Obedience. We can tend to cringe a bit when it’s mentioned. Obedience is a term that carries a whole lot of negative cultural baggage. Throughout history, ranging from the oversight of families to that of nations, people have far too often used the idea of obedience to perpetuate harm on others. The idea of obedience has been used as a coercive tool to keep people subjugated, preventing people from realizing God-given freedoms of heart, mind, and action.
Yet, despite unfortunate connections, the idea of obedience is a lifestyle celebration of Word Made Flesh because of redemptive aspects related to it that we see in Scripture. We journey humbly with the idea, but humility notwithstanding we do believe that it is a core characteristic of living into a healthy God-following life.
The obedience that the world requires is often that of coercive subjugation which leads to superficial, external compliance based on the desire to avoid external difficulties and comes coupled with an internal sense of emptiness. However, the obedience that God offers as a possibility for our lives is a call to self-chosen internal commitments which can lead to a great many external difficulties, but provides an ongoing sense of internal purpose and fulfillment in the midst of oppressive situations and environments.
As I write this, I think of Jesus’ promises of bringing “life and life more abundantly,” (John 10:10) [as opposed to those who would steal, kill and destroy] and peace – “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27) Obedience to the call and guidance of Jesus Christ as communicated through the Scriptures and through the communication of the Holy Spirit in our lives holds a key to abiding internal joy.
Walter Brueggemann refers to this God-following obedience to Life and Love as “subversive obedience”1 and my friend William Apel refers to it as “transformative obedience.”2 They connect these terms of subversive and transformative to God-ordained obedience because such obedience can be contradictory to the desires of rulers of the world. Egypt did not want the Hebrews to leave their slavery, the authorities did not welcome Jesus’ message in his day. Thus, Peter and the apostles found it necessary to say, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” (Acts 5:29)
Today, because of the self-chosen obedience of Jesus to the plan of God even though that journey brought him to the experience death on a cross (Ph. 2:8), the Body of Christ around the world seeks to remember Jesus’ obedient sacrifice through the practice of Communion in various forms. In celebrating Communion, we celebrate the life of Jesus and we celebrate each of us choosing internal wholeness over the choice for external safety. We remember (we “re-member” – we bring ourselves together again and again) and redeem (we think again and think anew about) Christ’s brokenness through not forsaking the gathering together of ourselves around the idea that there is nothing broken that God cannot make whole. By the grace and power of God, self-chosen obedience in the footsteps of Jesus allows for hardship to become redemptive suffering giving possibility for new life to be birthed.
I love the God-breathed audacity that in ongoing hope of Resurrection we call the remembrance of the brokenness of Jesus’ body The Great Thanksgiving and that it is coupled with remembrance of the liberation of the Hebrews from Egypt. Truly the God of Life is amazing beyond words!
In this issue, you’ll read about one of our Artist Ambassadors who is an artisan bread maker. I so appreciate his heart and work. The imagery and efficacy of Communion, the Word Made Flesh, and Jesus being our Bread of Life broken from the foundations of the world who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Rev. 13:8) poignantly coalesces in the work of a bread maker.
The people of Word Made Flesh around the world seek to live according to the obedience that Jesus Christ exemplified in His own life as they see people grievously suffering bearing metaphorical crosses of sin, marginalization, suffering, oppression, poverty, derision…many tragedies of the both body and soul. Word Made Flesh staff seek to walk alongside and with people in solidarity and community, sharing the burdens of daily life (Gal. 6:2) as Jesus did so that Good News might be better made present for all people—especially those deeply burdened by the systems and structures of this world.
Obedience is etymologically related to the idea of both ‘hearing’ and ‘leaning toward’ (to hearken is one sense of this). One must allow oneself to hear the Word of God and then act on such hearing.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer offers a sobering call for us to be just such people for the sake of God:
“Who stands fast? Only the one whose final standard is not their reason, their principle, their conscience, their freedom, or their virtue, but who is ready to sacrifice all this when they are called to obedient and responsible action in faith and in exclusive allegiance to God— the responsible person who tries to make their whole life an answer to the question and call of God.”3
(Heb. 5:9, Rom. 1:5, 1 Peter 1:14 all encourage us in this direction) [language in above quotation made inclusive]
I pray that we all, each in our needed way, will seek to responsibly make our lives an answer to the question and the call of God and so therefore “stand fast” on behalf of ourselves and others. This is the obedience that we celebrate.
Executive Director of Word Made Flesh
1 Brueggemann, Walter. (2011) Truth-Telling as Subversive Obedience. Ed. K.C. Hanson. Eugene, Oregon: Cascade Books
2 Apel, William. (1998) “Who Stands Fast?” Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Thomas Merton on Obedience. ITMS Seasonal, v. 23, n. 2, pp. 3-10.
3 Apel, Ibid., p. 3.