Jesus Creed 24 – Reaching Out in Jesus

Posted: October 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 24 – Reaching Out in Jesus

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 9:36-11:1; 28:16-20; John 20:21.

Love has arms that reach out — always.

That’s the opening to this chapter and it challenges immediately. We do not get any easy outs as Christians. We are called to do the impossible. We are called to make our enemies one of us by embracing them with arms open wide. We are not allowed divisions of race or nationality or ethnicity or gender. As Christians, we declare a new humanity — a humanity in whom Babel is overthrown.

Fortunately, God does not leave us to our own devices to accomplish an impossible task. He gives us his grace, which is to say himself. He has become one with us and in and through Jesus he pours himself into humanity, and particularly into those who cooperate with the power of his grace. We are called to act in love, even when we feel anything but loving. But we are never left to love on our own.


Jesus Creed 13 – A Society of Transformation

Posted: September 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: The Jesus Creed | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jesus Creed 13 – A Society of Transformation

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord you God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind, and with all your strength.
The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.

This is a series of reflections on Scot McKnight’s book, The Jesus Creed: Loving God, Loving Others. It’s a book I unequivocally recommend for anyone. Each chapter opens with recommended Gospel readings. The readings for this chapter are: Matthew 6:10, 11:28-30; Luke 17:20-21; Mark 3:31-35.

This section begins with the point that your goal shapes your journey. You have to know where you are going or you can get lost.  Jesus, too, knew where he was going, and he had a term for it — ‘kingdom of heaven’ (malekutha shamayim). This expression of Jesus provides a goal for his followers and, by living out that vision in heart, soul, mind, and strength, life is transformed.

Thus we should be a society of transformation. Are we, though? Scot has this interesting bit.

But what does he mean by ‘kingdom’? Ask a Christian ‘What did Jesus mean by ‘kingdom’?’ and you will get something like this: ‘heaven, eternity, life after death.’ Or, you might hear: ‘heaven on earth, the millenium, a perfect world, a paradise.’ (On my unscientific questionnaire, the responses are about fifty-fifty.)

His ‘unscientific’ poll strikes me as exactly right. That does seem to be how most people view the term. Scot has a lot in the book developing his thoughts, but the below captures part of his conclusion.

So, if ‘kingdom of God’ is so important to Jesus, what does it mean? I offer this thumbnail definition: the kingdom is the society in which the Jesus Creed transforms life. Three parts here: first, it is a society; second, the content shaping that society is the Jesus Creed; and third, the impact of the kingdom is that it transforms life.

A society is certainly one term, an entry point if you will, into the reality we call the church, but I don’t believe it captures its fullness. The church does break down all human divisions — it heals Babel. But I would call it less a society than a restoration of communion between human beings. I will say that where a larger society or culture shaped by the Jesus Creed exists, it transforms both those within and those who come in contact with it. If the society, whether labeled ‘Christian’ or not, is not shaped by the Jesus Creed its impact is negligible or even harmful. We have plenty of examples of both of those from history.

I will note that in my own journey toward Christianity, I was neither uncomfortable with what I believed (I wasn’t seeking something different), nor did I have an unsettled opinion of Christianity and Christians in general. Rather, it was the actions — the love — I saw and experienced from various Christians over time that led me initially to wonder if my judgment of Christianity had been premature and unfair.

Scot continues with this important insight.

It is important to understand that for Jesus the kingdom is about a society. Jesus did not come merely to enable specific individuals to develop a solo relationship with God, to run about on earth knowing that they, surrounded by a bunch of bunglers, were the only ones getting it right. No, he came to collect individuals into a big heap, set them in the middle of the world, and ask them to live out the Jesus Creed. If they live out that Jesus Creed, they will be personally transformed, and they also will transform the society around them.

Think about that. If it were all about individuals and God, there would have been no reason to amend the Shema, would there? It already covered that, didn’t it? Are we proclaiming and living the kingdom? Or are we returning to something like the focus of Israel under the Shema? That’s something to think about. I will, however, note that Jesus’ own language goes well beyond that of societal relationship. His language is that we be one with each other as he and the Father are one. That’s why I think a communion is a better word for the Kingdom than a society. But the point remains — this is not a faith for individuals. It’s not just about God and you.

The kingdom would be a society that is transforming life in the now, and that’s the extraordinary thing about Jesus. At the time of Jesus, it was not hard to find Jews pining for, pondering over, or planning for the kingdom. It was impossible to find one who believed that the long-anticipated kingdom was already present. Of all the radical claims Jesus made, this one stands the tallest: ‘The kingdom of God does not come visibly … because the kingdom of God is [right now and here] among you’ (author’s translation). Jesus’ saying- satchel is full of radical comments, but this tops ’em all. Jesus believes the kingdom of God is present. This can mean only one thing: he expects his followers to live in the kingdom in their daily lives — right now. Thus, a spiritually formed follower of Jesus lives the values of the kingdom now.

Do you agree? Or disagree? This is a central question, not a peripheral one. How you answer determines how you perceive the faith, Jesus, and everything surrounding it. Obviously, I see it much as Scot McKnight does. I get the sense that much of the church today does not. He does point out that Jesus says the kingdom begins by turning to him. So it is personal and relational. It begins by turning to him. But it doesn’t end there. “Kingdom transformation continues by following Jesus.” Scot has a lot more to say, but that captures it. Turning to Jesus is the start, but if you refuse to follow him, it doesn’t mean all that much. He talks a lot here about Jesus’ yoke as compared to the Torah-yoke and that’s a really good part of the chapter.

But it doesn’t even end there. The Kingdom transformation is only sustained by communion. Those fellow believers are the holiest objects presented to your senses. As flawed as they are, as often as they will fail you, they are the only thing that will sustain you in the faith. If you do not spend time with them, you’re in trouble. Pure and simple.

As a family they learn from Jesus about this new transforming: about boundary-breaking table fellowship, about forgiving one another, about financial responsibility for one another, and about equality within the family of God. What they learn most is the upside-down nature of the kingdom istself: instead of acting with power, his family serves one another. And, instead of living in self-absorption, his followers love one another. In other words, they live out the Jesus Creed as a society –and when they do, life is transformed.

Do we do that? Really?

The kingdom is the society in which the Jesus Creed transforms life.

In other words, that place where God’s will is done as it is heaven, even imperfectly.

Nothing else transforms life.


Original Sin 11 – God & Israel

Posted: March 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Original Sin | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Original Sin 11 – God & Israel

Obviously, an exploration of the arc of the narrative of Scripture, even when trying to focus on a specific topic, could go on forever. I still have a good bit to explore in this series after I finish my “quick” look at the narrative, so I’ve narrowed this part of my series down to three more posts. These three posts will primarily shift over to the prophets. The prophets are an intriguing bunch. They were given a message from God to proclaim on behalf of God. And often that involved not just speaking it, but living that word in and through their bodies. When we look at the prophets, we get some of the clearest pre-Incarnation portraits of God in terms we can understand.

Yesterday, I explored how God’s rescue mission for mankind turned when God called a people for himself. And God’s relationship with that people can tell us a lot about his attitude toward all mankind. After all, the people of God are ultimately intended to spread through the nations like yeast (as Jesus notes), heal Babel (as we discover at Pentecost), and bring all peoples into the one people of God (as we see especially in Paul talking about the Church).

I’ve listened to many different Protestant denominations speak about God and man as informed by their perspective on the doctrine of original sin as inherited guilt. And that perspective seems to require that God not only condemns mankind for their inherited guilt, but is ‘separated’ from man. A common image is one of a gulf or chasm between man and God. There seems to be this sense that unless you are repentant and “covered” by the blood of Jesus so that God can’t actually see you at all, but can only see Jesus, then God is repelled by your sin, condemns you, and is probably pissed off at you.

But does that really describe God? I would submit it can’t describe God as revealed in Jesus of Nazareth, since the entire Incarnation denies it. God draws completely near to us. He becomes one of us. And he seeks out the unrighteous and the unholy. In fact, that’s one of the complaints levied against Jesus, that he eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners. But that image of God is not just denied in the Incarnation. I noted earlier in the series that God has always drawn near to us in the story of Scripture. And once he calls a people, he continues to draw near despite their unfaithfulness.

The clearest picture we see of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the face of her unfaithfulness is Hosea. Hosea is told by God to go marry a prostitute, love her, build a family around her. And when she returns to prostitution, laying with other men, he does not leave her in that state. No, Hosea goes to her, buys her back, and brings her home once more. Yes, Gomer suffered the consequences of her own actions. Their children also suffered the consequences of her actions (as told by the story of their names). But there is no sense that Gomer is judged for inherited guilt. And she is ultimately not condemned. Hosea redeems her, rescues her from the conditions in which she has placed herself.

So it is with God and Israel. God calls a people. And they remain his people. He draws near to them before they were his people and he keeps coming near to them even when they turn from him. Ultimately, of course, God comes completely near by joining his nature with ours in Jesus of Nazareth. This God doesn’t easily align with the image of a God who attributes the guilt of ancestors to descendants. It’s my observation that people tend to end up with some pretty distorted ideas about God when they try to simultaneously hold both images of God in their heads. There is just not sufficient correspondence between the two narratives.


Pentecost – The Healing of Babel

Posted: June 8th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Pentecost – The Healing of Babel

I keep finding in Orthodoxy not a new perspective, but rather a tradition that says things that have long been my perspective. Father Stephen’s post on Pentecost is but the latest example. This arc of the story had always seemed obvious to me. The narrative of “fall” ends with the tale of Babel and the dispersion of man into nations who stand against each other and who speak with different tongues. That’s immediately followed by God calling a man to form a people and the long story of the people of God culminating in the faithful man, the faithful Israelite, Jesus of Nazareth. In him, God then forms one people from the nations exemplified by the healing of the division of Babel at Pentecost.

In Father Stephen’s post I read that that has always been the way the Orthodox Church looked at it. Further, they extend it to the healing of creation.

Thus the trees.