Saturday, May 28, 2011

Guerilla Christianity

Thanks to Rev. Gene Anderson, whose blog post introduced me to this idea of Guerilla Christianity, and (once again) the Reverend Kathleen Lambert, whose incredible insight and heart gave me direction for this sermon.

Gene's blog contains the link to the article I quote in the sermon.

1 Peter 3:13-22
Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil. For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you — not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.

John 14:15-21
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Acts 17:22-31
hen Paul stood in front of the Areopagus and said, “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things. From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him — though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’
Since we are God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

This is the word of the Lord.

Paul had been stirring up trouble. To anyone who has read the Book of Acts, this will come as no surprise; in the seventeenth chapter alone, by the time we get to Paul’s speech before the leaders of the city of Athens, he’d already been forced out of Berea and Thessalonica due to his habit of going and sharing the Good News of the risen Christ wherever he went.

And to be honest, Paul was only in Athens so that Silas and Timothy could meet him. His “handlers,” if you will, had deposited him there because it was a central location where the three of them could regroup and get back to the business at hand. The obvious course of action would have been to lay low, get some rest, and not cause trouble.

But did I mention that we’re talking about Paul here?

In Paul’s day, the residents of Athens were renowned for their love of things intellectual, and for their religious piety. I can imagine Paul walking the streets, and seeing, with every step, and with every corner he turned, another and another and another temple to this or that or the other god: gods for fertility, gods for good weather, gods to win battles, gods to prevent disease, gods to protect crossroads, gods to preside over the opening of doors, gods to preside over the closing of doors, and on and on and on.

Make no mistake, the temples were beautiful: brightly painted, adorned with gold and silver and marble, the idols within crafted by the best and the brightest artisans, no expense spared in honoring a given deity.

And, although he had been the most devoted of Jews before meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul had been raised in the Greek city of Tarsus, and was familiar with the ways of pagan worship.

Each temple had its own sounds, its own smells: in this one priests were chanting in unison, in that one a goat was being burned on an altar, in that other one someone was teaching a small group of young men, and in still another a poor woman knelt at an idols feet and wept. Here they were baking bread, there they were selling books, and in still another temple the prostitutes called out to passers-by.

Paul’s heart ached for these people as he walked, seeing all that energy going to waste on false gods which created false hopes, made false promises, promoted false ideals… what if all of that energy, all of that passion, were directed toward the true God?

And then it happened.

Paul walked around a random bend in some road in some corner of Athens, and stopped dead-still at a monument. It was a simple enough affair, yet no less beautiful than the grandest of idols he’d seen. Its inscription read, simply, “To an unknown god.”

Perhaps the idea had been to cover their bases, to have one more altar out there just in case the Athenians had forgotten to honor a given deity. But not for Paul. Paul, you see, was a Guerilla Christian, and like every good soldier, he was always prepared: looking for ammunition, for opportunities to advance the cause of the Kingdom of God.

This idea of Guerilla Christianity is not original with me. In fact, it is perhaps best described by Daniel F. Flores in an article for the Cyberjournal for Pentecostal-Charismatic Research. He writes, “Historically, the term “guerrilla” comes from the Spanish resistance tactic of using irregular soldiers to conduct surprise raids against Napoleon’s forces. Quite literally, a guerrilla is a “little war.” This is distinct from acts of terrorism, often committed in the name of God, which operate by inflicting senseless violence for the purpose of causing widespread fear and panic. Guerrilla soldiers are not the elite crack troops such as the Green Berets, Seals, or Rangers. They are irregular fighters - the peasant resistance of the war effort against interloping oppressors… They do the work until the professionals arrive, whether “twelve legions of angels” or “the armies of heaven” being led by one called Faithful and True (Matthew 26:53; Revelation 19: 11, 14). When the term guerrilla is applied to the New Testament apocalyptic, it describes an aggressive action… waged against the realm of the present cosmos by the irregular soldiers of the Kingdom of God.”

Guerilla soldiers make use of their specific skills, the terrain around them, and the existing resources to do battle against invading armies.

Paul used this monument, this altar to an unknown god, as a tool of Christian Guerrilla warfare, to make the case for the one true and living God, who doesn’t operate through idols of gold or silver or bronze or marble, who doesn’t demand sacrifices and chants, and who is not hidden, remote, difficult to discern, impossible to know, but who has reached out to humankind, redeeming them through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Now, I undertake the use of the term “Guerilla Christian” with some nervousness. Whenever we Resurrection People resort to the terminology of warfare, we run a great risk. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that in war, battles are bloody – people die, things get broken, lives are disrupted. While we honor our fallen soldiers on Memorial Day, it is always with the hope that one day, there will be no more war, no more caskets draped in flags, and no buglers playing “Taps” as sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers are lowered into the ground.

The Guerilla Christian operates differently than any other operative in any other army ever before. To continue with Daniel Florez’ article, “Guerrilla soldiers execute intermittent bursts of sorties to rescue prisoners and demolish the structures of the Enemy.”

The Christian Guerilla does not kill, the Guerilla Christian heals. The Guerilla Christian does not destroy, but restores. The Guerilla Christian uses the tools at hand to rescue the prisoners of despair, poverty, hopelessness – those who are the “lost,” if I may – and destroys the power structures that condemn and oppress, whether they be spiritual or physical.

Let me give you a couple of examples of what I mean by “Guerilla Christianity.” The first time I heard the term “Guerilla Christian” was from Reverend Gene Anderson, a Presbyterian pastor now residing in St. Petersburg, Florida. Gene has been a friend of mine for a couple of years. I first met him when he was pasturing a little church in Mississippi. That church let him go unexpectedly, and he not only lost his income, but he lost his health insurance and his home. For many months, Gene lived out of his car, trying to hold down odd jobs, trying to piece his life together, and in many ways only falling farther and farther behind.

The Reverend Kathleen Lambert, who I mentioned to you last week, literally came to Gene’s rescue. She gave him a job, working with a mission in St. Pete, gave him a place to stay, and it is not an understatement to say to you that Gene has since blossomed… no, that’s not right, Gene has exploded, finding every opportunity and using every resource to show the love of God to St. Petersburg, Florida.

So example one of “Guerilla Christianity” is the Reverend Kathleen Lambert, who saw Gene in need and was able to effectively and immediately fill that need with resources she had at hand: a place to live and something to do

But Gene is example two of “Guerilla Christianity,” and he lives that example every day. When a pregnant, homeless woman showed up at the St. Pete mission, which is called Missio Dei, he stayed with her, helping in labor and delivery, and finding her a place where she and her new baby could stay.

Just last week, Gene went to a Presbytery meeting with Reverend Lambert, and when lunch was over, and the kitchen staff said they had lots of leftovers, please everyone come get some to take home, Gene went into action, convincing the Presbytery staff to donate the food to him. Not too many hours later, the hungry, homeless people in Williams Park in downtown St. Petersburg were able to enjoy Ham and Turkey sandwiches, potato salad, cole slaw, apples, bananas, doughnuts and other pastries, eggs, fresh fruit, and more.

This Memorial Day weekend, we pay homage to men and women who died so that we could live in a land that is free and that has abundant resources. But resources without purpose are worse than wasted. As Resurrection People, how can you and I make use of the things we have at hand in a given moment to bring the Good News of hope and new life in Jesus Christ to a world which is sinking, every day, deeper into despair?

Make no mistake, when we do something as simple as listening to a hurting friend, something as easy as buying a hamburger for a hungry person, we are taking part in Guerilla Christianity, because we are helping to destroy despair, and immobilize hunger. When we pray for, or better yet pray with, someone who is seeking direction, someone who needs to respond to God’s revolutionary call to new life and eternal relationship through the risen Christ, we are laying siege to the final stronghold of the enemy, death.

This is no small undertaking, but we do not do this alone. As our Gospel reading affirms, we have God’s Holy Spirit within us, and as members of the Body of Christ we have one another.

We very likely will never find ourselves called, like Paul, before the city leaders, challenged to explain ourselves and the wild claims we are making for a new religion. However, we do find ourselves, every day, faced with new challenges and new situations in which we can bring the hope and love of Christ to someone we may not even know – like those homeless people in Williams Park in St. Petersburg, fed through the generosity of a Presbytery full of people they’d never met. So do we do what Paul’s “handlers” likely hoped he would do, blend in, don’t make waves, wait for someone else to show up and do the heavy lifting? Or do we stand up, get busy, and make a difference now?


  1. I thought I'd be asleep by now, so I didn't say I'd read this, but since I'm up, I think it is a solid and worthy proclamation. Only one sentence doesn't sit well with me:
    "Paul, you see, was a Guerilla Christian, and he was always at war."
    The end of that seems to define Guerilla Christian upon reading/hearing, and it doesn't mean "he was always at war." I think it would still get the point across with out that phrase, or if you feel it needs something after naming Paul a Guerilla Christian, I would say something like "he was always prepared." Just my 2 cents, beyond that I think it is something that needs preaching, and comes across without politicizing the subject (which is a risk with the term).

  2. I agree with Keep Setting on that one sentence.

    Also, I think you've done a great job of setting the boundaries within which action should be taken. It isn't the tools of war we use. We have to use the tools of love. And that is truly radical - a guerilla weapon that has the power to reshape our communities, our nation, and our world.

    In addition to love, another weapon in Paul's arsenal is reframing for the Athenians who that no-name god is. Reframing is a powerful tool for someone working with others who can't see another way. Used with love, it can work miracles.

    I don't think you're out there at all. I think you're proclaiming a powerful word. No fear! No worries!

  3. KeepSetting and Barb, I thank you for your guidance. I fixed the sentence to read, "Paul, you see, was a Guerilla Christian, and like every good soldier, he was always prepared: looking for ammunition, for opportunities to advance the cause of the Kingdom of God."

    It's that kind of attention to detail that helps me be a better preacher. It's deeply appreciated.

  4. Well written. I do not find it "scary" at all. In fact, I feel motivated to seek and find the kinds of opportunities Paul and Gene found.