Under (De)Construction

How would you respond when everything you thought you knew is called into question? What happens when everything you believed about God begins to crumble? The fancy, academic word for that process is “deconstruction.” In our time, lots of Christians are experiencing this disorienting, destabilizing, distressing process.

I’m one of those Christians.

What are some of the deconstructing data I’ve learned about myself, my Church, my theology, and my country over the last ten years?

  • I participate in and benefit from a pervasive and centuries-old system of white male supremacy.
  • That system is built into the founding documents of our nation and has been supported and strengthened by such leading lights as Abraham Lincoln, FDR, and JFK.
  • The Church to which I’ve devoted my adult life helped to create and underwrite the imperial ideology, the racist constructions, and the Doctrine of Discovery which form the foundations of that system.
  • Every element of my life, my identity, and the institutions of which I am a part is not only infected with that system but continues to resist any and all efforts at reform and restructuring to remedy and repair the effects of that system.
  • And the overwhelming majority of my white co-religionists think I’m delusional and making it all up when I engage with and believe the things in this list.
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

That’s not everything, but you get the idea. One part of deconstruction is identifying and dismantling the myths that support the current system. Another part of deconstruction is learning the real and full history that has gotten us to the place we’re at now. Still another part is asking what needs to be done to take that system apart. Yet another part is discerning what needs to arise in place of the current system that will give life in the place of death, hope in the place of despair, equity in the place of domination.

You want to talk about deconstruction? I’m so glad you asked! Today’s gospel text is a launching pad for Christian deconstruction.

What is the mythology Jesus attacks here? He challenges the assumption that as long as the Temple is standing and operating that Jerusalem will be safe. The Temple has become a magical charm that wards off evil on its own rather than the dwelling place of God. At least some people have put their faith in the Temple rather than in God. That’s an uncomfortable critique in a time when some of us American Christians are positive we can’t practice our faith unless we’re in our buildings.

What is the real and full history that got folks to the place they were at in the text? The Roman Empire had taken control of the Middle East about a hundred years earlier. Many faithful Jews thought they were right back in the Babylonian Exile as a result. Pagans were calling the shots, even in the Temple. The Temple authorities were collaborating with the Romans and making big money as a result. Lately, the high priestly family had installed a new revenue stream by moving the animal sacrifice shopping center into the outer precincts of the Temple. That was, for Jesus and others, a bridge too far.

This shopping center was part of a system that transferred wealth from the poor to the rich. The Romans took their cut as well. Instead of the Temple functioning as the holy house of God, it had become a religious mall. The word Jesus uses here translates directly into the English word, “emporium.” So, that’s the real and full history, and everybody knew it. The mythology benefitted the powerful and squeezed the poor. The real and full history was a foundation for overturning the mythology.

What needs to be done to take that system apart? Now we come into the center of today’s text. Jesus publicly attacks the system in an act of civil disobedience. Anyone who thinks that public protest, including disrupting traffic and business, is not Christian – such people must have cut John 2 out of their Bibles. This public protest is central to Jesus’ critique of the Temple system.

Jesus declares that in the place of the Temple system God will put…Jesus! Deconstruct this house, Jesus says, and three days later I will replace it with my body. Along with the disciples, we understand now that he was talking about his Resurrection. As we noted last week, Resurrection isn’t raising up a new body in the same old world. Resurrection is raising up a whole new world, and Jesus’ body is the first part of that New Creation.

What needs to arise in place of the current system that will give life in the place of death, hope in the place of despair, equity in the place of domination? It is Jesus’ resurrected body. In the Cross and Resurrection, Jesus gives life in the place of death. In the good news of Jesus Christ, we have hope in the place of despair. In the world turned right side up (as we mentioned last week), we have equity in the place of domination.

Following Jesus creates a world under (de)construction.

This will seem like crazy talk to the world. The world as it is depends on the mythologies of American exceptionalism, white male supremacy, profit over people, and the hyper-individualism that makes it impossible to respond to the system. Paul reminds us in First Corinthians that the foolishness of this world is the wisdom of God, and vice versa.

It is unfortunate that we Church people favor the foolishness of this world over the wisdom of God. What does Jesus want to drive out of our churches? What does Jesus want to deconstruct so we can live? Begin with the list in the previous paragraph, because all that garbage walks in the front doors of our churches with us.

Add to that list our familiar mythologies in church – that we are nice, kind, welcoming people. That we are entitled to comfort when we experience the least bit of distress and that comforting us is God’s main business. That we center ourselves and our perspectives as normal, right, good, and true. That we are completely satisfied with ourselves and need nothing from Outsiders – although they are welcome if they want to assimilate and be just like us. That our church buildings are sacred and that we insiders are too.

That all seems like crazy talk to white church people. It’s a good way for preachers to be encouraged to find other employment. The white church as it is depends on both the cultural and the congregational mythologies to survive as is. But that won’t do if we are faithful followers of Jesus.

Following Jesus creates a world – and a church – under (de)construction.

So, is there any good news here? Yes, there is! It’s the same good news Jesus offers to his audience in the Temple. Tear it down and in three days I’ll build it up. Resurrection is the only Reconstruction that works.

Our mythologies of mastery murder people all the time. They have to go. Our systems of self-serving starve and enslave and erase people all the time. They have to go. What’s the good news?

They were built up. They can be torn down.

Following Jesus creates a world – and a church – under (de)construction.

This won’t get done in our lifetimes, or in the lifetime of the world. But it has already started. Jesus builds up the whole new world with his body. He is The Word made flesh. His body in the world is the Church!

Can we dare be consumed with zeal for the real house of God? That word is quite intentional, I think. Just as Jesus’ mortal body was all used up in the Resurrection of his immortal body, so our broken and failed churches can be used up in the construction of bits and pieces of that whole new world.

We need to do our own deconstruction. That means major tearing down of denominational and congregational power structures that keep white, male supremacy in charge. In spite of what some people might hope, this is going to be costly for those of us who have been in charge for a couple of millennia. But, as we heard last week, what can we give for the life of the world? Probably our own lives – or at least our own power.

Some of our white congregations are going to disappear no matter what we do. That may be true of some of our white denominations. Can we begin to transfer that wealth and land and power to Native, Black, Brown, Asian and other communities on the margins who have paid for our privilege with their lives and livelihoods Maybe.

At the very least, we folks in power have to talk honestly. We have to train ourselves so we are less dangerous dialogue partners and more resilient listeners. Even that would be a start.

Following Jesus creates a world – and a church – under (de)construction. Get ready for some tables to be turned…

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