The Good Confession and the Las Vegas Concert Shooting
“I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God…”
If Christian faith doesn’t have something more than confusion, anguish, or anger to say on a day like this one when more than 50 people are dead, and more than 400 people are being treated for their injuries from the biggest mass casualty shooting in modern American history, then maybe it’s time for a different kind of faith.
William James (1842 – 1910), the American philosopher and psychologist, in The Varieties of the Religious Experience (1902) observed that there are two broad categories of religion that are available to us as human beings, what he called “the religion of the healthy-minded” and that he described as the religion of people with “sky-blue souls whose affinities are with flowers, and birds, and enchanting innocencies,” and “a constitutional incapacity for prolonged suffering,” and what he called “the religion of the sick soul” and that he described as having a deep awareness of “the darker aspects of the universe,” a real “consciousness” of one’s own sin, and a recognition that there is a profound “sadness” at the heart of the human condition. Professor James left no doubt as to which of these two religions he’d personally embraced himself –
…Systematic healthy-mindedness, failing as it does to accord to sorrow, pain, and death any positive and active attention whatever, is formally less complete than systems that try at least to include these elements in their scope. The completest religions would therefore seem to be those in which the pessimistic elements are best developed. Buddhism, of course, and Christianity are the best known to us of these. They are essentially religions of deliverance: the man must die to an unreal life before he can be born into the real life.
Our “Good Confession” as Disciples that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God” is an affirmation of the way that we believe that God in Jesus Christ is providing our “deliverance.” When bad things happen, be they mass shootings in Las Vegas or devastating storms in the Caribbean and along the Gulf Coast, it’s what the “living” God – that is, a God who is present and active – is doing in Jesus as the Christ that is God’s personal and powerful response to human suffering. When we say that Jesus is the Christ what we are saying that He is God’s answer to life’s most urgent questions, and the solution to the most painful situations that we will face.
Alexander Campbell, following his, and our, Reformed theological heritage, employed something known as the “munus triplex” – Christ’s threefold office of Prophet, Priest, and King – when thinking and talking about the things that God has done for us in Jesus.
It was for us he became a Prophet, for us he became a Priest, for us he has been made Lord of hosts, King of the universe, Judge, and avenger of all. [Alexander Campbell – The Christian System – “The Lordship of the Messiah”].
This model is based on the Old Testament descriptions of who it was that got anointed to function as God’s special representatives for God’s first covenant people – prophets, priests, and kings. “Christ” is the Greek form of the Hebrew word “Messiah” which means the “anointed one.” Because prophets, priests, and kings all got anointed in the Old Testament, the Old Testament’s promise of the coming “Messiah,” or “Anointed One,” was understood to mean that He was coming to do the work of a prophet, and a priest, and a king.
The “munus triplex” says that God’s work of deliverance in Jesus the Christ moves through these three channels – He does the work of a priest for us, He does the work of a prophet for us, and He does the work of a king for us. And today, in the aftermath of what happened on the Las Vegas strip last night, as people who say that we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, our response needs to correspond to what it is that we say that we believe God in Christ is actually doing to deliver us.
Because Jesus as the Christ does the work of a Priest to deliver us – our response to the suffering of this day must be pastoral. The comfort that the Gospel offers people today is that God “gets” the pain of this moment because in Jesus Christ He has been here and gone through it Himself. “Jesus wept” is what John 11:35 tells us. And more than just the answer to a familiar Bible riddle, these two words assure us today that we don’t have a God who is absent from our tragedies, or who is unaware of or unconcerned about the anguish that they cause in us. Hebrews 4:15-16 is where my faith instinctively turns on morning’s after evenings like the one we’ve just had –
We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
And don’t fail to constantly keep in mind and heart where God’s identification with us in Jesus Christ wound up — on the cross –
Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tested, he is able to help those who are being tested. (Hebrews 2:14-18)
Being able to comfort ourselves and others with the Priestly presence work of Jesus as the Christ is part of what the Gospel enables us to do. The Gospel’s answer to human loss and suffering is Emmanuel – that “God is with us.” The Gospel’s assurance in the face of the evil of this day is that it can’t separate us from the love of God. The Gospel’s provision for us in the face of the world’s and our own brokenness is reconciliation and peace with God. And the Gospel’s final solution to problem of death is the gift of eternal life.
Because Jesus as the Christ does the work of a Prophet to deliver us – our response to the suffering of this day must be prophetic. We have the mind of Christ. Because of Jesus Christ we already know what it is that God wants for us and for all of creation, and we know that history is moving inexorably in that direction, the direction of shalom – harmony and perfect peace – everything and everyone fit together like the pieces of an intricate puzzle of a picture of personal well-being and cosmic thriving. When the Kingdom finally comes in Revelation 21 and we are told that in that day tears will be wiped away from our eyes and death shall be no more, and neither shall there be any mourning, nor weeping, nor suffering, we are not being given permission to just sit around waiting for it to arrive like a bus at a stop or a train at a station, but rather, we are being commissioned to be harbingers of that future. This morning this means doing more as a people to figure out what it means when God tells us that “Thou shalt not commit murder.” Lewis Smedes, one of the people who taught me ethics, said that this Divine command creates a clear predisposition for life within God’s covenant people. Every conversation and consideration for us as Christians begins with us already knowing that life is God’s preferred option in each and every situation, and that this preference must inform all of our subsequent choices. God didn’t want Stephen Paddock pulling that trigger. God didn’t want all those people to die, or to suffer injury. And God doesn’t want this world of terror and violence. Being “prophetic” means saying these things loudly and clearly to ourselves, and to the world around us. And then it means fostering the crucial conversations that lead to decisions about the public policies that best embody what it is that we already know as Christians that God wants. I don’t know what the political solution to this current epidemic of violence in American society is, but I do know as a Christian that God is for life, and that God expects us to advocate for ways that promote and preserve life in a society that is becoming increasingly violent. The Prophetic work of Jesus as the Christ calls us to be prophetic as His disciples about the things He has shown us and told us are God’s will for us and for all of creation.
And because Jesus as the Christ does the work of a King to deliver us – our response to the suffering of this day must be to point to that Kingdom that is coming. Biblically, I see no solution to the world’s troubles apart from the promised return of Jesus Christ to finish the work of redemption and reconciliation that He began in the manger, on the cross, and out of the garden tomb. To live in hope as a Christian is to live with the assurance of Philippians 1:6 that the good work that God has begun in us and in the world will be brought to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. In the Didache, an important second century manual of church practice, the exclamation of the Aramaic word “Maranatha” – loosely translated: “Come, Lord Jesus, come!” – appears to have been the final prayer of the church in the communion service. Vernard Eller, the late Church of the Brethren scholar, suggested that “Maranatha” provides us with our most comprehensive understanding of what’s actually happening at the Lord’s Table. He said that it means “Our Lord has come — He has already been here and shared our life,” and that it means “Lord, come right now — come to this place, in this moment, to be with us in the present journey of our lives,” and that it means “O Lord come again — return to us in the near future in final victory to establish your kingdom where there will be no more suffering or sadness, no more sickness or death.” And that makes “Maranatha” as comprehensive a prayer as we can possibly pray as Christians. When we pray “Maranatha” we are consciously remembering what Christ has already done. And when we pray “Maranatha” we are consciously reminding ourselves of what it is that Christ is still doing right now. And when pray “Maranatha” we are consciously rooting ourselves in the Gospel’s promises of what Christ is going to do when His Kingdom finally and fully comes. “Maranatha” is a comprehensive affirmation of, and petition for the deliverance of God in the kingly work of Jesus Christ. When the world breaks our hearts as it does today, it is a “Maranatha” moment. It is time for us to remember that Christ has come, that Christ is here, and that Christ will come again. The death and violence of this day will not have the final word. “Maranatha” — “Come quickly Lord Jesus.” DBS +