I’m going to miss Bob Edgar. The general secretary of the National Council of Churches has given me a lot of laughs over the years, and as he heads off to Common Cause (doing essentially the same work he’s done at the NCC, except in Washington instead of New York), he’s going to leave behind a legacy of overt political activism and nonsensical rhetoric that’s going to be hard to top. By way of reminding us that he’s also a preacher (of the United Methodist variety), he’s leaving us with one of his famous
expository biblical theological political sermons, which can be found at Day 1. The “text” for this opus is 1 Corinthians 12:
We have the Apostle Paul to thank for the image of the Body of Christ. In this particular passage, he was addressing the quarreling followers of Jesus in Corinth. Paul had established this Christian community only a few years earlier, and he was writing because he had heard they couldn’t agree on leadership. Sound familiar? So they were arguing amongst themselves. Paul is trying to tell them in this letter-you’re missing the point. Spend your energy on what Jesus taught us. Respect the gifts in each other. And it doesn’t matter what race or class or ethnic background you are, we are all equal in the eyes of the one God.
There’s a lot of talk in our country lately about values. The political campaign for 2008 is bringing to the forefront all the “issues” that have been used to divide us. Americans have been no different than the church goers in Corinth-arguing about leadership.
The key phrase in Paul’s letter is this: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” The common good. There it is, right there in the Bible. God’s Holy Spirit gives each one of us a unique gift for the good of all of God’s creation.
“The common good.” As Inigo Montoya famously remarked, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
The “common good” referred to in 1 Corinthians 12:7 is not “the good of all of God’s creation.” It is for the good of the church that the Holy Spirit has given spiritual gifts to the people of God. Despite Edgar’s delight in his own discovery (“see, see–I told you! It’s right there in the Bible!”), the Church has known for 2000 years that this verse is in Paul’s letter, and has known what it means. That’s because it is able to read Scripture without assuming that everything must have an application to the political issues of the day (either that or dismissed as archaic). 1 Corinthians 12-14 is about the way the church is supposed to function, and about the context (agape) that forms the setting for that functioning. 1 Corinthians 12:7 is no more about the political stuff that Edgar follows up with than 1 Corinthians 13 is about marital relations.
In another misuse of Scripture, we get this:
Jesus was the agent through which God created the heavens and the earth. And if we can believe the psalmist that “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;”–that’s Psalm 24–why should there be any division among us about reducing greenhouse gases, switching to wind or solar power, or reusing materials we unthinkingly throw away.
So Psalm 24, a magnificent hymn of praise to the King of Glory, becomes proof that we need to follow Al Gore off the edge of a cliff. Scientific evidence of greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming? Hah! We don’t need no stinking science–we have Psalm 24! A psalm that proclaims,
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD, strong and mighty,
the LORD, mighty in battle!
Lift up your heads, O gates!
And lift them up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of hosts,
he is the King of glory!
is actually about recycling! Plastics and aluminum cans, right there in the Bible! Who’da thunk it?
But Edgar doesn’t stop mangling Scripture there. He next moves on to the Gospels:
Jesus also had another priority. It was taking care of the poor. The Gospel of Luke, the first reported words of Jesus in public ministry come right out of the prophet Isaiah. He said this: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free…”
If we are followers of Jesus, what are we doing to eliminate poverty that kills?
Jesus, of course, didn’t say anything about “eliminating” poverty. In fact, He said that we would always have the poor with us. But Edgar thinks bigger than Jesus ever could have–about what you’d expect from someone who used to be in Congress. Oh, and pretty much all biblical scholars are convinced that the first words of Jesus’ public ministry were, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15) But Edgar’s never been big on that repentance stuff, except for political conservatives–reeks too much of fire and brimstone.
One possible solution is for those of who are part of the faithful community to support the Millennium Development Goals. [peace and blessings be upon them, as Chris Johnson would say].
That’s right, folks–the way we obey Jesus and eliminate poverty is by supporting the UN in its effort to cut poverty by half by 2015.
There’s more, but I’m getting a headache.