Original post at http://sacredise.com/blog/?p=1440
Cornerstone by Electroglyph
What might it mean to have your mind “renewed”? This statement, which occurs in chapter 12 of Paul’s letter to the Romans, and is one of the Lectionary readings for this Sunday, is somewhat enigmatic. It does not mean that we simply “change our minds” about things, although that is certainly part of what must happen if our minds are to be renewed. But, for me the word would indicate that things have become old, routine, bored, fixed, inflexible. When our minds grow rigid and closed, when we become fixated on certain ideas and ways of perceiving, our minds may well need some renewal, and this, I suspect, is part of what the apostle asks of us. In context, Paul is talking about the radical idea that God’s chosen people have missed God’s gift of grace, which has now been extended to the (previously excluded) Gentiles. So, God’s chosen nation needed a “renewed mind”. But, of course, it goes further than that. The original statement contains these words: “Don’t be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by…” So, a renewed mind is one that opts out of the patterns of this world.
Which brings us to the other readings for this Sunday. In the Old Testament, we read of how Moses’ mother and sister (and perhaps even Pharaoh’s daughter – she must have known what was going on) conspired to save the boy who would become the liberator of Israel. In a world where the simple solution to racial fear was to wipe out the male babies of the oppressed race (why does this sound familiar?) these women had renewed minds. They boldly dared to think – and act – differently, subversively, in a way that undermined the unjust and destructive status quo.
In the Gospel, Peter’s declaration of Jesus as Messiah leads Jesus to affirm the truth of Peter’s conviction and proclaim that this (I suspect it refers more to Jesus and the truth about him than to the person of Peter – see below) would be the foundation for a new community, a “church”, an ekklesia or “called out community” (note: not a religious organisation, a particular denomination, or a building). But, notice something about this community: what the ekklesia “binds” on earth would be bound in heaven and what the ekklesia loosed on earth would be loosed in heaven. This is a deeply subversive statement because in Jesus day and society, it was the priests who were the “binders and loosers”. They were seen as God’s appointed gatekeepers. If someone became sick (especially with skin diseases or strange emission sod bodily fluids), they were “bound” by the priests – kept away from society and declared unclean. But, when they became well again, they would need to go to the priests to be “loosed” or declared clean and free to enter society again. In the Roman world, the Emperor and his agents were the ultimate “binders and loosers”. They would determine who lived and who died, who was innocent (like guilty Barabbas) and who was guilty (like the innocent Jesus). So, for Jesus to proclaim that his new ekklesia would have the power to bind and loose – even more than this, to impact what heaven would bind and loose - was about as subversive as you could get!
This is not saying that Jesus’ new community could now become power brokers with the blessing of God (even though we have often interpreted this passage this way). It is to proclaim that, in the same way that Jesus bound the evil forces of Empire, of hypocrisy, of domination, of legalism and of exclusion in his ministry (which has been the focus of much of Matthew’s Gospel up to this point), so followers of Jesus are to “bind” the evil we encounter – by refusing to give it free reign, by refusing to participate in institutional, systemic, or even personal violence, injustice, domination or oppression. And, in the same way that Jesus “loosed” – freed and liberated – those oppressed by demonic, physical, spiritual, ethnic, factional, economic, gender or religious oppression, so followers of Jesus are to declare freedom to those who have become imprisoned by injustice, violence, abuse, poverty, or hatred. Our lives are to declare that we refuse to leave the power of “binding and loosing” to those who will use it for their own gain. Rather, as we follow Jesus, we are to be the community in which we subvert the “patterns of this world” and loose those who are bound by the world’s systems, while binding those who are “loosed” by them. And this is the glorious, subversive, challenging, liberating Story of this week’s worship.
Out of this story flows the subversive Language of liberation. The gates of hell cannot stand against a community that refuses to participate in the hellish games of power, wealth, fame and exclusivity. When we begin to “talk about a revolution” (to use Tracy Chapman’s words) in whispers and shouts that set the oppressed free, all the rhetoric of hell sounds like empty noise. When we refuse to judge those whom we are instructed to judge, when we insist on fellowshipping with those whom we are instructed to shun, when we welcome those whom we are supposed to turn away, our words become a liberation to those who have heard nothing but judgement, dismissal, or rejection. So, may our mouths be filled with subversive words like kindness, peace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, unity, justice, equality, and, yes, freedom.
The Symbols, Images and Metaphors of this week’s worship are just as subversive: The rock – which, as the writer of Peter’s letter described it, was rejected – becomes the cornerstone of this new community that binds only evil and looses all of God-beloved humanity; The living sacrifice who willingly gives up the kind of life that is shaped by the “patterns of this world” in order to live by a different set of values and priorities; the key which unlocks all that is bound by systems of human power and control and brings freedom to all. These images can speak with great power, and can set our hearts free even as they invite us to be agents of freedom to those around us.
Finally, The Rituals of this Sunday’s worship can be, themselves, an experience of subversive freedom. Perhaps we could subvert the regular order of service that we’re familiar with. Perhaps we can allow those who usually are unseen in our worship (children, cleaners, those who are part of support groups for addicts, for example) to be the leaders, greeters and preachers in some way. Perhaps we can receive stones as a memorial that the cornerstone of our new life is the One that was rejected. Or we could receive keys as a sign that we are called to bind evil and loose the oppressed.
These are just some brainstorming ideas that could have the effect of renewing our minds just a little through worship this week (For more ideas, reflections and resources, see this week’s Lectionary Worship Resources post). What ideas do you have? How are you planning to facilitate or participate in worship this coming Sunday? In what ways can you open yourself anew to the subversive, mind-renewing Christ who calls us to be his ekklesia to bring liberation into our small corner of the world?