Posts Tagged ‘missional’

Silencing Fools

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

Yesterday Kim & I went and saw the movie “Easy A”, a teen romantic comedy about how model student, Olive Penderghast (played brilliantly by Emma Stone) earns the untrue reputation as the school slut.  Olive (like the movie itself) is inspired by the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel “The Scarlet Letter” and makes the most of the misunderstanding.  However, it brings upon her the wrath and judgment of her peers, especially the zealous Christians in the student body.  The movie was surprisingly entertaining, and not surprisingly all too quick to throw Christians under the bus with barely a smidgen of qualification.

At first, my impulse was to be frustrated with the portrayal of Christians in our culture.  While not entirely unfair, having seen almost explicit examples of similar behaviour in real life, it failed to leave any room for a more balanced look at the wider Christian community.  However, I resisted my impulse to go on the defensive.  Arguing against such stereotypes, regardless of how true they might be, is rarely productive.  Our culture needed a response, but grumpy tirades would certainly only reinforce those very stereotypes.  So what to do?

Considering these challenges, 1 Peter 2:15 came to mind:

“For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men.”

As the name of this blog suggests, I am deeply convinced that one of the strongest witnesses to Christ that the world can see are lives lived according to the radical teaching and example of Jesus.  Our best defense against accusation and critique, especially where it is warranted, is to live the better alternative.  In other words, if we don’t want people to say that all Christians are judgmental and self-righteous, rather than argue against it, we must seek to live lives of humility, grace and forgiveness.  We must be living alternatives to what the world sees and expects.

However, when I read this Scripture again, something caught my eye.  My assumption has always been that the “foolish men” referred to in the text are people in the world who accuse and denigrate Christians and Christianity.  While this may very likely apply to them, I suspect Peter was referring to something more.  What immediately came to mind was Jesus’ closing words in the Sermon on the Mount:

“But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Matt. 7:26-27)

Here we see Jesus linking not doing His will with being a fool, just as Peter points out that doing His will will silence the fool.  This parable is not to be understood as a teaching about the Christian (the wise man) versus the non-Christian (the foolish man).  Just like in the previous section of the Sermon where both sides call Jesus ‘Lord’, here both sides work for the same end, to build a house.  The foolish man is not someone who rejects Christ, but someone who seeks to claim Him as Lord without being faithful in doing so according to Jesus’ teachings.  It is like an Olympic high diver who chooses the lower diving platform or seeks to simply slip into the water from poolside, rationalizing that end is ultimately the same.  Jesus is referring those of His followers who seek the path of what Bonhoeffer calls “cheap grace”.

Therefore, perhaps Peter is not talking about accusers from outside of the Body of Christ, but rather those within the community of faith who do not represent Christ by their words and/or deeds.  They sully the name of Christ and His Church, stirring in us a desire to openly reject them, to distance ourselves from them.  However, if they are indeed our sisters and brothers in Christ, we cannot deny them.  As Peter goes on to say, we must “love the brotherhood of believers” (v. 17).  Rather, it is when we obedient hear the words of Jesus and do what He says- when we do God’s will by doing good- we will silence the fools.  Perhaps they will be silenced by the gentle rebuke of our example.  Perhaps they will be silenced in that those who see the Christian community will dismiss their foolishness as aberrant in the light of our faithfulness.  Either way, the way to silence such foolishness is to live faithfully according to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ.

How might this perspective change the way you respond to critics, both within and outside the church?  How does your ideals for following Christ differ from the reality of how you live your lives?  What next step of obedience do you believe God is calling you to follow Him into?


Gardening In Exile

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

What are you waiting for?

This question strikes home for me.  Over the last few years I came to the realization that I was unconsciously living my life in expectation for something to happen.  I lived with an inarticulate assumption that, someday in the near future, my life would change.  Somehow, I would be living to my fullest potential, I would more faithful in my relationship with God and I would be doing that which God had created me for (but had thus far not fully figured out).  It was all just around the corner and I was waiting for it to happen.  I thought I was alone in this assumptive state, but when I started talking about it I discovered that a lot of other people live with this same expectation.   Do you?

In Mark 5, right off the heels of Jesus demonstrating His authority over nature itself, He and His disciples reach the far shore.  Here is what happened:

“When Jesus got out of the boat, a man with an evil spirit came from the tombs to meet him. This man lived in the tombs, and no one could bind him any more, not even with a chain. For he had often been chained hand and foot, but he tore the chains apart and broke the irons on his feet. No one was strong enough to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.  When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!”

It is immediately interesting to me that the text says that Jesus got out of the boat.  While we can’t be sure, it seems to be saying that only Jesus got out of the boat.  I guess it is understandable.  After all, this man in this context represented the most unclean of the unclean to devout Jews.  This was not their land, not their people, not their concern.  However, I suspect it was the threat to their safety that most kept the men in the boat.  I suspect I would have responded much the same way.  Yet Jesus gets out of the boat and brings His Kingdom with Him.

I could not help but think of the prophet Jeremiah, that rather moody and dramatic Old Testament figure who warned the people of Israel about the consequences of their unfaithfulness.  His warnings proved true, with the people being taken into captivity in Babylon, a pagan nation far from the Promised Land that was given to them in covenant with God.  I can only imagine what they might have felt: fear, confusion, anger, vengeance, despair.  After all, that very covenant with God promised them that they would be a great people, through whom all nations would be blessed.  As long as they were slaves of these godless people in this godless land, those promises would remain empty and unfulfilled.

And yet Jeremiah brought them the word of God:

“This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:  “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce.  Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

The stunning impact of these commands should not be lost on us.  God called them to live out the covenant promises faithfully in the midst of Babylon.  More than that, God’s blessing of them would be linked to the blessing of their captors.  How easily might they have quoted the promises of cursing their enemies in the covenant.  Rather, God was reminding them of two things: first, that their captivity was result of their own unfaithfulness, not to be minimized in the hatred of their enemies; and second, that God’s blessing of all nations through His people was far more central to His ultimate intention.  (Notice the parallel Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where He powerful subverted the expectations of the people for a militantly liberating messiah.)

As individuals and faith communities, we all too easily fall into the same assumptions.  We live as though God’s will for our life might happen in the future, when things are better.  Once we get this or that set of circumstances worked out.  Once we are out of debt or have a better job or find that significant other.  Once all the ducks land in a row, then we will passionately live our lives for God to the fullest.  This is not to say we are completely complacent now (at least not all of us), but rather we find ways to accept mediocrity.  This acceptance is further encouraged as we look around and see others living with the same level of expectation.

Yet Jesus calls to live the Kingdom of God now, even in the midst of our circumstances.  After all, if He calls His people to thrive and prosper while they are slaves of pagan oppressors, I think our excuses fall quite short.  As I recently heard the following quote (from a VERY unlikely source):

“We live as though the world were as it should be to show it what it can be”

So the questions remain:

What are you waiting for?  What are we waiting for?

When we confront the struggles & weaknesses in our lives & communities, what are we waiting for?

When we consider the future and all that is possible, what are we waiting for?

When we imagine what God will do through in and through us, what are we waiting for?

“Choose this day whom you will serve” -Joshua 24:15

The Book of James – Part 8

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

In the first half of James 5, we are warned about the dangers of injustice, impatience and divided loyalty in the community of faith and in God’s Kingdom.  However, James goes on the show that, in the midst of our brokenness, redemption and love are the pervading reality.

“Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise him up. If he has sinned, he will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.”

Some Christians have taken this teaching to suggest that all illness can and will be healed miraculously through the prayer of the faithful.  Some even take it so far as to suggest seeing medical professionals to be a compromise of faith, thus invalidating the opportunity for God to work miraculously.  This idea is offensive, dangerous and insupportable through Scripture.  Yes, we believe that we should always pray for the sick among us, believing that God can and may miraculously heal them.  However, James is presenting neither a guarantee nor an admonition against seeing doctors.

Rather, when we read these words in contrast to the earlier challenge to be patient and long-suffering.  Not only were the early Christian communities often without the means to see healers, but their status as enemies of the Empire made it even harder for them to seek out such help.  To further highlight the problem, their unparalleled commit to serve  the needs of the poor meant that there was a much higher ratio of sick people (without means) in their communities and in their homes.  This radical hospitality is the root what later developed into hospices and then hospitals.  In the face of these challenges might have led some to withdraw from their commitment to the poor (thus James 5:1-6), becoming impatient with god and others (thus James 5:7-11) and even begin to bargain with God to free them from their circumstances (thus James 5:12).  In this light, the necessity on trusting God in the midst of such suffering an important reminder.  Our obedience must never be contingent on our circumstances.

It is important to note here how much our governments and other institutions have removed the need for Christians to practice such radical hospitality.  While we should be grateful for the benefits such changes afford those in dire need, we must never believe that this in any way diminishes our personal and grass-roots communal responsibility to those suffering injustice.  Both locally and globally, there is more than enough opportunity to embrace the radical hospitality that James takes for granted as being central to living the Christian life.  We have strayed from this central aspect of our vocation as the Church and must do all we can to recover it.

Like Jesus so often did, James links the healing of the body with the forgiveness of sin, reinforcing that God’s Kingdom, His shalom, concerns itself with the whole person (indeed, all of creation).  Therefore, while our physical circumstances do not change the obedience we are called to, neither should assume for a minute that those needs are any less important to our Father God than other more (so-called) “spiritual” concerns.  Such faithfulness is not just characteristic of the “super-elite” of His Kingdom.  After all, in this Scripture, James masterfully demonstrates this by calling the revered and honoured prophet, Elijah, “a man just like us”.  Again, he is not teaching us that, in prayer, God will do whatever we demand of Him (See Matthew 6:5-15 & James 4:1-3), but rather calls us to humble, submitted and deeply dependent faithfulness to God.

“My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”

For any who would suggest that James’ teaching is a call to moral perfection beyond human means, this section should silence that.  While in no way making excuses for compromise, in the face of the challenge he has mentioned and in light of the difficult demands of radical obedience, he knows that many will wander from the truth.  Be it through deception, immaturity, rebellion or some other factor, James acknowledges that our human brokenness makes such occurrences expected.  Again avoiding the empty and hypocritical posture of judgment, he calls us to approach these wanderers with humility, grace and love.  By beginning the sentence with “my brothers”, James is affirming that these wanderers are also our sisters and brothers, whom we should pursue with the same loyalty and devotion.  It is a love that wants only the best for them, hoping to save them from the consequences of their sin, consequences that we ourselves are only spared of through grace.

The Epistle of James is a book that has much to teach us about how we are to live in faith together.  So clearly rooted in the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, to ignore or minimize the import of what it teaches us is to ignore or minimize the call of Christ to His disciples.  Being a Christian is about actively following our Lord, submitting every aspect of our lives to Him- our beliefs, convictions, attitudes, actions, priorities and purposes.  Take some time this week to read through the entirety of James, perhaps twice.  Consider what it means for you and the community of faith which you are a part of.

Easter at Little Flowers Community

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

While this is our second Easter as a congregation, last year most people were away with family.  Therefore, we are really excited that this year will be having our first real Easter at Little Flowers Community. For those who aren’t familiar, every Sunday we come together for a potluck meal followed by a time of worship and teaching (which happens in the round in a more dialogical style).  After that, we generally hang out for the evening.  This year, however, we’ve integrated the meal with the service.  While a description can’t give you the full experience, I thought I would share an outline of what it was like.

Throughout the early afternoon, people begin to trickle in, usually with their contribution to the potluck in various states of preparedness.  Then the dance of cooking a half dozen meals in our small kitchen begins.  Others hang out in the living room/dining room, making conversation or setting the tables.  This week, we’ve managed to set things up so that up to 25 of us can sit around one “table”.  As 5:30 approaches, the house begins to fill with wonderful sounds and smells.

Once everyone gathers around the table, I stand and welcome them, opening the evening with a prayer.  After explaining how tonight will be a different, I sit and another person stands and reads from Isaiah 51:9-11:

Awake, awake, put on strength,
O arm of the LORD!

Awake, as in days of old,
the generations of long ago!

Was it not you who cut Rahab in pieces,
who pierced the dragon?

Was it not you who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep;
who made the depths of the sea a way
for the redeemed to cross over?

So the ransomed of the LORD shall return,
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain joy and gladness,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

We then raise our voices together in the Easter hymn, “Man of Sorrows”.  It is a traditional hymn, unusual for a church where the median age is 24.  However, it is deeply fitting on this occasion.  When we are done singing, another person stands and reads:

Rejoice, heavenly powers! Sing, choirs of angels!
Exult, all creation around God’s throne!
Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation!

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendour,
radiant in the brightness of your King!
Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever!

Rejoice, O Body, O Church! Exult in glory!
The risen Saviour shines upon you!
Let this place resound with joy,
echoing the mighty song of all God’s people!

For Christ has ransomed us with his blood,
and paid for us the price of Adam’s sin to our eternal Father!

Here I say the blessing over the meal:

God in our waking, God in our speaking;

God in our cooking, God in our eating;

God in our playing, God in our digesting;

God in our working, God in our Resting.

In a world where so many are hungry,

May we eat this food with humble hearts;

In a world where so many are lonely,

May we share this friendship with joyful hearts.  Amen!

And then we eat the meal.  Usually our potluck is a very eclectic collection of very random foods (which is wonderful), but this time we arranged for a more “traditional” Easter meal.  The conversation is always great, if perhaps somewhat atypical to your expected Sunday conversation.

As the meal finishes, it is here that I stand to led us in Communion.  The following is taken (and adapted) from a traditional Anabaptist service:

Sisters & Brothers, if we choose to love God before, in, and above all things, in the power of His holy and living Word, serve Him alone, honour and adore Him and henceforth sanctify His name, submitting our sinful will to His divine will which He has worked in us by His living Word, in life and death, then let each say individually: “I will.”

If we will love our neighbour and serve them with deeds of genuine love, lay down and shed for them our life and blood, be obedient to all godly authorities according to the will of God, and this in the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, who laid down and shed His flesh and blood for us, then let us say together: “We will.”

If we will practice mutual accountability with our brothers and sisters, make peace and unity among them, and reconcile ourselves with all those whom we have offended, abandon all envy, hate, and evil will toward everyone, willingly cease all action and behaviour which causes harm, disadvantage, or offence to our neighbour; and if we will also love our enemies and do good to them, then let each say together: “We will.”

If we desire publicly to confirm before this community of Christ this pledge of love which we will now make, through the Lord’s Supper of Christ, by eating bread and drinking wine, and to testify to it in the power of the living memorial of the suffering and death of Jesus Christ our Lord, then let each say together: “We will”

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Here we break the bread and share it among us)

“Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Here we raise our glasses and share the cup of Christ)

Therefore, Sisters & Brothers, let us eat and drink with one another in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. May God Himself accord to all of us the power and the strength that we may worthily carry it out and bring it to its saving conclusion according to his divine will. May the Lord impart his grace.

In the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit, Amen.

As we finish Communion, we sing our next song, “There Is A Redeemer”, followed by this reading:

This is our passover feast,
when Christ, the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates the homes of all believers.

This is the night
when first you saved our fathers:
you freed the people of Israel from their slavery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night
when the pillar of fire destroyed the darkness of sin!

This is the night
when Christians everywhere,
washed clean of sin and freed from all defilement,
are restored to grace and grow together in holiness.

This is the night
when Jesus Christ broke the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.

When the meal is done, we sing “Up From The Grave”, then someone rises and reads from Luke 24:1-10:

On the first day of the week, at early dawn, the women who had come with Jesus from Galilee came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.”

Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles.

After the final hymn, “He Lives”, we all rise for the Benediction:

Most blessed of all nights, chosen by God to see Christ rising from the dead!

The power of this holy night dispels all evil,
washes guilt away, restores lost innocence,
brings mourners joy;
it casts out hatred, brings us peace,
and humbles earthly pride.

Night truly blessed when heaven is wedded to earth
and man is reconciled with God!

May the Morning Star which never sets
find this flame still burning:
Christ, that Morning Star,
who came back from the dead,
and shed his peaceful light on all mankind,
your Son, who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

This we declare in the name of the Father, the Son & the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

We finish the evening with announcements (as every good church must have), then hang out for the evening as we share our dessert together.  I hope you enjoyed sharing the evening with us.

St. Patrick, the Cross & Missional Formation

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

As we make our way through this Lenten season, towards our celebration of Easter, Little Flowers Community has been meditating on the Cross and its formational work in shaping us into Christ’s Body, a missional-incarnational people together.  This past Wednesday was the Feast of St. Patrick, a man whose life powerfully displayed this pattern of cruciform devotion.  And so today, we spent some time learning from his life, discerning the fingerprints of Christ along the day.

Before going further, please know that I am not suggesting the following as a formula or rigid process, but rather a dynamic and fluid pattern that we see reflected throughout the history of God’s redeeming work among humanity.

Patrick was a Romanized-Celt who enjoyed a life of relative wealth and privilege in a northern district of what is today England.  While his father was a deacon & his grandfather a priest, Patrick showed little interest in the faith, enjoying instead the pleasures of youth.  His was a care-free life.  However, at the age of 16, everything changed.

Raiders from the northern tribes attacked his community, pillaging and killing many.  Patrick was one of many people captured to be taken back as a slave in the uncharted lands of what is now known as Ireland.  Faced with torture and death, the young man was forced to watch as others were beaten and killed on the long journey north.

For years Patrick served as a shepherd for a people he had previously dismissed as savage and inferior.  Now he was among the lowest of the low, valued far less than the livestock he was charged to care for.  As the years slipped away, so did his hope of escape and freedom.

Then, after six long years of servitude, Patrick received a message from God, promising that his freedom was at hand, miraculously providing everything he needed to return home.  Even a ship across the cold, enemy-protected waterways fell neatly into place.  And true to his vision, Patrick escaped freedom and returned home a changed man, humble and contrite and thankful to God.

And yet, truly transformed by the grace of God, Patrick obediently follows the call of Christ to return to the land of his captors as a missionary, engaging the people with a vibrant and creative authority rarely seen among Christian then (or since).  Today, Ireland owes a great debt to this former slave, as does the Church as a whole.  What can we learn from this profoundly moving story?

Patrick lived the life of his youth behind the pretense of wealth and privilege.  Like the plants & skins that Adam & Eve used to cover their own sinful nakedness, so to did Patrick cover up his own emptiness and need.  This Hidden Nakedness– something we all share- belied the true price that sin exacted upon him.  What masks do you wear to cover your own Hidden Nakedness?  What pretense covers up your own fears, doubts & failings?

The false security of Patrick’s life was shattered in the chaos of his violent abduction, reducing his wealth, privilege, education, status- everything!- to nothing in the face of this event.  Confronted with the fragility of his own mortality and the illusion of his own freedom, the young man was crushed in the face of suffering and death.  Here Patrick confronted the reality of The Cross in all its devastating reality.  Have there been moments in your life where the masks & pretense have been shattered through suffering or loss?  Have you experienced the real suffering of The Cross we are called to take up daily?

Death might have seemed a better option for Patrick, rather than facing the emptiness and indignity of been reduced to the lowest slave.  As the days turned to months and the months to years, everything in Patrick died away- his pride, his rights, his expectations, everything.  He was left in the emptiness of The TombWhen faced with Christ’s call to fully surrender your life to Him, what parts of your life to most resist letting die?  What aspects hold you back from truly entering The Tomb?  Why?

And yet, out of the emptiness was born a new, humble and contrite heart in Patrick.  When everything died away and he was left fully at the mercy of God, hope was reborn and way to freedom was made clear by His miraculous grace.  Patrick was touched by The Resurrection power of Christ at work in his life.  How has this work of Christ’s Resurrection manifested itself it visible ways in your life?

For most people, Patrick’s freedom would have been enough to demonstrate God’s character and power.  Most of us are satisfied with the saving work of Christ in our lives.  And why not?  It is the greatest reality of love and grace possible!  And yet, the Holy Spirit stirred Patrick yet again, filling him with the power, passion and purpose of Pentecost to become a missional servant among the very people who caused him so much suffering.  Has your Christian devotion largely stopped at the point of redemption and restoration?  How is Christ actively calling you to live Pentecost out in missional service to His Kingdom?

Again, this pattern is not a formula.  It is not a process of steps that can simply be worked out and completed for your own spiritual benefit.  It is the mysterious, but very real work of God through the power of Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecost baptism that is available- that is necessary!- for every believer.  It is not about an event where we “achieve” God’s will, but rather a journey we follow in becoming the very Body of Christ to the world.

Lord God, we come out of the darkness into Your presence, exposed in the brokenness of our sin.  Free of from the lies, excuses and pretences that keep us from standing in the purifying light of Your holiness.

Lead us daily to the Cross, even when every instinct and desire is to flee from the suffering it brings.  Help us to truly die to the selfish and narrow impulses of our hearts, relinquishing every right and privilege we hold onto.

Comfort us in the loneliness of the death we must embrace, broken and empty and wholly Yours.  Speak to us Your wisdom with Your still, small voice, quieting our souls in the silence of this necessary grave.

Bring us new life, Lord Jesus, as we share in Your wondrous resurrection, celebrating the promise of new life for all Creation. Bind us to You as a Groom to His Bride, and renew us and transform us together into Your image, Your Body.

Fill us and unite us and empower us with Your Holy Spirit, moving us with Your perfect will.  Lead us into all the world where we will become and live as Your Body, continuing Your mission to every living thing.

All this we ask in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,

Amen.

Of Gates & Fruit – SOTM Series (13)

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Part 1 – Setting the Stage

Part 2 – Beatitudes (1)

Part 3 – Beatitudes (2)

Part 4 – Salt & Light/Law

Part 5 – Murder/Adultery/Divorce

Part 6 – Oaths, Eyes & Enemies

Part 7 – Hiding In Plain Sight

Part 8 – The Lord’s Prayer (1)

Part 9 – The Lord’s Prayer (2)

Part 10 – Fasting

Part 11 – Don’t Worry, Be Righteous

Part 12 – Judging Others

Part 13 – Ask, Seek, Knock

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13,14

Once again, Jesus is pointing out to His listeners that follow Him is a singular choice- you either follow or you do not.  There is no third (or any other) option.  There is one Master and one path of obedience.  But what is this path?  Is the narrow path about doctrine?  Is it about developing an idealistic life ethic?  Of course these aspects are present, but this is not what Jesus is primarily calling us to.  He calls us to an uncompromising fidelity of love.  It is the single-minded faithfulness of a lover.

It many ways, a straight and narrow path is the easiest kind of path to follow.  The way is clear and direct.  Conversely, a wide and meandering path can leave much room for error.  It reminds me of the men who were canoeing down the southern end of the Mississippi River during flood season.  They were sure they were following the flow of the river until the floated past a mailbox and a stop sign.  The path had spilled so wide that it had not clear direction at all.

The straight and narrow is not difficult because it offers an impossible ethic to live out (for Jesus constantly leaves room for grace in the face of mistakes), but rather it is difficult because of what it costs.  Have you ever stood on the high board of the high dive at an Olympic sized pool?  Jumping off that height is simple- you just take the step.  Yet for most of us, we are crippled by uncertainty, fear and anxiety.  It is reminiscent of G.K. Chesterton’s words: “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting.  It has been found difficult and left untried”.  This is so because the narrow gate is the gate of the Cross of Christ, where everything is left behind and we embrace death in order to find resurrection life.

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:15-20

Jesus makes it clear that, as we seek to follow Him in obedience to how He calls us to live, there will be those who will seek to mislead us.  Unlike the cartoonish villains of pop culture, these false teachers will appear to one of us.  While their appearance will be that of a fellow believer of Christ, their hearts will have the intentions of a wolf.  Again, in this Jesus is reminding us that it is the heart that is the source of our character.

However, He also reaffirms that out of the heart our real natures will be made evident in our lives.  Just like a tree can be known by the nature of fruit it produces, so too does the fruit of our lives give evidence of what kind of person we are.  Fruit is the outward product of the inward nature.  But what are these fruit?  What are we to look for?  In the Sermon on the Mount we learn what such fruit is, especially in the Beatitudes.  In Matthew 12:32-34, we learn that our words are the fruit borne of our hearts.  In John 15, Jesus makes it clear that good fruit that is born from Christ within us will be characterized by sacrificial and selfless love.  Later, in Galatians, Paul describes the fruit of the Spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

All of these things together represent the fruit that we should look for in peoples lives.  However, like fruit that takes time to grow and come into maturity, we must not too quickly rush to judge people (remember this?), allowing instead for their fruit mature and become evident.  Jesus is not giving us license to become heresy-hunter or truth-police.  We must be careful and vigilant, but also patient and humble.  Only God can truly judge.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” Matthew 7:21-23

In these words, Jesus is again call us into the tension between right belief and right action.  He puts neither orthodoxy nor orthopraxy ahead of the other, but makes it clear that true obedience to Him will be reflect in both.  However, even when we believe right doctrine and live righteous lives, this is not enough.  Yes, we must confess with our mouths and believe in our hearts, but this is not suggesting allegiance to a moral, ethical or religious system, but rather to devotion to the very real God- Father, Son and Spirit.  God must know us, be in real, active and dynamic relationship with us.  He is a very present God who will not be satisfied by the most fervent devotion to His ideals.  He wants us to love and worship Him.

Of course, this will produce belief and righteous living.  However, Jesus makes it explicitly clear in the equivalent verses in Luke: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).  We must do what He says.  True belief- like truth- is fully manifested when it is incarnated.  Jesus is that incarnation and, as His Body, we are to be incarnational expressions of our beliefs.  We are not saved by our works, but faith without works is no faith at all.

This devotion must touch every part of our lives, both public and private.  No time or place is exempt from this radical call to absolute obedience.  It is the one path, the one gate, the one and only way.  It is Jesus Christ.

Judging Others – SOTM Series (12)

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Part 1 – Setting the Stage

Part 2 – Beatitudes (1)

Part 3 – Beatitudes (2)

Part 4 – Salt & Light/Law

Part 5 – Murder/Adultery/Divorce

Part 6 – Oaths, Eyes & Enemies

Part 7 – Hiding In Plain Sight

Part 8 – The Lord’s Prayer (1)

Part 9 – The Lord’s Prayer (2)

Part 10 – Fasting

Part 11 – Don’t Worry, Be Righteous

Having blogged for several years around topics of faith and theology, there is a phenomenon that occurs quite regularly that at the same time saddens me and amuses me.  Someone posts a particularly harsh critique of another person (or groups) theology.  That person/group respond by challenging them not to judge (sometimes quoting today’s text).  The critic responds that, when the critiqued tell them (the critic) that they are judging, by in turn are doing the judging.  The endless argument ensues about who is actually judging and who is actually “speaking truth in love”.  Usually neither party is doing the latter, but it still illustrates the often sticky reality of this portion of Jesus teaching.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)

As we have seen in the previous two chapters of the Sermon (Matthew 5 & 6), the righteousness Jesus is describing is His righteousness.  There is no merit in our own righteousness beyond that which is the reflected righteousness of Christ.  And we can only reflect that insofar as we are in loving and obedient relationship to Him.  Therefore, if the righteousness is not ours to boast, then who are we to judge others?  Why do we continually do so anyway?

There are many motivations that inspire us to judge.  Some do so in an attempt to boost their own moral position, to distract from our own failure to live up to the expectations of Christ, and to undermine someone we have identified as a threat, an enemy or a proponent of “bad theology”.  Some motivations are not so negative.  Some judge to root our legitimate sin, to expose corruption or to correct blatant moral and/or doctrinal failing.  Surely these issues need to be addressed?  Jesus is not suggesting that the legitimate concerns need be ignored.  Far from it!  Rather, He reminding us that, if we believe ourselves worthy of the role of judge, we are blinded to the reality of our own sin, brokenness and equal need of forgiveness.

Stanley Hauerwas writes:

“The disciples are not to judge because any judgment that needs to be made has been made.  For those who follow Jesus as if they can, on their own, determine what is good and what is evil is to betray the work of Christ.  Therefore, the appropriate stance for the acknowledgement of evil is the confession of sin.  We quite literally cannot see clearly unless we have been trained to see ‘the log that is in [our] eye’.  But it is not possible for us to see what in our eye because the eye cannot see itself.  That is why we are able to see ourselves only through the vision made possible by Jesus- a vision made possible by our participation in a community of forgiveness that allows us to name our sins”

Just prior to this portion of the teaching, Jesus said: “”The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness”.  Just as the single-minded devotion to Christ and His Kingdom is compromised by anxiety and attention on material wealth and stability, so to is it compromised when we seek to become the “morality police” for everyone else.  Why?  Because His Kingdom and His righteousness are defined quite clearly- to love God and love others.  Judging is left to the only one more qualified, the God of infinite grace and mercy.

Again, Jesus is not suggesting that we turn a blind eye towards sin.  Too many of us use this Scripture to avoid or reject necessary correction from the community of faith.  Rather it is the heart and the context of that correction that distinguishes it from judgment.  First, repeated the ever present theme of the Sermon, Jesus is pointing to the motivation of the heart.  We are not to judge out of anger, self-righteousness or impatience, but to correct with love, grace and patience.  Second, as Hauerwas makes clear, this correction is an expression of love born out of a genuine community of faith, where relationship with God and each other is our foundation.

Like the blog wars mentioned above, when we allow ourselves to be drawn into the endless cycle of judgment, we are ultimately treated the same way as we treat others.  The standard by which we treat others is the standard by which we will be judged.  The ramifications of this truth are staggering.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6)

Perhaps it is through over-familiarity with Scripture, but most people hardly pause at these words of Jesus.  And yet, when you consider them, they are incredibly harsh.  The loving Jesus of grace and mercy are referring to people as dogs and pigs?  What could He mean by this?

Jesus knew that, rather than judging people, we were to extend to them what we ourselves received.  That is, the undeserved grace of the Gospel, both actively proclaimed and demonstrated by His people to a watching world.  He also knew, however, that the fact that we do not judge (and instead love) was no guarantee that we would be well received.  Even in the face of generosity, hospitality, love, peace and grace, some will reject us, even scorn us and cast us out.  How then are we to respond?

Again, the temptation to judge would be most present (and seemingly, most justified).  Jesus makes it clear that we are not to do so, but rather to move on (Matt. 10:15).  However, when we see this verse in the context of the wider teaching on judgment, we realize that He is not calling these Gospel-resistant people dogs and swine. which would be a very harsh judgment in itself.  Rather, He is confronting us (again) with our own self-righteousness.  It is we who make the Gospel worthy only of dogs and pigs in our refusal to “shake the dust from our feet” and move on.

The very difficult tension between judgment and loving correction is not easy to navigate.  The complexity of correction and discipline in the church is very, very difficult.  Jesus is not laying out a comprehensive teaching on these topics in this passage, but rather reminding us that, in all things, we must serve in full humility and grace.  These must be the guiding lights when engaging these more complex issues.

The Lord’s Prayer (2) – SOTM Series (9)

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Part 1 – Setting the Stage

Part 2 – Beatitudes (1)

Part 3 – Beatitudes (2)

Part 4 – Salt & Light/Law

Part 5 – Murder/Adultery/Divorce

Part 6 – Oaths, Eyes & Enemies

Part 7 – Hiding In Plain Sight

Part 8 – The Lord’s Prayer (1)

Having established that in prayer, as in life, the priorities of God must be first and foremost for all believers- even before the basic sustenance of life- we discover that God is both Lord and Father, wanting to provide for our every need.

“Give us today our daily bread”

This simple sentence has baffled Christians for centuries, largely due to the use of Greek word that seems to appear nowhere else in Scripture or other Greek texts.  The writer, it seems, coined a term (yes, pun intended).  While we cannot get into the fascinating debates around the word “daily”, the general topic of the debate is very telling.  Is Jesus teaching us to ask only for the “bread” we need for each day as we face it?  The bread for the day ahead?  Just enough to survive or enough to be comfortable?

What is interesting is that, in this prayer, the request for our bread is the only explicit request for material provision.  This led many early theologians to suggest that Jesus was not speaking of actual food, but rather the Bread of Life, Himself, a foreshadow to the broken bread of the Lord’s Table.  While this might be a secondary interpretation, the later references to God’s provision at the end of Matthew 6 suggest that Jesus was primarily responding to the provision of actual food.  This affirmation of our physical selves- its care and sustenance- is critical in our understanding of God’s provision for us.

Again, drawing from the rest of Matthew 6, Jesus seems to be suggesting that the provision He offers is day to day.  While perhaps not explicitly a 24 hour period, the deeper meaning is that Jesus wants us to trust His provision, freeing us focus on Him (as opposed to storing up for our own survival) and on generosity and hospitality to others (as opposed letting our needs excuse us from charity).  This is a practical affirmation and commitment to living our the Great Commandment to love God and love our neighbours.  We can embrace this trust because He is our loving Father (Matthew 7:11).

Jesus also teaches us to prayer for “our” bread.  As His Body, even as we ask for our basic provision, we ask for all.  As we learned in the previous post, this prayer transcended the loyalties of family and race.  Our new loyalty is primarily to God and those who we now call brother and sister through His adoption of us.  Even after placing God’s priorities first, we are still taught to put aside self-interest for the great good of God and His people.  Consider what this means to the money you make from your job.  Despite the work we do to earn it, we recognize that God is the provider of all things, therefore even that is subject to the teachings of this prayer.  How do we spend, save, give?

As a collective prayer for His provision, we also see that we are not to be ashamed of our need nor proud of our wealth.  We must live together in such a way that those in need can ask without shame and those with plenty take no pride or even ownership, for all they have is God’s provision to His people.  This cannot and should not be enforced, as this must be voluntary act of free will, inspired by genuine love and familial devotion, not moral, legal or social obligation.  However, it should be our ideal.  How do we do this without being taken advantage of?  What does it mean to affirm the ideal, correct mistakes, yet refuse to enforce?  These and other questions are difficult, often the very reason Christians drifted from this kind of commonality.  However, they must be explored, tested and tried.

“Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors…  For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

Then, like today, people understood the power and bondage the came with debt.  However, unlike today, the penalty for failing to pay your debts was much higher, often resulting in forced servitude and/or imprisonment.  This was further underlined by the fact that usury- lending with interest- was forbidden to the Jews.  Today, debt is a way of life, taught to be acceptable, normal, even expected.  Yet, such debt forces us to make choices that limit our ability to submit to the priorities of God and His Kingdom.

Jesus is obviously talking about more than just monetary debt, likening sin and its bondage to that of debt.  Yet He also uses this word, I think, in order to demonstrate that sin is as tangible as debt (and may actually include actual debt), forcing us to look past private moral failings and examine the whole of our lives.  Without question, debt itself is seriously critiqued in this phrase and should therefore be among the first of the things we examine as Christians as we seek to truly and actively repent of the debts of sin.

It is also very telling to note the sequence of action in this sentence.  We ask for forgiveness, having already extended the same forgiveness to those in our debt.  Does this mean that God’s forgiveness is conditional?  It is not that God is offering a transaction to us- that if we forgive others, He will forgive us.  Rather, He is saying that to be forgiven by God requires genuine repentance and the truly repentant would not- could not withhold the grace that they themselves expected or received.  Not only that, but just as Christian died for us while we were still in our sin, so to must we learn to extend forgiveness to others even before they ask for it.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.”

Does God willfully or negligently lead us into temptation?  Since Scripture teaches that God will never cause us temptation, why would we pray for something already promised to us?  Some suggest that we should never take for granted the promises of God and therefore, even when we know He will not do this, we should still ask.  Others believe that rather than temptation, it is times of intentional testing that we are being asked to be spared from.  Both of these seem unlikely, given that the sentence goes on to ask for deliverance from our the evil one, who is Satan.

Rather, Jesus is teaching us to acknowledge our inability to stand against the enemy on our own strength or righteousness.  The enemy cannot be defeated without the intervention of the God on whom we are fully dependent.  The provision of that deliverance can take many forms, including the intervention of His people.  We must therefore look to those things in our lives that we are seeking to overcome alone and bring them to God and His people with trust and humility.

This prayer cannot be prayed without looking at the way we live our lives, individually and together as the Church.  The lines of this prayer presuppose a level of commitment and change already in place.  Jesus, therefore, is cautioning us against insincerity and hypocrisy in our prayers, especially in this most wonderful and demanding prayer.

Lord God in whom we are united as one Body, one family, sister & brother,
May Your name be made holy by Your Word & by the witness of us, Your people.
May Your Kingdom be established here and now,
May Your will be our first & most immediate priority, just as it is to the angels above.
Provide for us the essentials for life together and obedience to You.
Let the gift of Your undeserved grace for us overflow from us onto those who have wronged us.
Lead us on Your path, away from the empty promises & hidden snares of temptation.
Rescue us from every scheme of sin & darkness which would take us from that path.
For you are King, this is Your Kingdom and we are Your citizens & servants.
All we are, all we have & all we will do is by Your power and for Your glory alone,
In the past, in the present and in the future.
Amen+

Murder, Adultery & Divorce – SOTM series (5)

Sunday, October 18th, 2009

To understand the following section of the Sermon On The Mount (SOTM) we must, as usual, look at the section that precedes it. Jesus has just clearly stated that He has not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it. For Jesus, the law & the prophets are summed up in the Jesus Creed- to love God and love others. His radical grace is never a license to abandon His precepts. We cannot truly follow the law without becoming like Christ and cannot truly become like Christ if we ignore the law. They are critically and indivisibly bound together.

In Matthew 5:21-32, Jesus goes on to look at some of the hardest hitting issues that the law addresses: Murder, Adultery & Divorce. It would not surprise me if these issues were the bigger hitters of Jesus’ day and age. The righteous could stand firm against these issue with moral superiority because, for the most part, few of them ever had to deal with them. I wonder if those who did fail in these areas, like with today’s hot button issues, were a means by which others boosted their moral standing. Jesus, of course, makes no room for this technique:

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”

Jesus reminds us with powerful clarity that the law is not kept through external and explicit obedience to the prescribed behaviors and/or adherence to a set of prohibitions. Rather, we see that the bar has been raised significantly, requiring that not only are we to follow the law, but that the intention behind that law be written upon our hearts. The motives and attitudes that lie hidden in the secret places of our hearts and mind are exposed before God and it is there that the measure of our obedience is laid.

Sin literally means to miss the mark, suggesting that sin is more about what it has missed- what it has failed to be– than just the transgression itself. Murder is wrong because it fails to be loving, peaceful, gracious, etc. That is why, even if we resist the act of sin but fail to embrace the righteous and just higher alternative, we are still guilty of violating God’s law. We are not, ultimately, loving Him or others.

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift. Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

In the first section, Jesus demonstrates that the condition of our heart is the measure of our obedience and righteousness. In this section He goes even further, showing us that good works or obedience cannot somehow balance the scale. Given that we share very few of the rituals of first century Judaism, it is important for us to recognize how this applies to our context. Our worship, service, ministry, etc.- all critically important to our walk of faith- are to be put aside until we address the unresolved issues of broken relationship with God and others. This does not devalue those acts of worship, but rather demonstrates that reconciled relationship is the central expression of Christian worship. It is the grace in our brokenness that most glorifies God. As we’ve learned previously in this series, this is also an expression of our public witness to the world.

It is interesting to note that Jesus is not clear whether you or your fellow are at fault in the conflict. Jesus is less concerned with where the blame lies than He is on the state of the relationship. As we pursue true reconciliation, we must be brutally aware of and strongly resist our tendency to look for “percentages of wrong”. We are responsible for our hearts, thus making even the slightest failing our 100% of fault. No matter how much “more” the other person wronged us, this does not mitigate our own fault in the slightest. This might mean that we humble ourselves for a failing while the other makes little or no effort to take responsibility. Humility and repentance are painful and- obviously- humbling. (NOTE: I am not suggesting here that we let people get away with injustice. This is why the community at large must participate in correction.)

Again Jesus makes His summation of the law and prophets abundantly clear: our pursuit of righteousness (i.e. our sacrifice & worship) lack value as long as we ignore or participate in injustice (i.e. broken relationship with others). In other words, we cannot expect to love God while not loving our sister or brother. The barriers of sin between each are invariably the barriers between us and God. The two commands are inseparable. We often like to interpret John 15:13 (“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”) as being about literally dying for others (which is an important meaning). I believe, however, that Jesus is referring to our whole lives, including the simple, but costly sacrifices grace, humility, service and love.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

In perhaps one of the most brutally explicit commands against sin, Jesus’ words here are often read as dramatic overstatement. However, I believe that Jesus is being quite literal here. If any part of your body causes you to sin, then by all means, you should cut it off! Reflecting back on what Jesus has been teach thus far, we can see that He is remind us that sin is born of the heart, not the body. Our hands, eyes, etc. can never cause us to sin. We choose to do so with our will because of the condition of our heart. It is our heart that should be cut out and thrown away (not literal, of course, but referring to our mind, will & emotions). Again, Jesus points towards the Cross.

This is not easy task. Imagine how you feel when a fellow Christian calls you out on your sin. Even when done well, we most often respond with anger, denial and even counter-accusations. How much harder, then, is it for us to address the hidden and secret sins that lie in our hearts? If we are going to embrace these teachings of Jesus, we must be prepared face significant and painful humility and repentance.

“It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.”

First, while Jesus is addressing divorce here, it is not the primary focus of His teaching, but rather as an example to further illustrate the broader teachings of the Sermon on the Mount. So while we must pay close attention to these verses in respect to divorce, they cannot be used apart from wider Scriptural references on the topic.

In this section Jesus is addressing another abuse of the law that was all too common in His day (as it is today). The Jews were using the literal letter of the law to get out of certain marriages (often as a means to get into new ones). To use the law to justify selfish and sinful choices is to exploit God for our own ends. The laws about divorce were given to us to protect us and teach us to truly love God and others. For it to be used in such a way is a violation of the spirit of the law and thus the law itself, regardless of the letter of the law. Jesus was primarily addressing the sanctity of covenant, reflected in this example through marriage, but implicitly in respect to God’s covenant to His people. Again, the bar has been raised.

Following Jesus is difficult. While we want forgiveness of sin and the assurance of eternal salvation from judgment, we often fail to recognize that the free gift of Christ is costly. He has made a way for us to be saved, but it is through the suffering and death on the Cross. Further, the new life we find is no longer our own, but rather His. We are reborn into His Body, thus His to command. Adherence to this costly way of life is not an option for the especially righteous, but the standard by which we are all called to live. We can be humbly grateful that He is gracious and forgiving, as we continue to fail to meet this ideal. However, we must never allow His love and grace be a license to waver from this path of devoted submission.

Setting the Stage for Sermon on the Mount

Tuesday, September 15th, 2009

With the summer behind us, Little Flowers Community has decided to spend the next few months exploring The Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7). As a Mennonite missional community that follows a Franciscan way, an emphasis on this Sermon is fitting, as Anabaptist and Franciscan traditions both attempted to live life around this set of teachings. We are all excited to see where it leads us as a community. Before we started into the Sermon itself, however, I decided it might be a good idea for us to explore what preceded it for Jesus. And so, together we dived into Matthew 4. Here are a few of our thoughts on it.

  • The chapter opens with Jesus facing temptation (which we explored in detail in another sermon). We reflected that Jesus faced His temptation alone in the wilderness. Sometimes we can view resisting temptation as a social pressure or public witness. That is, we resist because we fear consequence from our peers and/or to maintain credibility of witness to a watching world. While these two aspects have their place, Jesus’ solitude in the face of His temptation teaches us that the temptations of in our hearts and in our private moments are most critical.
  • Soon after his temptation, Jesus goes out and, in the midst of his preaching of repentance, He calls His disciples to Him. Here we see that being a community of faith is no small part of the work of the Gospel. It is not incidental or a casual analogy that we are called the Body of Christ. As we die to the sins of our individual hearts, we are resurrected together as one, as His Body. To truly be an authentic community of Christ, we must be intentionally and consistently committed to submission- both to the Holy Spirit and to one another- not because we must, but because we love God and each other.
  • Jesus then continues on with His disciples and begins to proclaim the Gospel in word and deed, moving powerfully and miraculously in the Spirit. Through the authority of our righteous & humble lives, out of the context of a mutually submitted community, ministry is born. Each factor contributed to leading Jesus to preaching this significantly important Sermon, calling His people to a specific way of life together.

So, it is on this foundation that we are getting ready to dive into the Beatitudes this week. I am really excited about this series and feel as though the above ideas have really prepared us to move into it.

What do you think?


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