Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year A
I had an evangelical conversation experience of accepting Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior when I was thirteen, and 1 Peter 2 played a significant role in my sense of what that experience was about. I was a pretty morose teenager; I wanted to think that things, that my life, MEAN something, were a part of something larger, and I really wasn't seeing what that something larger could be. 1 Peter 2 didn't give me very specific content about what that was either, but when I read that text at age thirteen, I got a sense that there was something bigger, something I could be a part of, something that would not only give me a sense of belonging, but a sense of meaning -- a sense of calling.
My sense of what that calling is and what it means has -- thank God! -- changed and deepened a great deal. When I was thirteen, I don't think I knew much about Jesus and what Jesus was about beyond that Jesus was calling me. But the more I understand about what Jesus' own work among us was and is, the more I understand the meaning of that call to follow Jesus, to be part of the Temple that has him as its cornerstone. My sense of my own call is embedded in my sense of what Jesus' call is. That's a very challenging and occasionally costly call, but there's a huge payoff: when my sense of call is most deeply embedded in Jesus' mission, then my sense of my identity flows more deeply from the identity I have in Christ.
And Jesus' sense of his own identity flowed completely out of his sense of God's identity. Who do you think God is, really? What is God most concerned about? And what does your life say about that? Here's the radical claim that Jesus made on the subject:
God looks like Jesus. God acts like Jesus. God is concerned about the things that Jesus' followers saw his actions address, all the way up to the Cross.
So what's God like? God is like Jesus, who will sit down with five thousand strangers -- prostitutes and Pharisees, Greeks and Jews, peasants and priests -- to share a meal handed from hand to hand, with no opportunities to check the purity of the kitchen where the bread was baked or the cleanness of the countless pairs of hands that got the food to you. God is like Jesus, who was reviled, persecuted, tortured, and executed, and yet spoke words of forgivenesss to his tormentors. God is like Jesus, who taught us that the kingdom of God would be ushered in not with the political and military muscle of kings and generals, but quietly raised from mustard seeds of touching the unclean, feeding the hungry, healing those bound by disease, inviting the outcast, reconciling enemies.
Even today, and even in many churches, that's a radical view of who God is and how God acts. I'd like to think that Christians' dreams of the future are more like The End of Poverty than like Left Behind. Anxiety and fireworks usually sell better, though.
Why is that? What would happen if we really took to heart Jesus' words, "believe in God" -- the God Jesus proclaimed -- and "believe also in me"? What would happen if we believed Jesus' message that the time of fulfilment for scriptures proclaiming good news to the poor, release to prisoners, sight to the blind, freedom for the oppressed, and the year of jubilee has come? What would happen if we believed that Jesus sent to come upon us the same Spirit which empowered him to feed the hungry, heal the sick, prophesy to the powerful, and proclaim God's kingdom? What if our lives proclaimed a God who is at work in the world as Jesus' followers saw him at work among them?
For starters, our age of anxiety might finally be able to take in Jesus' exhortation, "do not let your hearts be troubled." When everybody wins, the rats can stop racing. There's no sense in suing for property or privilege when the year of jubliee is at hand. The God who created the universe is at work in Christ, the Christ in whom we abide. God's kingdom, God's dream, is no fantasy; it's the most fundamental of realities.
If we believe Jesus, then we can stop saying "no way!" and live into the reality of Jesus the Way, until everyone God made and loves can tell the story of God's people as their own:
Once you were not a people,
but now you are God's people;
once you had not received mercy,
but now you have received mercy.
(1 Peter 2:10; Hosea 1:10, 2:23)
Thanks be to God!
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I love your Blog, especial your view of Jesus. We need to preach more about the Kingdom of God and how to help our fellow man. That’s what Jesus did.
Posted by: Garret Parsons | Apr 19, 2005 10:49:34 PM
You know how I feel about Christian instruction about the needs of the poor, so I won't bother repeating that here. I will say, however, that I'm very pleased to see you using the word evangelical. That's a term (and a concept) that we in the "mainline" Christian denominations need to reclaim.
Not only is evangelical transformation a powerful event personally, but it is given to us as a central part of Christianity universally.
Posted by: James | Apr 20, 2005 4:13:15 PM
Thanks again for your thoughts this week. I'm preaching on the movement from when we begin a faith journey (of almost any content) and it seems like it's all us that's doing it, works righteousness, Law and then after while we realize that it's not us doing it, that it is being done for us, through us, with us, (or some days for me--in spite of us), which is grace and the power and presence of the Spirit, etc.
On the ethical level its the movement from 'rule ethics' (doing the right thing, bringing about the right consequences) to 'virtue ethics', being the right person. In the former, action precedes being, existence precedes essence (Existentialism?); in the latter, being precedes action. It's who I am rather than just what I do.
"To do is to be" --Socrates
"To be is to do" --Sartre
"Do be do be do..." --Frank Sinatra
Posted by: Don Niederfrank | Apr 23, 2005 4:25:41 PM
This Sunday in church the preacher who was a divinity student skipped over John's Gospel entirely. I felt tremendously let down. I don't think that you can just leave something like that hanging. I think you *have* to address it. I think you have to talk about what "I AM the Way" meant historically in the 1st and 2nd centuries, because I think we need a bit of a history lesson to figure out what it should mean for us today.
Posted by: Abby | Jun 6, 2005 9:04:29 AM