Posts Tagged ‘gospel of Jesus’

JAMES 2:1-10 (11-13), 14-17

My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?

You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12 So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. 13 For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17 So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

“Money talks,” the old adage goes. It doesn’t very often tell the truth, perhaps, but it holds a persuasive power that can be nearly impossible to resist. Just as today, the church in Jerusalem had tended to tilt in favor of the wealthy over the poor, giving them best seats in the house and more volume to their preferences and complaints. Even back then, ministry was supported through congregational stewardship, and the biggest givers frequently got the largest votes.

Thankfully, behind church politics and denominational greed there is the charter document of the Gospel, which tells the story of Jesus whose words on the accumulation of wealth and the societal division between the rich and the poor are anything but sympathetic to our temptations toward money. Jesus consistently came down on the side of the poor against those whose lifestyles, social prejudices, and religious self-justifications perpetrated abuse and neglect on the backs of the disadvantaged majority.

Since those with money often put forward the capital investment to fund the church’s mission to the poor and others in need, it is sometimes (mistakenly) believed that the investors are more important to her ministry than the beneficiaries. Which brings up another question: As church property and the technology of ministry become increasingly expensive and elaborate, what becomes of our responsibility for the humble poor?

JOHN 6:56-69

56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

What happened that so many of those who claim to be Christians actually become opponents of Jesus’ original vision and way of life? How is it, for instance, that we erect multi-million-dollar church buildings in the name of one who charged his disciples to go out into the world with “no bread, no bag, no money in your belts” (Mark 6:8)?

How did it happen, and when exactly, that we traded a moral vision of universal and unconditional love for a heady and dogmatic orthodoxy? Where did we begin to convert his simple ethic of sacrifice on behalf of the poor and compassion for the outcast into a middle-class morality of  mail-order charities and government programs? When you put it all together like that, it becomes painfully obvious that the so-called Christian West (especially North America) has betrayed Christ more than any other people.

As many of the others were abandoning Jesus for a more manageable religion, Peter declared his allegiance to the difficult path. “Lord, where else could we go? You are giving it to us straight, so I’m with you, come hell or high water.” Peter recognized that his devotion to Jesus and to the cause of the gospel was not about his personal comfort and dogmatic security. In a moment of clarity he understood why he was standing there with this Galilean visionary on the edge of history. Jesus represented real life, and Peter was wanting nothing less.

JOHN 6:56-69

56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

A friend once commented to me how this passage, and in particular John 6:66, reveals a truth concerning the anti-christ – about the one who turns against Christ. Instead of referring to some apocalyptic figure on the future stage of world politics, the real anti-christ is what inside ourselves pushes away the gospel’s total claim on our lives.

We may attach ourselves to a local faith community, give assent to the key beliefs of our tradition, and carry on as decent law-abiding citizens. As long as our religion helps us cope with the stresses of postmodern life and guarantees our beatitude in the life to come, we are willing to stay with it.

But should the deeper message and challenge of Jesus’ gospel break through our defenses, we complain with the disciples, “The teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” We would rather worship Jesus on Sundays than follow him devotedly throughout the week. To identify ourselves so completely with the example, the spirit, the mind, the gospel, and the revolutionary vision of Jesus – “Who can accept it?” we murmur, and turn away.

And that is precisely when we turn against (anti-) Christ. It’s not in hostile acts of aggression but by subtle dissociation that we become enemies of the gospel. The more of us that exempt ourselves from having to “eat the flesh and drink the blood” of Jesus, that is, who pass off the call to discipleship because the personal sacrifice is too great or the challenge of forgiveness demands too much, the more significant a barrier we become, individually and collectively, to the present realization of his vision.

PSALM 89:20-37

20 I have found my servant David;
    with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 my hand shall always remain with him;
    my arm also shall strengthen him.
22 The enemy shall not outwit him,
    the wicked shall not humble him.
23 I will crush his foes before him
    and strike down those who hate him.
24 My faithfulness and steadfast love shall be with him;
    and in my name his horn shall be exalted.
25 I will set his hand on the sea
    and his right hand on the rivers.
26 He shall cry to me, ‘You are my Father,
    my God, and the Rock of my salvation!’
27 I will make him the firstborn,
    the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 Forever I will keep my steadfast love for him,
    and my covenant with him will stand firm.
29 I will establish his line forever,
    and his throne as long as the heavens endure.
30 If his children forsake my law
    and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31 if they violate my statutes
    and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
    and their iniquity with scourges;
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
    or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant,
    or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once and for all I have sworn by my holiness;
    I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall continue forever,
    and his throne endure before me like the sun.
37 It shall be established forever like the moon,
    an enduring witness in the skies.”

David had known the providence of God in a personal way during the time he was a shepherd in the hills outside Bethlehem. And after he was anointed by the prophet Samuel and eventually became king of Israel, his perception of God’s hand on his life rarely dimmed. No doubt, David suffered bouts and seasons when the divine seemed far away or event antagonistic – witness the many psalms of anguish in the Bible – but in the long view he carried within himself an assurance of God’s ever-present and faithful love.

It may well be that David’s personal experience and faith was the germinal source of the Bible’s belief in an unconditional covenant existing between God and the royal throne. The earlier Mosaic covenant was more conditional, promising prosperity and divine favor to the people so long as they continued in obedience to the commands of God. Notice how the language of the Davidic covenant, on the other hand, is expressive of a unilateral promise on God’s part. “I will not remove from him my steadfast love” and “I will not violate my covenant” are not dependent on David’s moral performance or reputation. God will be faithful and will forgive – no matter what.

Jesus would later expand this notion of God’s unconditional love to include all people, a teaching that got him in trouble because it breaks down our walls of division.

EPHESIANS 1:3-14

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, 12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; 14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

When we finally see the truth of the equation between the glory of God and the fulfillment of creation, the gospel of Jesus takes on new dimension and power. Upon closer look, we begin to notice how focused he was on awakening the deepest potentialities of the human spirit. His concern was not for doctrinal orthodoxy or ritual purity, but for the full realization of our intended maturity as creatures made in the divine image.

The author of Ephesians believed that in Jesus the Christ, as the glorified New Man, we can see the intended destiny of every human being. We can see the grace of God in the way he lived and loved, laying the path of salvation through the redemptive power of forgiveness. In his willingness to put aside his individual impulse for self-preservation so as to release the creative energy of unconditional forgiveness into the violent and fear-based systems of our fallen world, Jesus revealed what the human being is capable of by God’s grace.

He did everything with a self-transcending reference to what he called ‘the kingdom of God’, which is simply a political metaphor for the depth, power, justice, and joy of genuine community. In following the path of the gospel, we enter more and more into the fullness of our divine potential as human beings. Through our love in community, God is glorified in the highest degree.

MARK 6:1-13

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

In our day and age, evangelism has become a serious industry, with seminars on how to do it, techniques and methods on sale for doing it successfully, pamphlets and books on why we need it, and a thousand gimmicks for making it attractive and worth the money.

Contrast this with the evangelistic strategy that Jesus laid out for his disciples. He didn’t advise them to set up a booth with flashy giveaways to anyone who would stop and listen. It wasn’t about getting people to come to church. They were simply to go out into the world in pairs, without money, food, or supplies, and rely completely on the occasional hospitality of a host or hostess. Once invited in, they were to proclaim the good news and minister to the sick and possessed.

No large assemblies. No rallies or crusades. Just a quiet infiltration by the back streets of the world, moving steadily from one house to another, from one town to the next, until everyone had been touched or seized by the holy love of God.

Not everyone did respond with acceptance, however. But Jesus told his disciples not to dwell on the naysayers. It would serve no one in the end to browbeat resisters into emotional submission. “If they refuse to hear you, shake off the dust that is on your feet” and move on. It would be worse still to seduce acceptance through the offer of some gimmick or cheap promise.

Tragically, evangelism today is often more about the benefits and door prizes than it is an invitation to die and be reborn. Evangelism is bringing to the world a love, a message, and a hope, the response to which is nothing less than forsaking all and following in the way of the gospel.

2 CORINTHIANS 6:1-13

As we work together with him, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For he says,

“At an acceptable time I have listened to you,
    and on a day of salvation I have helped you.”

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; 10 as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

11 We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you.12 There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. 13 In return—I speak as to children—open wide your hearts also.

As we discover the unique powers and talents that God has given us, we become aware also that exercising and investing them can open us to significant risk. What if David had kept his stones in the bag for fear of embarrassment should he wind up but miss his target? What if, for fear of being skewered and squashed by the giant, he had ducked out behind the tents of Israel and cowered with the rest of them? The impulse for self-preservation is strong in all of us, and the risk of losing our standing, our reputation, our control, our security, or our life can sometimes be enough to keep our spiritual gifts tucked away and out of sight.

The Christian community in Corinth had apparently become a hideout for some who didn’t want to expose themselves to the chance of falling victim to shame, blame, or hardship of any sort. Paul’s exhortation for them to “open wide your hearts” saw their rational precaution for what it was – rationalized fear. The apostle wasn’t bragging, but his short list of troubles and persecutions suffered at the hands of the world was the experience behind his testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace. He had taken many risks – some of which we might consider imprudent and foolhardy – in his devotion to the gospel, and was intimately familiar with the dangers of being a Christ-follower. And yet, he insisted, Jesus never promised us a safe haven.

JOHN 17:6-19

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. 10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. 11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. 12 While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Early Christians were “resident aliens” in the Roman world of their day. In the opening decades they were known as “followers of the way,” the gospel-way of life as proclaimed and embodied by Jesus. As far as appearances go, these Christians didn’t necessarily look any different from your average Greek, Roman, or Jew. And they shared with everyone else many of the basic needs for security and success in this world.

The difference came in the matter of significance, where life’s ultimate value and meaning cohere and find their ultimate reference. For the rest of the world (we’re obviously speaking in generalities – a dangerous thing to do) the ultimate reference of life’s significance was (and still is) in the authority of the tribe or state. Fashion – what all the others are thinking and doing and wanting and wearing – dictated one’s priorities and set the standard for “the good life.”

Under the influence of the gospel of Jesus, and with his spirit inhabiting their hearts and community, the Christians detached their devotion from the power of fashion and transferred their loyalty to a “higher power.” As their energizing ideal, the kingdom of God provided them with new priorities, and with new values to support those priorities. And because they refused to simply step in line and turn the gears of politics, economics, and religion-as-usual, the world could not control them.

As it had hated the good news of Jesus – liberty for the captives, sight for the blind, hope for the poor – when he had proclaimed it, the world now hates his disciples who courageously carry on in his name.

JOHN 10:11-18

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”

We have been reflecting on a deeply profound early Christian perspective on what we might call the larger identity of Jesus. According to this view, the human being whose feet left prints in the sands of Judea two thousand years ago was also the embodiment of the grace of God which transcends time itself.

It’s important we see this as a deeply creative and metaphorical way of interpreting the higher meaning of Jesus, rather than taking it as a literal description of fact. The “fact” is, there was and is a mystery connected to Jesus that simply defies all attempts to contain it with definitions and doctrines – however orthodox.

In John’s Gospel, the association between Jesus and God (as son and father) is so close and intimate that Jesus is frequently portrayed as the visible act of God’s will and the audible word of God’s voice. It is not God who raises Jesus from the dead, as in the other New Testament biographies, but Jesus-God who takes up his life of his own accord. These are not two separate beings, but two aspects of the One Being – the visible and the invisible, the temporal and the eternal, the particular and the universal.

To look at Jesus, then, is to regard him as the “door,” the “way,” or the “light” through whom the disciple is invited to pass into the abundant life and joy of the Spirit. There is no need to make an exclusive claim on behalf of Jesus, of the kind that must render all other revelations without substance or validity. Instead, by having our devotional focus trained and refined through the lens of Jesus’ gospel and living presence, we can have our vision thrown open to the grace that is everywhere present and always available.

And the way through, once again, is love.

JOHN 20:19-31

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

On Easter evening when Jesus first appeared to his disciples, the storyteller says that they were in a house with the doors locked – “for fear of the Jews.” The following week Jesus came to them again, but this time we are told that the doors were only “shut,” not locked. Is it possible that we are witnessing something of a gathering force in this troubled circle, a dawning realization that they are not alone, that a greater power is available to them and even now present within them? They may not be quite ready to go out on their apostolic missing in the world, but this small clue seems to suggest that the disciples of Jesus were getting past their fears.

On both occasions, the first words of Jesus are “Peace be with you.” What is this peace of which Jesus speaks? More than just the absence of trouble or the extinguishment of anxiety, this peace is nothing less than the fulfillment that comes with the vision, the taste, and the joy of wholeness.

For the past several readings we have been exploring the key elements in the formation and health of community – and community (Jesus called it the “kingdom of God”) is the Bible’s most perfect picture of wholeness. Trust among partners, supported by the individual faith in the gracious ground of the divine; fidelity to the ideals and covenantal aims of their life together in relationship; a compassion that flows out of a deeper identity and inspires their mutual care and help; along with the forgiveness that allows them to rise above guilt and blame and recapture the hope of their shared future.

At last, the long ascent of our human spiritual evolution had reached a place where all the necessary ingredients for real peace were present and accounted for. Now it’s up to us.