Jesus, Suffering, The Kingdom and Christus Victor, and a new way of “being” the Church in Summersville, WV

Summersville, WV

January 25-26, 2013

Summersville is only an hour away from Lewisburg, and since it was my third weekend of travel in January, I was thankful for that. I have shared multiple series of events with the group in Summersville in past, and so I knew it was going to be an enjoyable weekend — but I’d forgotten just how enjoyable it can be.

What I appreciate most about this group is that they are probably the most forward-thinking group I’ve encountered here in West Virginia. I’m originally from this state, so I can say this. It’s refreshing to spend a weekend with those who understand that following Jesus isn’t static — it’s a movement, a journey, a process we are all in. And every day, following Jesus and His teachings about the Kingdom comes to mean more and more to us than it did the day before.

This group is very familiar with Renewed Heart Ministries’ passion for sharing God’s radical character of love as seen through the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus. We were able to build on previously shared concepts in a way that is rare for most groups we are visiting for the first time. Beginning on Friday night, we looked at what it means for us today, in our culture, not simply to be “Christians,” but to be those who are endeavoring to return to the actual teachings of Jesus and what He described His kingdom to be all about. We discussed the beautiful inclusivity of Jesus toward the marginalized, in contrast to most of the religious leaders of His day, who saw themselves as morally superior to such people. (When one realizes how central this was to the teachings of Jesus, it truly does revolutionize one‘s picture of God, and how we relate to all others.) In the three presentations that followed over the weekend, we looked at the tragedy of Sandy Hook, and how all the major world religions of today respond to tragedies of this magnitude. We looked at the Hindu response, the Buddhist response, the Muslim response, and then the “Christian” response (which, historically, tends simply to echo other typical religious responses). Then, lastly, we looked at how Jesus responded to human suffering in His day. The contrast was breathtaking. We then took time to look at the Cross through the Christus Victor (or “Great Controversy” or “Cosmic Conflict,” for those who are familiar with that language) paradigm, with special emphasis on how Jesus never looked at people as transgressors in need of punishment but as victims in need of a Savior. Then, when one remembers that Jesus was emphatic that if anyone had seen Him, they had seen the Father too — well, this is a game-changer. It redefines everything, including the suffering and death of Jesus. So far from Jesus being a whipping boy to appease an angry God’s need to punish somebody, Jesus’s suffering and death were God’s nonviolent response to and victory over His Enemy (and ours too)! Long live Christ the victorious! This presentation too was a beautiful time for all who participated.

Finally, we looked at the intrinsic value and the Kingdom basis, within the teachings of Jesus, of “being the church” very differently from the way in which much of what we do is currently done. We looked at how we can begin transitioning from pastor/teacher-led worship services to the open, mutually participatory nature of the gatherings of the New Testament/early church. What I love about this forward-thinking group in Summersville is that immediately after this presentation, I was mobbed with questions about how to begin this transition right now! Much was said about how to transition respectfully and gradually. So many are very heavily invested in “being the church” very differently from how Jesus taught that the transition must be slow, healthy, and respectful. But this group in Summersville was eager to begin. I’ve already got word from a group meeting midweek in New Testament/Early Church style that reflects the beauty of who God is more authentically. Many, seeing what the New Testament actually teaches on this topic, and how it fits hand-in-glove with the truth of the Character of God that we, as Jesus followers, are to be putting on display for the world around us, simply responded with, “Well, let’s start this next week!”

I was so encouraged.

I received this too, right after the weekend, through our website:

“Just heard Herb Montgomery speak at Summersville, WV and it opened my heart and mind to so much! Words cannot explain what my heart is feeling. I am so blessed to have been there as his message was exactly what the doctor (God) ordered! Thank you!”

For those of you who were partnering with us in prayer for this weekend, thank you. We could not do what we do without your support.

Wherever this finds you today, remember, you are NOT just passing through. It’s not about “Heaven.” According to the example of Jesus, it’s about life, here, now, today. As followers of Jesus, we are called to love subversively until a world in which love reigns is the only world that remains. In the words of Brian Zahnd, “Christ is not something that will nicely accommodate your cherished assumptions. Christ is the most radical thing that has ever happened to this world. To see Christ as Christ, the King of the Jews who is now King of the World — [it] is to realize that Caesar is not Lord, Pharaoh is not Lord, but Jesus is Lord. Jesus cannot be owned or incorporated or subsumed into any other nation — Not Babylon, not Egypt, not Rome, not Russia, not England, not America. Jesus is building his own nation (kingdom) — it’s the Kingdom of God. Christ does not come to endorse any nation — he comes to set up his own. But the nations of the world — all of them! — will resist this.”

It’s a Kingdom of Love, remember. So today, go out and love someone, with no interest of what’s in it for yourself! Live the life of love (Eph. 5.1, 2). Love like Christ, and go, subversively — enlarge His mustard-seed Kingdom. Vive la Revolution!