chosen by individual whim (Lesslie Newbigin, A Word in Season, 196).7 The values of the kingdom follow the historical life of Jesus, reflect His purposes, and clash with all opposing values. “The coming of the kingdom stands in combative relation to the anti-kingdom. They are not merely mutually exclusive, but fight against one another” (Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator, 126).

On the cross, Jesus confronts, challenges and triumphs over all contesting powers. On the cross Jesus disarms and unmasks the powers and principalities (Col. 2:14-15).8 That means that thekingdom ofGod confronts political, economic and religious powers.

The kingdomof Godis political.9 Throughout history the church used the “kingdom of God” to justify its political power and reign. More recently, the church has aligned with political ideologies to bring its version of the kingdom of God.”10 But this sinful misuse should not justify the church’s retreat from the political sphere. Though modernity tells us to keep ‘religion’ private and to not meddle in public affairs, Scripture tells us that Christ is Lord and will put everything under His rule. When the early church said that Jesus was Lord, they said literally that Jesus is Caesar, which was a defiant affront to the imperial cult and which resulted in persecution and martyrdom (Acts 17:7). That is why Paul said, “No one can say that Jesus is Caesar but by the Spirit of God” (I Cor 12:3). It is only by the Spirit that the church can courageously challenge political powers and call them to accountability before the cross of Christ. The people of the Crucified God offer their ultimate allegiance to Christ’s rule, meaning that they represent a subversive force to any other claim to power.

Likewise, the kingdom of God contests economic powers: the god of Mammon. In Revelation, John describes the economy of Babylon(18:9-13). At the top of Babylon’s system of values is gold; at the bottom is humanity. The kingdoms of the world are built on the backs of the downtrodden; their wealth is financed by the souls of mankind. In the economy of the kingdom of God, humanity is on top and gold on the bottom. In the New Creation, the streets are paved with gold. That is to say that gold equals dirt and asphalt and takes its proper place under humanity’s feet (21:21). Though it is dangerous and risky, the church must call worldly economic powers to submit to the lordship of Christ.

The kingdom of God also calls religious powers to account.11 Religions challenge God’s reign by claiming exclusive access to God, by holding the “keys of knowledge” about God, and by controlling forgiveness. Religious power is used to subjugate people to their control (Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination, 83). Jesus condemned the Pharisees and priests for “tying up heavy loads and laying them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Mt. 23:4-25). The church must denounce any religious justification for the use of power and resist the temptation to employ religious power.

Amidst sin, death, exile and distance from God, we see signs of the defeat of humanity’s enemies, the glorious presence of God, and just fellowship. The kingdom of the Triune God is breaking in. It is like a treasure buried in a field (Mt. 13:19): in a field of inhumanity, a woman, dying in her own blood and excrement on the train station floor, is embraced and held. It is like leaven (13:33): a multi-colored dragonfly dances over the open sewers leading to a slum. It is of a child (19:14): dozens of smiling children, forgetting their malnutrition and nakedness, skirt around, grab fingers or pant-legs and lead us forward. It is the welcome of the prostitutes (21:31): in the dark, worn brothel rooms, door after door opens, not to service usual clients, but to receive God’s radiating, pure love and other options for life. It is the pearl of great price (13:46): moving from the wealthy American suburbs to a hidden third-world slum to share in sufferings, to discover beatitude blessing and to live out the gospel among the poor. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed (13:31): though the world is broken, impoverished and in despair, an insignificant seed of hope and compassion falls to the ground; slowly and secretly it forces its way deep through the soil and grows up into the greatest of trees in which all will find life.

1. See popular works like Experiencing Godby Henry T. Blackaby and The Jesus I Never Knew by Philip Yancey as well as the Lausanne papers.
2. ‘Kingdom of God’ is synonymous with the Matthean ‘kingdom of heaven’. In this article, I also use the synonyms ‘reign of God’ and ‘rule of God’. See N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, 203.
3. Shekinah, rooted in the word ‘tabernacle’, is the descent and indwelling of God’s presence in space and time at a particular place and era in history (Jurgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life, 47; Gustavo Gutierrez, The God of Life, 75).
4. In this section, I am following N.T. Wright’s The New Testament and the People of God (NTPG) and Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG).
5. The dispersed Jews living outside Israel.
6. The theological ‘ultimate’ is the kingdom of God, and the ‘primacy’ is the liberation of the poor. This does not reduce the whole of the kingdom of God to the liberation of the poor, rather it sees the whole of the kingdom of God from the point of view of the poor (Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator, 122).
7. See Alisdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue.
8. “It is not that structures can sin…but structures demonstrate and actualize the power of sin and, in this sense, make people sin and make it supremely difficult for them to lead the lives that belong to them as children of God” (Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator, 123). See also Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers.
9. See John Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus.
10. The church in the USA has often aligned itself with conservative political parties and lobbies and has recently lent itself to the rise of religious nationalism. For a concise description of the church’s workings with American politics and its link to dispensationalists, see Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.
11. In The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann speaks of the “royal consciousness” that exploited the poor by the “economics of affluence” (I Kngs. 4:20-23), the “politics of oppression” (I Kngs. 5:13-18, 9:15-22), and the “religion of immanence (I Kngs. 8:12-13).

Ce ințelegem prin “Împărăția lui Dumnezeu”?

Am scris acest articol acum 10 ani. Încercam să înțelegem felul în care noi putem fi un semn al împărăției lui Dumnezeu, slujind în mijlocul celor care au primit făgăduința că „a lor este împărăția lui Dumnezeu”. În mijlocul acestei frământări, am fost ajutați să dezvoltăm înțelegerea noastră de înaintași noștri ca Tom Wright, Jurgen Moltmann și Miroslav Volf. Cu toată că un articol sris astăzi despre această temă ar arăta diferit, cred că acest articol poate fi încă de ajutor pentru alții care se frământă cu căutarea împărăției lui Dumnezeu.

In ultimii ani, crestinii s-au familiarizat cu expresia “Imparatia lui Dumnezeu” insa din cauza ca definitia conceptului este doar rareori articulata in intelesul ei real, nu se stie exact intelesul acestuia. Multi asociaza acest concept cu cerul diafan in care lucuiesc sufletele dupa ce isi parasesc trupul in viata de dincolo, pentru unii acesta inseamna locul unde se pot construi utopii lumesti iar altii inteleg prin asta expansiunea Bisericii. Recent, cuvantul “imparatie” s-a transformat intr-un calificativ ultramodern care atribuie trasatura de autenticitate a orice este crestin: comunitate a imparatiei, individ al imparatiei / spiritual, cultura a imparatiei etc. Atunci cand un termen este folosit in afara unui acord clar si comun in ce priveste terminologia, isi pierde valorile semantice si aduce confuzie.

Folosirea acestui termen in mod corect si incorect impune redefinirea ei. Avem nevoie de aceasta daca vrem sa isi exprime intelesul real. In acest scurt articol vor fi adresate cateva intrebari: Ce insemna “imparatia lui Dumnezeu” ca expresie pe care a folosito-o Isus? Care erau recipientii primari ai mesajului? Care este natura imparatiei Dumnezeului Triun? si Care sunt implicatiile pentru noi astazi?

Împărăția lui Dumnezeu în primul secol

“Dupa ce a fost inchis Ioan, Isus a venit in Galilea si propovaduia Evanghelia lui Dumnezeu. EL zicea: S-a impinit vremea si Imparatialui Dumnezeu este aproape, pocaiti-vă si credeti in Evanghelie” (Marcu 1:14-15) – acelasi inteles cu Imparatia Cerurilor (Matei).Imparatia lui Dumnezeu era motivul primordial al misiunii luiIsus (Luca 4:43). Mantuitorul nu a introdus un nou concept care sa aiba nevoie de explicatii in contextul Palestinei din primul secol arunci cand a propovaduit Imparatia lui Dumnezeu. Mai degraba, El evoca asteptarile inflacarate ale lui Israel.

Pentru un iudeu din primul secol, Imparatia lui Dumnezeu insemna trei lucruri: revenirea gloriei in intelesul de “șechina” – cuvant care vine de la “cort al intalnirii” si care reprezinta coborarea si locuirea prezentei lui Dumnezeu intr-un anumit spatiu si timp, localizat specific si intr-o anumita era a istoriei, intoarcerea din exil si infrangerea dusmanilor natiunii Israel. Isus vine cu o redefinire scandaloasa a acestor asteptari. Atunci cand Israelul a fost luat in exil si cand templullui Solomon a fost distrus, prezenta lui Dumnezeu, gloria “șechina” a incetat sa se manifeste in Sfanta Sfintelor. Promisiunea venirii Imparatiei insemna restaurarea prezentei gloriei lui Dumnezeu. Dar cand al doilea Templu a fost construit, gloria “șechina” nu s-a mai coborat. Isus afirma ca templul construit de Irod era de prisos, si ca trupul Sau era adevaratul Templu. (Matei 12:5, 26:61) Șechina a locuit printre noi (Ioan 1:14) si continua sa traiasca printre oamenii luiDumnezeu (Ioan 17:22) mergand spre umplerea pamantului asa cum apele marii acopera pamantul. (Apoc 21:23 Habacuc 2:14).

Exilul lui Israel era un semn al judecatii lui Dumnezeu pentru nelegiurile savarsite. In primul secol, doar o ramasita a lui Israel se intorsese in Palestina in timp ce cei mai multi ramasesera in Disapora. Cei intorsi erau dureros de constienti de exilul lor traind alaturi de romanii care le patrulau strazile. Profetiile spusesera ca intoarcerea din exil (cel adevarat sau noul exod) avea sa vina odata cu innoirea inimii, cu intiparirea in inima a Torei si cu iertarea pacatelor lor. (Ier. 31:31-34; Ezech. 36:24-33).

Prin urmare, atunci cand Isus spune “iertate iti sunt pacatele” si cand aduce pe pacatosi in cadrul  partasiei, El exprima un alt fel de “intoarcere din exil”. Cand Isus le poruncea oamenilor sa se pocaiasca de pacatele lor, El inaugura Imparatia lui Dumnezeu.

Isus stia ca venirea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu insemna alungarea dusmanilor natiunii lui Israel. Pamantul fagaduintei era acum stapanit de catre romani care tineau pe evrei in robie pentru a-si hrani proprul imperiu. Strigatul de lupta al Israelului exilat si subjugat era: “nu exista nici un rege in afara de Iahve”. Totusi, imparatia lui Iahve nu se manifesta prin inlaturarea Romei ci mai degraba prin infrangerea dusmanului real al umanitatii – pacatul, Satan si moartea. Isus a spus “Dar daca EU scot dracii cu degeteul lui Dumnezeu,Imparatia lui Dumnezeu a ajuns pana la voi” (Luca 11:2)

Aceasta arata ca Dumnezeul lui Israel se introneaza si ca dusmaniilui, pacatul, Satan si moartea, care il tinusera captiv, erau acum alungati. Imparatia lui Dumnezeu arata venirea Dumnezeului luiIsrael intrupat si plin de putere si acesta se intampla acum prin iertare, eliberare si inviere. El va face din nou ce a facut in timpul exodului: va veni si va locui in mijlocul poporului Sau. Imparatia este implinirea destinului lui Israel. Dumnezeul lui Israel este facut imparat prin lucrarea lui Isus, prin viata, moartea si invierea Lui. Oamenii luiDumnezeu sunt chemati sa Il urmeze pe Isus ca Imparat. “Ce frumoase sunt pe munti picioarele celui ce aduce vesti bune, care vesteste pacea

…care vesteste mantuirea! Picioarele celui care zice Sionului: Dumnezeul tau imparateste!” (Isaia 52:7)

 Recipienții mesajului Împărăției lui Dumnezeu

Mesajul Imparatiei a fost proclamalt saracilor pentru ca ei erau cei care sufereau cel mai mult in timpul exilului. Fara imparatirea luiDumnezeu, ei sunt cei mai vulnerabili la puterile lumii, ei indura pierderile cele mai mari cand li se ia partasia sau cand sunt marginalizati si tot ei sunt primii care suporta urmarile pacatului si ale mortii. Acesta este motivul pentru care magii nu l-au gasit pe Isus in palatul lui Irod ci printre pastorii saraci, acesta este motivul pentru care șechina s-a indreptat catre cei dati afara si a atins pe cei de neatins prin persoana lui Isus; acesta este motivul pentru care Moartea este zdrobita prin moartea si invierea Regelui. Primirea de catre Isus a celor alungati si a celor saraci a fost un semn ca adevarata intoarcere din exil – noua era si invierea se infaptuiau chiar atunci. (Isaia 35:1-10)

Isus afirma ca saracii sunt binecuvantati pentru ca “a lor esteImparatia Cerurilor” (Luca 6:20) Lor le este data mostenirea Imparatului. Ei sunt transformati in printi si printese pentru caImparatia le apartine. “imparatia lui Dumnezeu este aproape iar centrul intrarii in aceasta imparatie este acolo, printre saraci” Jon Sobrino, Jesus, the Liberator (Isus ,eliberatorul). Afirmatia nu reduce intreaga Imparatie a lui Dumnezeu la eliberarea saracilor ci mai degraba, vede Imparatia prin perspectiva lor.  “Orbii vad, schiopii umbla, leprosii sunt curatitti, surzii aud, mortii inviaza si saracilor li se propovaduieste Evanghelia.” (Luca 7:22 Isaia  61:1-4) La mijlocul vremurilor, Dumnezeu a facut prin Isus ceea ce asteptau iudeii ca EL sa faca prin Israel la sfarsitul vremurilor.

In Evanghelia dupa Marcu, cuvantul pentru “oamenii” sau pentru “norodul” care Il urmau pe Isus este “ochlos”, cuvant care denota pe pacatosi, pe cei exclusi, impovarati, si renegati si dezmosteniti. Aceasta este audienta preferata pentru transmiterea mesajului Imparatiei. Isus cheama oamenii la calea Crucii (8:34), le da invatarura (6:14) are compasiune pentru ei (6:34), ii vindeca (1:34) si se identifica cu ei (3:34). Ochlos ii reprezinta pe recipientii primari ai Evangheliei lui Isus iar Imparatia este descoperita printre ei.

Isus spune de asemenea, ca Imparatia lui Dumnezeu apartine copilasilor. (Matei 19:14). El ii ia pe “cei dintai” si ii face “cei de pe urma”, ii ia pe cei smeriti si ii face cei mai mari in Imparatia luiDumnezu. (18:1-4). Uneori facem referire la ceea ce se numeste “imparatia rasturnata a lui Dumnezeu” pentru ca Dumnezeurastoarna caile lumii desi, nimic nu e mai ne-rasturnat si mai corect pozitionat pe scara de valori cum este Imparatia lui Dumnezeu.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este un dar, nu este impusa. Suntem invitati sa o cerem. “Vie imparatia Ta, faca-se voia Ta” (Luca 11:2). In rugaciunea domneasca, noi renuntam la domnia noastra si Ii cerem Tatalui sa ne-o dea pe a Lui. Autorul Leslie Newbigin, numeste aceasta “secretul descoperit” in cartea sa cu acelasi nume. Imparatiaeste un secret, o taina revelata ca un mister prin insesi slabiciunile noastre, iar revelarea consta in faptul ca trebuie proclamat tuturora. In Evanghelia dupa Luca, se face invitatia dar cei poftiti nu vin. Stapanul raspunde la acesta invitand pe saraci, pe ciungi si pe schiopi (14:15-24). Masa Regelui este facuta pentru partasia cu cei saraci. Cei care sunt zdrobiti de stapanitile lumesti sunt  in secial entuziasmati de venirea Imparatiei dar cei care au investit deja in stapanirile lumesti, cei care gasesc scuze nu sunt la fel de deschisi la domnia Regelui sau la “faca-se voia Ta”. Invitatia aceasta reprezinta in acelasi timp si o cerinta: toti trebuie sa lase totul, sa-L urmeze pe El si sa primeasca Imparatia lui Dumnezeu (Luca 12:32).

In Evanghelia lui Ioan, Imparatia este sinonima cu viata. Isus spune: “daca nu se naste cineva din nou, nu poate vedea Imparatia luiDumnezeu (Ioan 3:3). Aceasta Imparatie este o realitate cu totul noua reprezentata ca viata noua sau ca modul adevarata de a fi uman. Toate imparatiile opuse inseamna moarte – in special moarte pentru cei saraci, iar beneficiarii acestor imparatii nu pot vedea si nici intra in aceasta noua realitate. Singurul mod in care cineva poate vedea, gusta si experimenta viata vesnica in Imparatia lui Dumnezeueste prin acceptarea nasterii din nou din Duhul datator de viata al luiDumnezeu.

Împărăția Dumnezeului Triun

Imparatia vietii este Imparatia Trinitatii. Acesta este punctul unde analogiile intre imparatiile lumesti si Imparatia lui Dumnezeu ajung laun punct exploziv. Imparatia Dumnezeului Triun confera o relatie de iubire reciproca si nu ierarhica in putere. Imparatia Dumnezeului Triun ofera eliberare si nu dominare. Imparatia Tatalui, a Fiului si a Duhului Sfant este in locul unde “dreptatea si pacea se saruta” (Ps 85:10) si unde toate lucrurile sunt facute noi (Apoc 21:5).

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu imprima in om domnia iubirii. Dumnezeueste iubitorul, iubitul si iubirea insasi. Imparatia Trinitatii nu este descoperita ca putere si ca dragoste. (1 Ioan 4:8) Puterea Lui se exercita numai prin intermediul dragostei Lui.

Tatal ne iubeste si pentru asta, ni-L da pe Fiul lui. Fiul Il iubeste pe Tatal si pentru asta renunta la viata Lui. In Noul Testament Isus nu este Domn pentru suveranitatea Lui, pentru puterea Lui sau pentru drepturile lui de Creator peste creatia Sa; El este Domn pentru intruparea, crucificarea si invierea Lui. Isus spune: “nimeni nu mi-o ia (viata) cu sila ci o dau Eu de la Mine” (Ioan 10:17,18). Aici puterea inseamna renuntare. Aceasta putere a neputintei este zugravita in imaginea crucii pe care scrie “Isus, Regele Iudeilor”, si anume: maini strapunse care se intind si o frunte incununata cu spini. Hriostosul domneste de pe lemn. Neputinta ia locul puterii. In Apocalipsa vedem Mielul junghiat pe tron (Apoc 5:6) “Vrednic este Mielul care a fost junghiat sa primeasca puterea…(Apoc 5:12).

Imperii ale acestei lumi se divid si cuceresc iar singura libertate care rezulta de aici e luxul minoritatii pe spinarea majoritatii. Domnia Dumnezeului Triun insa, inseamna libertate pentru toti. Trinitatea domneste prin faptul ca ea creeaza comunitati. Pavel spune: “unde este Duhul Domnului, acolo este slobozenia” (2 Cor 3:17). In Imparatia lui Dumnezeu domnia inseamna eliberare si nu dominare. Prin supunerea noastra constienta, Dumnezeu ne elibereaza.

Desavarsirea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu este Noua Creatie, care deja se implineste. “Daca este cineva in Hristos, este o faptura noua (2 Cor 5:17). Timpul prezent al verbului arata ca acesta deja este implinita. Implinirea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu este acolo undeimparatiile acestei lumi devin Imparatia Dumnezeului Triun (Apoc 11:15), unde cerul si pamantul sunt facute noi (21:1) si unde umanitatea se reintoarce acasa si este umpluta de șechina care straluceste de pe tronul lui Dumnezeu (22:3,4). Duhul si mireasa spun Mirelui: Vino! precum in cer asa si pe pamant.

Împărăția lui Dumnezeu astazi

“Domnul (Iahve) Si-a asezat scaunul de domnie in ceruri si domniaLui stapaneste peste tot.”(Ps 103:19). Hristos este Domnul si El provoaca si in cele din urma si intr-un mod fundamental invinge orice revendicare sau asertiune la domnia Lui. Imparatia este manifestata acolo unde este acceptat domnia lui Hristos. Este descoperita in ramasita prin care Dumnezeu a lucrat si lucreaza si anume Ilie in timpul Iszabelei (I Imp. 19:18), ceata de zdrentarosi care il urmau pe David in timpul lui Saul (I Sam. 22:1, 2), Daniel si cei trei tineri evrei exilati in Babilon (Dan. 3:12), Isus si ucenicii Sai (Luca. 6:12ff.), si buzunarele mici de credinta, de obicei ascunse numite de noi astazi biserica.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu nu este egal cu biserica dupa cum nici cresterea bisericii nu este egal cu zidirea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu. Biserica nu este tutorele sau proprietarul Imparatiei. Imparatia nu poate fin continuta in interiorul bisericii pentru ca Imparatie ii preseaza granitele acesteia, dupa cum spune Moltman Jurgan in Christ for Today’s World, sensul bisericii nu sta in ceea ce este ci in acel ceva spre care biserica se indreapta. Este domnia lui Dumnezeu in care biserica spera, fata de care este martora si pe care o proclama (Kung, The Church, 96). Misiunea bisericii nu este globalizarea acesteia si nici extinderea programelor denominationale. Aceste programe sunt subordonate misiunii Imparatiei si inseama intoarcerea umanitatii din exil si umplerea pamantului cu gloria Dumnezeului Triun. (Isaia 6.3)

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu nu este doar actiunea lui Dumnezeu ci actiunea Lui prin poporul Lui. Prin urmare, “am primit dar o Imparatie care nu se poate clatina” (Evrei 12:28) ca dar al Lui din initiativa Lui, dar de asemenea, cautam “mai intai Imparatia lui Dumnezeu si neprihanirea / dreptatea Lui” (Matei 6:33). Cautarea implica supunerea loialitatii noastre fata de Rege si de dreptatea Lui. In supunerea noastra, Dumnezeu nu ne face subiecti ai Lui ci participanti la Imparatia Lui. El ne cheama sa fim imppreuna mostenitori (Rom 8:17), ne ofera domnia impreuna cu El (2 Tim 2:12) si ne invita sa sedem in locuri ceresti (Efes 2:6). Biserica este o imparatie de preoti (Apoc 1:6, 1 Petru 2:9). Prin participare, suntem impreuna lucratori la intemeierea Imparatiei Lui.

In slujirea fata de Domnia lui Dumnezeu, biserica este manifestarea suprema a Imparatiei in orice generatie (Hughes, God of the Poor). Dar biserica implineste aceasta slujire numai cand slujeste si  se identifica cu recipientii Imparatiei, ai anume cu saracii. Oamenii lui Dumnezeu isi lasa navoadele, totul si Il urmeaza pe Isus in prolamarea Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu printre cei saraci. Numai prin biserica celor saraci va spune Regele: “Veniti, binecuvantatii Tatalui Meu de mosteniti Imparatia care v-a fost pregatita de la intemeierea lumii (Matei 25:34).

Totusi, nu trebuie sa asteptam pana in ziua judecatii ca sa aflam daca suntem in Imparatie, crestinii traiesc impreuna in cultura Imparatiei. Dr. Samuel Kamaleson ne invata ca in Imparatia lui Dumnezeu, cultura inseamna valori. El descrie cele cinci non-valori ale imparatiei: mandria (intronarea sinelui), prestigiul (ridicarea statutului), marginirea sau gruparea (gasirea identitatii de grup prin excludere), posesiunile (consumerismul si pretuirea lucrurilor mai mult decat a oamenilor) si poftele carnii (satisfacerea de sine sacrificand pe altii).

Aceasta nu inseamna ca Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este un cod moral (Rom 14:17) sau ca acestea sunt valori alese de fantezii individuale Newbigin ( A Word in Season). Valorile Imparatiei urmeaza viata istorica a lui Isus, reflecta scopurile Lui si sunt in conflict cu toate celelalte valori opuse.  Venirea Imparatiei este intr-o relatie de lupta cu anti-Imparatia. Cele doua nu sunt primordial si reciproc opuse dar se afla in lupta” (Jon Sobrino, Jesus the Liberator).

Pe cruce, Isus infrunta, provoaca si triumfa asupra tuturor acestor puteri opuse. Pe cruce, Isus dezarmeaza si demasca puterile domniilor si stapanirilor (Col 2:14, 15) si aceasta inseamna caImparatia lui Dumnezeu infrunta puterile politice, economice si religioase.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este politica. De-alungul istoriei biserica a folosit expresia de “Imparatie a lui Dumnezeu” pentru a-si justifica puterea politica si domnia. Mai recent, biserica s-a aliniat cu ideologiile politice pentru a-si proclama propriile versiuni ale notiunii de Imparatie. In ultimii ani, biserica din SUA s-a aliniat cu partidele conservatoare si s-a pus recent la dispozitia cresterii nationalismului religios. (Pentru o descriere concisa a lucrarilor bisericii cu politicile americane si a legaturilor cu dispensationalismul se poate citi Mark Noll’s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind.) Totusi, aceste pacate nu trebuie sa justifice retragerea bisericii din sfera politica. Desi modernismul ne spune sa ne tinem “religia” ca personala si sa nu o amestecam in activitatile publice, Scriptura ne spune ca Hristos este Domnul si ca va pune totul sub stapanirea Lui. Cand biserica primara a afirmat ca Hristos este Domnul, au afirmat de fapt ca Hristos era Cezarul – ceea ce era un afront sfidator la adresa cultului imperial, fapt care a dus la persecutie si martiraj. (Fapte 17:7). De aceea Pavel spune “ Nimeni nu poate zice ca Isus este Domnul decat prin Duhul Sfant” (1Cor 12:3).

Numai prin Duhul poate biserica sa provoace puterile politice si sa le traga la raspundere in fata crucii. Poporul Dumnezeului crucificat isi delcara loialitatea absoluta domniei lui Hristos si aceasta inseamna ca ei reprezinta o forta subversiva in fata oricarei puteri.

In acelasi mod, Imparatia lui Dumnezeu contesta puterile economice: Mamona. In Apocalipsa, Ioan descrie economia Babilonului (18:9-13). In varful sistemului de valori babilonian sta aurul, la baza sta umanitatea. Imparatiile lumii sunt construite pe spatele robilor, bogatiile lor sunt finantate de sufletele oamenilor. In economia Imparatiei lui Dumnezeu umanitatea sta in varful sistemului si aurul sta jos. Pe pamantul Nou si in Cerul Nou, strazile sunt de aur curat (21:21). Desi este periculos si riscant, biserica trebuie sa porunceasca puterilor economice ale lumii sa se supuna domniei luiHristos.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu cere socoteala de asemenea, puterilor religioase. Religiile provoaca domnia lui Dumnezeu pretinzand acces exclusiv la Dumnezeu, tinand “cheia cunostintei” despre Dumnezeusi controland iertarea. Puterile religioase sunt folosite pentru a subjuga oamenii (Walter Bruggemann , The Profetic Imagination). Isus ii condamna pe farisei si pe preoti pentru ca “leaga sarcini grele si cu anevoie de purtat si le pun oe umerii oamenilor dar ei nici cu degetul nu vor sa le miste” (Matei 23:4-25). Biserica este chemata sa denunte orice justificare religioasa pentru folosirea puterii si sa reziste la tentatia de a angaja puterea religioasa.

In mijlocul pacautului, mortii, exilului si departarii de Dumnezeu, vedem semnele infrangerii dusmanilor umanitatii – comunitatea.Imparatia Dumnezeului Triun se declanseaza.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca o comoara ingropata intr-o tarina. (Matei 13:19): intr-un pamant al inumanitatii, o femeie care moare in propriul sange si in propriile murdarii, pe peronul unei statii de tren, este imbratisata si iubita.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca un aluat (Matei 13:33): o libelula in mii de culori danseaza deasupra unei guri de canalizare care duce intr-o mahala murdara.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu  este ca un copilas (Matei 19:14): zeci de copii care zambesc si care uita ca sunt subnutriti si goi si care ne agata de maini conducandu-ne inainte.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca acceptarea prostituatelor (Matei 21:31): intr-o camera putrida si intunecoasa de bordel, o usa se deshide nu pentru a servi clientii ci pentru a primi dragostea luminoasa a lui Dumnezeu care ii va da femeii alte sanse de trai.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca un margaritar de mare pret (Matei 13:46): alegand sa paraseasca suburbiile Americii ca sa mearga in mahalalele si cocioabele murdare ale lumii a treia pentru a impartasi suferinta, pentru a descoperi fericirile si pentru a trai Evanghelia printre saraci.

Imparatia lui Dumnezeu este ca o samanta de mustar (Matei 13:31): desi lumea este zdrobita, impovarata si in disperare, o samanta minuscula de speranta si compasiune cade pe pamant, se inradacineaza in taina in adanc si creste in cel mai mare copac in care toti gasesc viata.

 

The Story of the Tucum Ring

Listen to the audio of Esdrianne Cohen and Rich Nichols sharing the story or read the story below as told by Ben Miller.

Several years ago Lilia Marianno gave the WMF Brazil community simple black rings made from the fruit of a palm tree. With her gift, she shared a story.

She told of a bishop, who in a meeting with the leaders of the Tapirapé people, an indigenous tribe, was awed by their faith and resilience.  He asked for their forgiveness for the treatment of their people by his, and more importantly, for forgiveness for the church’s complicity in the oppression of their people over the centuries.

The bishop took off his gold ring, the symbol of his office, and presented it to the chief, saying “We cannot return all the gold we took, or restore all the lives we destroyed.  But we long to try and make things right.  Take this ring as a symbol of my desire for what the church will be – no longer taking, but giving.”  The Tapirapé chief accepted the ring, and reciprocated by removing his black tucum ring and giving it to the bishop as a symbol of their forgiveness and solidarity.

The ring, made from the fruit of the tucum palm tree is a difficult plant to cultivate due to its long, thin, sharp thorns.  The rings, made from the fruit’s hard shell that surrounds the seed, are made by hand – typically taking over an hour per ring.  The sawing, cleaning, and polishing are done by family members, creating opportunities for work for those who would not normally have it.

The symbolism of the black ring has changed over the years – in the 1800s the ring was a symbol of marriage for the slaves and natives, who could not afford to buy gold.  The ring was also a symbol of friendship, and of resistance to the established order – the freedom fighters.

In the words of the bishop, Dom Pedro Casaldáliga:  “… This ring is made from a palm tree in the Amazon.  It is a sign of alliance, of solidarity with the indigenous peoples and with the lives of the people (the least of these).  Anyone who wears this ring, normally, is saying they will accept the weight of this struggle, and also its consequences.  Will you accept the challenge of the ring?  Many, because of this commitment, were faithful until death …”

Today, the black ring of tucum has come to symbolize solidarity with the poor – a pledge to defend the Gospel on the path with the poverty-stricken – engagement with the poor and excluded of society – defending the poorest – aligning oneself against the rich and powerful and with the poor, marginalized, and forgotten – those who cast their lot with the poor of the earth – those who long for the freedom of Christ to reach into the lowest depths and most broken places, and are willing to sacrifice their lives for Him and the least of these.

Now, many of us in WMF wear these rings as a symbol of our solidarity with the poor. We hope to wear it well and this is the charge and prayer we offer when passing it on to others.

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