Saturday, March 30, 2013

It's All About Jesus-- Isn't It?

When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  Paul the Apostle, 1 Corinthians 2:1-2.

Paul preached and taught that Christianity is all about Jesus.  And Jesus's teachings are centered around the "kingdom of God" with Himself as its inauguration.  When Jesus first came preaching the gospel at the beginning of Mark, He said, “The time has come, [and] the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:14-15. 

"The time has come" was shorthand in Israel for "The Messiah has arrived."  Jesus was saying that He was the Messiah, and because He had arrived, the kingdom ruled by God, rather than men, was near us, right here on earth.  This was the good news that people were to believe.  In Luke 4:14-19 He proclaimed in the synagogue that the verses about God's anointed coming with good news for the poor, healing for the blind and freedom for the oppressed, were fulfilled right then and there.

As N. T. Wright puts it in Simply Jesus:

Jesus behaves from the start both with the sovereign authority of one who knows himself charged with the responsibility to inaugurate God's kingdom and with the recognition that this task will only be completed through his suffering and death.   [Emphasis in original.]

And in the next chapter he says that after the Resurrection:

A new power is let loose in the world, the power to remake what was broken, to heal what was diseased, to restore what was lost. . . Jesus's risen person-- body, mind, heart and soul-- is the prototype of the new creation. . . The thing about the new creation is that it simply overflows with the power of love. . . [t]his love is strong, powerful, life-changing, life directing.  New creation has begun; and its motivating power is love.  [Emphasis in original.]

In Christian churches everywhere this weekend, the death and resurrection of Christ will be celebrated, because Christ is the center of Christianity. 

Isn't He?

Why does it seem so often like Christ is only the center of Christianity on Easter weekend?

Certainly if you asked average people on the street what Christianity was, what Christians were all about, "A bunch of people following Christ" would probably not be what they would say.  They'd be more likely to talk about stopping gays from marrying and women from having abortions, fighting for prayer and against evolution in the schools, and trying to keep crosses, manger scenes and copies of the Ten Commandments on display in public places.

Most people have no quarrel with Jesus-- in fact, they rather admire Him.  But a large number of people have real problems with the way we Christians talk and act.  And maybe it's because Jesus really doesn't seem to be at the heart of our religion at all.

The old creation lives by pride and retribution: I stand up for myself, and if someone gets in my way I try to get even.  We've been there, done that, and got the scars to prove it.  Now there is a completely different way to live, a way of love and reconciliation and healing and hope.  It's a way . . . that is as unthinkable to most human beings and societies as-- well, as resurrection itself.  That's the point.  Welcome to Jesus's new world.  N. T. Wright, Simply Jesus.

I think Dr. Wright is right (no pun intended) that the way Jesus lived, the way He taught us to live, is "unthinkable to most human beings and societies."  Maybe that's why we're so bad at living it.  Maybe that's why it seems so much easier to fight culture wars.  Maybe that's why it's easier to think of ourselves as "Bible-believing Christians" than "Jesus-following Christians."  The Bible is concrete: a book we can hold in our hands.  We can look inside its pages for instructions on how we and everyone else are supposed to behave and think, and we can try to enforce that in our world.

But Jesus said to the Pharisees, "You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." John 5:39.

The Bible was meant to point us to Jesus.  We Christians often act as if we think it's the other way around.

And we turn the New Testament-- a set of books made up of narratives, prophecies, explanations to Gentiles of what "the time is come and the kingdom of God is near" means in their own mindset, and letters of encouragement and advice to young churches, into a book of rules and new law.  And then we try to get our governments to enforce it.

I want to dedicate my Easter this year to returning to Jesus as the center of my faith.  I want to learn once again to follow Him, and no merely human agenda-- not even that of a church or churches in my country.

I want to recognize that trying to impose my morality on others from the government down (instead of trying to love them and come underneath them to lift them up, to meet their spiritual and physical needs), isn't what Jesus was talking about when He said "Follow Me."  I want to understand that it's not about just living my life as usual, either-- just going to work and coming home and cooking dinner and watching TV.  I don't know exactly how He wants me to do as He did-- I don't know exactly what that is going to look like in my life-- but I want to do what that beautiful song by Gene MacLellan from the early 1970s said:

Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water . . .
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea . . .
Take a look at yourself,
And you can look at others differently,
By puttin’ your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee!

This Easter I want to fall in love all over again with the One who said "Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom."  Luke 12:32.  The One who said, "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17.

Fellow Christians, I'm coming to realize that before we can change the world, our own world has got to change.  We have to abide in the Vine first, for apart from Him we can do nothing (John 15:4).  And if we do change the world, what we change it into needs to look a lot more like Him and a lot less like us.  And we need to do it according to His way of doing things, not ours.

And to my readers who aren't Christians-- I'm sorry.  I'm sorry that what you've been feeling from us has had so very little to do with what Jesus came to bring.

Maybe lately it hasn't been all about Jesus, for a lot of us.

But maybe it can be.

For I believe He is Risen.  He is Risen indeed.

1 comment:

Leanne said...

You've put into words what I was struggling to say yesterday in an online conversation about gay civil union vs gay marriage that always, always came back to the Book, the Bible, without regards to the context of that bit of scripture, or where a person was coming from-- that is, their context -- and ... I tried to say what you said, that God/Jesus is love and that should be our lens, but somehow I managed to dip my toes into the Book thing as well, despite my best efforts.... so thank you!

Practice will make it easier in the future, I think. Giving up the sola scriptura language of old is *hard*.