April 2018

The Problem with sui generis

It’s easy enough to pronounce: “soo-i-generes”. It sounds something like a hog call followed by the word “generous”. It means unique, radically different, singular, or “constituting a class alone”. The problem with sui generis is you can point to things that are sort of like it, but never quite finish the job. It is easier to say what sui generis isn’t than to say what it is.

Sui generis messes with what you hold to be true about the way things really are. It threatens to undo your view of the world. It is untidy, like a sloppy teenager who cannot be coaxed, bribed or threatened to clean up their room. Sui generis confuses by its otherness. We keep wanting to reduce it to something else with which we are more familiar, more comfortable.

I’ve never been one to throw around Latin terms. First, every foreign language I speak still comes out with a Pennsylvania Dutch accent. And second, the day when you could assume a common education in Latin is over. But occasionally, I can’t help myself, and that is the case here. Sui generis is exactly the word I need to talk about the resurrection of Jesus. It is an event without parallel and therefore difficult to pin down.

Every Easter it is the same thing. I want to speak about the greatest event in history, the miracle of all miracles, the decisive act by God that changes everything. I want to show people its relevance and urgency. But it never comes out like it should. I fuss and fume, aim, fire, and miss, set traps only to find the creature has escaped. In the end, I shut-up and point. I can only hope they see resurrection hope for themselves.

I am back this Easter trying again. Maybe this year I can be a better witness to God’s unique, one-time, singular victory over sin and death by raising his Son. Where do I get the audacity to keep trying? From two places. First from the New Testament stories themselves. I notice how uncomfortable, how unprepared, how unhinged are those first witnesses of the risen Jesus. If you think I look bad, check out Mary Magdalene or the disciples on the Road to Emmaus when they first encounter the risen Lord!

And second, from that wonderful Latin word that reminds me: if this is the greatest event in the history of humankind, then I should expect some stammering. I am living in the echo of this event, trying to make sense of what I pick up. Sui generis, baby! Deal with it! Over the next month of Sundays or so I will preach the implications if Jesus is risen. It is hard work wrestling with a sui generis and your sympathetic company would be much appreciated.

Pastor Lew

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