Dallas and I had a very brief visit last week from a longtime friend (our friendship dates back to high school, college to present day). He’s writing a book and, for some reason, wanted to talk with us about our walk toward a career focused on overcoming the injustice of Bible poverty—that’s another blog for another time.
Revisiting a period of our lives from 30+ years ago was surprisingly refreshing (who doesn’t like talking about themselves!). After he left, Dallas and I reflected on the comfort of those relationships we made in those early years, and that we still treasure.
The walk through these memories and decisions we made that still shape our lives today, while refreshing, served also as a reminder of a sometimes tumultuous period of our lives.
Our talks last week circled around the messiness of life, including our walk in the way of Jesus—as his followers—the example he was for us. His teachings are summarized in Matthew 5, 6, and 7—commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Whether or not an actual sermon or a collection and summary of his teachings isn’t important to me. What’s important is to see how he lived-out these teachings in his everyday life.
While we don’t often hear the life of Jesus described in these terms, one way to look at it is through the lens of civil disobedience whereby he and his disciples systematically violated Jewish traditions that only helped to oppress people, totally transforming the concept of what holy life looked like. In light of God’s purposes, which is life and teachings clarified, he called for a continuous cycle of self-examination, repentance and correction.
Jesus rejected extremes. He “rejected the Zealot strategy of war and the Essene strategy of withdrawal from the corrupted world, instead choosing a third path—the nonviolent path packed with redemptive significance. His sacrifice would be the supreme mark of divine compassion.”*
As an example of what I am trying to illustrate, the early believers, for example, practiced a holistic ethic in which the Lordship of Christ applied to all of life. Because Jesus cared deeply about economic justice and feeding the hungry, they began a program of food distribution.
But human nature doesn’t die an easy death—racism and discrimination are a part of our old nature and we have to constantly be vigilant and repent of it—just as the early church did. It showed up quickly “…as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts of the Apostles 6:1 NLT) Ouch…
God does not show favoritism, and neither should we. (Romans 2:11 NLT) (Acts of the Apostles 10:34 NLT) The good news is meant for all men, women and children—for Communists and capitalists, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative. The implications of the way of Jesus extend from racial justice to economic justice to peacemaking and to global community—it is a holistic call for repentance.*
“I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (Matthew 25:35-36, 40 NLT)
Joel Hunter pastors Northland Church here in Orlando and often says, “God always uses us for the sake of others…” And it’s messy. For all of us who follow the way of Jesus…these choices are never easy…
*A Thicker Jesus: Incarnational Discipleship in a Secular Age by Glen Stassen