• The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Eucharist

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    The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse and The Eucharist
    Brian Zahnd

    Like the other Gospel writers John recounts the story of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fishes to feed five thousand. But John adds this unique postscript:

    “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.” (John 6:15)

    The crowd’s response to this “table in the wilderness” was an impulse to make Jesus king…but Jesus declined. Why? Jesus is king, he came to be king, king is what Messiah means. So why does Jesus slip away from the crowd when they want to make him king? The issue is force.

    The crowd wanted to “take him by force and make him king.” At the center of the crowd’s concept of kingship was violent force. They wanted to force Jesus to be their forceful king so he could lead their forces in an uprising of violent force against the Romans. This was antithetical to the kind of king Jesus came to be. Caesar is a crucifying king who reigns by force. Christ is the crucified king who reigns without force. Christ’s kingdom is built upon co-suffering love, not violent force.

    The crowd that wanted to force Jesus to be king was operating from the dominant paradigm of scarcity. This is the paradigm that possessed Cain to kill Abel, and it lies at the dark heart of human civilization. We are scripted to believe that reality is zero-based and that we live in a closed system.

    This paradigm of scarcity and insufficiency is the philosophy that undergirds our structures of systemic sin. We fear there won’t be enough land, water, food, oil, money, labor to go around, so we build evil structures of sinful force to guarantee “us” “ours.” We call it security. We call it defense. We call it freedom. What we don’t call it is what it is…fear. Driven by our fear of scarcity we create an organized, large-scale, slow-motion version of anarchy. A mob on a looting rampage is called anarchy. One nation looting another is called glorious conquest — but it’s just looting on a grand scale. Kings are tasked with looting our enemies on our behalf.
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  • L’Chaim!

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    L’Chaim!
    Blindman At the Gate

    Water turned to wine
    The miracle is the time
    That it did not take
    For common to turn extraordinaire
    Tap water transformed to carménère
    Drawn from pots of ritual purity
    Taken to the master of the party
    Hints of plum and kingdom come
    Salute!

    In Nazareth he was called the carpenter
    In Cana he became a master vintner
    Sommelier said it’s a hundred point wine
    The miracle-worker did it without a vine
    A whole barrel of vintage year thirty
    Better than the best from Cape Verde
    All so the feast would not cease
    A toast to Mary for her idea
    L’chaim!

    We walked from Nazareth to Cana
    In the fall of my fifty-fourth year
    Talking Jesus all along the way
    Took us the better part of a day
    Every other store up and down the line
    A Christian selling some kind of wine
    Call it a entrepreneurial witness to—
    Jesus’ first miracle
    Cheers!

    Water turned to wine
    The mystery is the time
    It takes for my own transformation
    A slow and painful fermentation
    With a soul like crushed grapes
    I’m a dusty bottle in God’s cellar
    But the winemaker knows his craft
    He makes all things beautiful in their time
    Hallelujah!
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  • Grain and Grape

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    Grain and Grape
    Brian Zahnd

    In the mystery of the Eucharist God in Christ chooses to make himself present to humanity by ordinary elements. Through grain and grape we find Christ present in the world. But it’s not unprocessed grain and grape that we find on the Communion table, it’s bread and wine. Grain and grape come from God’s good earth, but bread and wine are the result of human industry. Bread and wine come about through a cooperation of the human and the divine.

    And herein lies a beautiful mystery. If grain and grape made bread and wine can communicate the body and blood of Christ, this has enormous implications for all legitimate human labor and industry. The mystery of the Eucharist does nothing less than make all human labor sacred. For there to be the holy sacrament of Communion there must be grain and grape, wheat fields and vineyards, bakers and winemakers. Human labor becomes a sacrament.

    A farmer planting wheat.
    A vintner tending vines.
    A miller grinding wheat.
    A winemaker crushing grapes.
    A woman baking bread.
    A man making wine.
    A trucker hauling bread.
    A grocer selling wine.
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  • What If Hitler Invaded Your House?

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    What If Hitler Invaded Your House?
    Brian Zahnd

    Lately I’ve been giving a lot of interviews on my new book A Farewell To Mars. It’s a semi-autobiographical confession of how I moved from being an enthusiastic supporter of war American style to proclaiming the peaceable kingdom of Christ. Since I’ve marched among the ranks of sincere war-endorsers for most of my life, I’m sympathetic with well-meaning Christians who believe in the way of Mars. I try to tell the story of my conversion honestly and gracefully. I level criticism, not at soldiers, but at myself. My aim is to take the reader on a journey where Jesus and war are examined in the light of an unencumbered reading of Scripture.

    But in a twelve minute radio interview there is little time for narrative and nuance. Instead, the interviewer usually leaps to what they consider “the heart of the matter.” In every interview I’ve been asked this question: “What would you do if Hitler invaded your house?” Well, it’s not exactly that question, but in every interview these two questions have come up: What about Hitler? What would you do if someone invaded your home? Hitler and home invasion. These are the two arguments that allegedly make the Jesus way of peace impossible. So let me address them. I’ll begin with Hitler.
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  • My 4th of July Prayer

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    My 4th of July Prayer
    Brian Zahnd

    Father God, Creator of heaven and earth—
    You have made all the peoples of the earth for your pleasure,
    You have appointed the nations of the world for your glory.
    As a people who have pledged allegiance to our Lord Jesus Christ,
    We pray today for the nation in which we dwell.
    We pray you would grant us to be governed by good and wise leaders;
    That we would be governed in such a manner that we may live in peace.
    We pray you help this nation strive for righteousness and justice;
    That your care for the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the alien—
    Would flow like a mighty stream through our nation.
    May we be a people of humility, generosity and compassion.
    May the weakest among us, the unborn and the unfortunate, the elderly and the ill—
    Be shown your justice and mercy.
    We pray that we who are the followers of the Prince of Peace and his kingdom,
    Would be a peaceable people seeking to live in peace with one another.
    We pray that hate and acrimony would give way to love and harmony.
    We pray that the church of Jesus Christ in our land would be found faithful.
    We pray that we would be a faithful witness to the kingdom of God;
    That the church in this nation would be a city set upon a hill;
    That the church in this nation would faithfully model the way of salvation—
    The way of following Jesus Christ.
    We ask all of this in the name of your Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
    Amen.
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  • Echoes

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    Echoes
    Brian Zahnd

    I’m trying to listen to echoes these days — the return of earlier sounds. I need to hear the distant echoes of an earlier Christianity. I am beginning to understand how important it is to maintain an ongoing conversation with the Christians who have lived before us. We must resist the tyranny of the present. If we ignore the echoes of the past we doom ourselves to an unrecognized ignorance. It’s only because of our connection with our technological past that we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every generation. Likewise, if we maintain a connection with our theological past we don’t have to reformulate the essential creeds every generation. When I encounter people obviously confused about the nature of the Trinity, I think, don’t you know we settled this in 325? Of course, they may very well not know! Or if they do know, they don’t care. They have no respect for the past. To them it’s just old — and old means obsolete. Which is, of course, a ridiculous notion peculiar to the modern era.

    One of the problems with contemporary revivalism is its egocentric obsession with the present and its woeful ignorance of the past. For too much of my life my idea of church history went something like this: The church started off great with Pentecost, jumped the tracks a couple of centuries later, got back on track with the Reformation, and really took off with Azusa street. The arrogance is appalling. It’s why most modern revivalist movements seem to follow this implicit dictum: Re-found the church and prepare for Armageddon. Contemporary revivalist movements always seem convinced that they’re the first generation to recover “apostolic purity” and the last generation before the return of the Lord. They misappropriate 1 Peter 2:9 as they brashly claim “we are the chosen generation.” Without a clear memory of church history we become the Alpha and Omega in our imagined self-importance. Christian amnesiacs could benefit from some echoes — the echoes of Athanasius and Aquinas, Irenaeus and Erasmus, Clement and Kierkegaard. The Holy Spirit has never abandoned the church. Every generation had those who heard and spoke what the Spirit said to the church. We should pay attention to their echoes.
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  • Bread on the Table

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    Bread on the Table
    Brian Zahnd

    The church in Western Europe and North America is struggling with deep disappointment. We are disappointed with the failure of the Christendom project. The grand attempt to produce a continent of Christian civilization through the apparatus of the state is either dead or dying. It appears that secularism has already won in Europe and will win in North America. So we either deny it (more easily done in America), or we angrily blame scapegoats (those we claim have “compromised the gospel”), or we simply trudge along, a bit sad about it all.

    The church in the post-Christendom world is walking the Emmaus Road. Confused and disappointed. Just like those two disciples on the first Easter. (see Luke 24:13-35) The original Emmaus Road disciples had misread everything. Their disappointment was a result of their wrong expectations. They expected a conventional king after the model of the Pharaohs and Caesars. They expected Jesus to be a war-waging Messiah like King David or Judah Maccabeus. What they ended up with was a “failed” Messiah — a Messiah executed by the Romans. The movement in which they had invested all their hope had failed. So they walked the Emmaus Road with soul-crushing disappointment. This is when Jesus came and walked with them “in another form.” (Mark 16:12)

    When Jesus in the guise of a wayfaring stranger remarked upon their evident sadness, the disciples told how they had hoped that Jesus of Nazareth was the long-awaited Messiah, the one who would redeem Israel. But that was all over. Their hopes had been dashed when their would-be Messiah was condemned by the priests and crucified by the Romans. Their movement had failed and disappointment had settled in.
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  • Armageddon Left Behind

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    Armageddon Left Behind
    Brian Zahnd

    Jesus is not a conductor handing out tickets to a paradise beyond the stars. Jesus is the carpenter who repairs, renovates, and restores God’s good world. Far too many American Christians embrace a faulty, half-baked, doom-oriented, hyperviolent eschatology, popularized in Christian fiction (of all things!) that envisions God as saving parts of people for a nonspatial, nontemporal existence in a Platonic “heaven” while kicking his own good creation into the garbage can! Framed by this kind of world-despairing eschatology, evangelism comes to resemble something like trying to push people onto the last chopper out of Saigon.

    Our looming Armageddons are always a possibility but never an inevitability. Armageddon is only inevitable if we listen to the propaganda that comes croaking from the dragons, beasts, and false prophets of nationalism, empire, and war. (See Revelation 16:13–16.) Jesus wept over Jerusalem because their fate could have been avoided. If they had believed in Jesus as the messianic Prince of Peace instead of a messianic Lord of War, Jerusalem could have actually become the City of Peace. Instead, they chose the path that led to a hellish nightmare of siege, famine, cannibalism, destruction, and death.

    Repairing the world. Healing wastelands. Laboring to make a dying world livable again. This is the vision of the apostles and prophets. This is the prophetic paradigm the people of God are to coordinate their theology and lives with. We are not to be macabre Christians lusting for destruction and rejoicing at the latest rumor of war. It’s high time that a morbid fascination with a supposed unalterable script of God–sanctioned–end-time–hyperviolence be once and for all left behind.

    A secret (or not-so-secret) longing for the world’s violent destruction is grossly unbecoming to the followers of the Lamb. We are not hoping for Armageddon; we are helping build New Jerusalem. We will not complete it without the return of the King, but we will move in that direction all the same. We refuse to conspire with the beasts of empire who keep the world confined to the death culture of Babylon. There’s always another Armageddon looming on the horizon, threatening to perpetuate the bloody ways of Cain and throw more Abels in a mass grave. But we are not to cooperate with that vision. We are to resist it. We are to anticipate a future created by the Prince of Peace through the very lives we live. We are to work in concert with Jesus Christ as he labors to repair the world.

    BZ
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  • A Farewell To Mars

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    A Farewell To Mars releases June 1. Here is a taste from chapter eight.
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    A Farewell To Mars
    Brian Zahnd

    Isaiah, in his prophetic poems, frames the Messianic hope like this: A Prince of Peace will establish a new kind of government, a government characterized by ever-increasing peace. Weapons of war will be transformed into instruments of agriculture. Swords turned into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks. Tanks turned into tractors, missile silos into grain silos. The study of war abandoned for learning the ways of the Lord. The cynic will laugh (for lack of imagination), but this is Isaiah’s vision. At last the nations will find their way out of the darkness of endless war into the light of God’s enduring peace. This is Isaiah’s hope. (see Isaiah 2:1-4; 9:1-7)

    Christians take Isaiah’s hope and make a daring claim: Jesus is that Prince of Peace. Jesus is the one who makes Isaiah’s dreams come true. From the day of Pentecost to the present, this is what Christians have claimed. We claim it every Christmas. But then a doom-obsessed dispensationalist performs an eschatological sleight of hand and takes the hope away from us. On one hand, they admit that Jesus is the Prince of Peace who has come, but on the other hand, they say his peace is not for now … it’s only for when Jesus comes back again. Bait and switch. Yes, swords are to become plowshares … but not today. For now plowshares become swords; in our day, it’s war, war, war! They abuse Jesus’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century by always applying it to the latest contemporary geopolitical events. They replace the hope of peace with an anticipation of war! They find a way to make war a hopeful sign. Think about that for a moment! And here is the worst irony: It was precisely because Jerusalem failed to recognize Jesus as Isaiah’s Prince of Peace right there and then that Jerusalem rushed headlong into the war that ended with its own destruction!
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