This coming Sunday morning, millions of prayers and words of praise will be offered up in worship services. The sacramental church will recite Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. The Baptist church will thank God for atoning us through the blood of Christ. The charismatic church will proclaim the powerful, transforming presence of the Spirit in our world.
Words have incredible power. For example, calling a spouse beautiful affirms that individual’s worth. In this sense, naming things creates meaning for our lives. Words create, mend, and sustain our relationships with others. The opposite is true: calling someone worthless can fracture entire worlds and persons. Instead of developing a connection with someone, we can become distant and detached.
More specifically with Christian belief, this word-deed relationship is crucial for how we relate to and experience God and world. Anabaptist theology is particularly profound in this manner–namely that because Jesus lived the way of love, we in the here-and-now are to embrace non-violence in all that we do. Praying in the name of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, in my opinion, carries dynamic potential as God begins to shape our lives and actions to look like Jesus. Words are formative, even if they are indeed “abstract.”
But I recognize that this is oftentimes not the case for Christianity. We who pray in Jesus’ name will leave the church service to return our “real-world” lives. Sure, hymns or praise songs provide personalized comfort, but faith is commonly limited to the pews, a Christian radio station, or a daily devotional done by ourselves. We water down the thy kingdom come of the Lord’s prayer, especially considering that right now, tens of thousands of vulnerable children from Latin American countries are caught up in a border crisis, bearing the brunt of political games and apathy.
There’s a massive disconnect between what may be spoken in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and what we see in our broken world. Whether using the Church as a crutch or simply wanting to distance ourselves from the bad events of the world, naivety can wiggle its way into our thinking.
Lee C. Camp shares this powerful story in Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World:
One winter in the early 1970s, nearing Christmas, my father-in-law was working as a reporter for WSM television in Nashville. Having just completed a story at the state capitol building, he heard a call on his scanner: a “10-52-64,” the “10-52,” he told me, indicating someone had been shot, and the “10-64″ indicating someone was dead. The location of the scene of the apparent crime was but a few miles away, in a public housing complex, where the police had discovered an elderly man dead in his apartment. But as they began to investigate, it turned out that the original suspicion was all wrong. There had been no shooting. Instead, the man did not have electricity, and so had frozen to death. What had originally been thought to be a gun wound was no gun wound at all, but the wound from a rat gnawing on the old man’s body. As my father-in-law exited the apartment complex, he happened to see the glow emitted from a sign, perched for the Christmas holidays atop one of Nashville’s high-rises, announcing “Peace on Earth.”
Such an event serves as a parable for a compartmentalized grace: the heartwarming religious message, “peace on earth,” that somehow never gets connected to the real world of a poverty-stricken old man.
Peace on earth. Jesus is risen. Christ died for you sins. O Lord, make haste to help us. God loves you.
How do these proclamations relate to the poverty-stricken old man? How do they relate to the illegal immigrant fleeing from violence and instability?
Given the reality that we worship a savior who suffered, I think they relate in an inseparable way. These aren’t just words. God can awaken us and shape us to see them become reality, or on earth as it is in heaven, as someone once said.