One wonders if there isn’t one of these parked at the entrance of ” heaven’s gate “, or on the front porch of that mansion with many rooms. We are led…maybe not led, coerced into believing that an absolute positive outcome on the belief meter is what gets you ” in.”
What’s the pass mark going to be? I don’t know. I would assume 50% would just being lowering the bar to much. Heaven forbid, that low, someone could trip over it and accidentally fall in. But, I’m sure you can imagine the hooting and hollering, and high-fiving on the “right side ” of the divine gated community, and the jeering and laughing at the folks that will have to take the elevator down to the eternal fire in the basement of existence.
You read the gospels and you wonder, ” how in the heck did we come up with a faith that has such an emphasis in absolute belief. If anything Jesus mission was not about belief. ( You might want to read that again really slow ) It wasn’t about what you must believe or how you must behave in order to get “in ” heaven. Rather his mission was about the character of God, away of centering in God, and the Kingdom of God. It was a mission far more concerned about ” living ” than ” believing.”
From the outset after Jesus has collected his band of ” Divine Nobodies“, his rag-tag band of ” Ragamuffins” he doesn’t head to a classroom in the local synagogue for a three year course in Hermeneutics, Epistemology…the proper way to cook lamb on an altar. He took his disciples on the road, into the wide open spaces of their world, their neighborhoods not to construct a new religion around a whole new set of rules…but to rediscover a simple faith of living and becoming fully human.
The first place Jesus takes his disciples, he immersed them into the midst of life, the wedding at Cana. It was a microcosm of the world, there were friends, family, the town…the black sheep of the family, weird uncles, all the little family clicks…and all the messy dysfunction of real life. It was the good, the bad and the ugly. And just when the party starts to fizzle out, Jesus makes wine, gallons from water…new wine poured extravagantly into the midst of life. It wasn’t ” certain ” guests that received this extravagance…the ” in ” crowd, the ” correct ” believers…it was for everyone, all you had to do was accept it. Many likely started rubbing their eyes in disbelief as to what was going on. You kind of couldn’t put it in words. Whatever truth came out was from simply living in the moment.
Jesus had to reboot peoples imagination to what the character of God really is. After God being out of the picture for some 400 years, the proprietors of religious goods and services ( aka Pharisees, Scribes, Priests, Religious Scholars ), sort of cherry picked through the old texts and came up with a God that…well, lets say, served them quite well. Here you might insert many proprietors of the religious goods and services of our day.
It was the God that was pretty well disgusted with us, really couldn’t bear to look at us. The only way we could get close to him, even in the tiime of Jesus was to create a smoke-screen. It was buying your pound of flesh from the temple priest ( yes I think they sold it by the pound ), and throw it on the temple BBQ and create enough smoke that God couldn’t see you.
It seemed the only people this God liked was the religious proprietors of goods and services and if you wanted God to like you, you bought what these salesmen sold. It was a life in which the average person lived while being tethered on a short leash to the temple. It was life dictated by rules, and amendments to the rules, and amendments to the amendments. It was living life as a ritual, eating off a menu where the content never changed.
It was also a God that didn’t seem to give a crap about the poor, the homeless, the marginalized, the oppressed; the sick, lame and blind…another faith, an outsider…a foreigner. It was a God who likes the people we like. And there was no getting around it, God had his favorites…he loved some, and hated his enemies. It was the prosperity God, the God of investments…if you put 10 danari in the temple offering basket Sunday, God gave you double or triple back Monday morning.
It’s not hard even to look around us today and see that this is the same God many churches project into the world. But Jesus, becomes God in the flesh and bones, the God-man and moves into the ” hood.” This is the God who doesn’t need a smoke screen to draw a curtain between himself and humanity. This God moves right in, no, he jumps in heads over heels into the messiness and brokenness of humanity. He doesn’t wait for an invitation, for people to repent…shave their heads, wear sack cloths and roll around in ashes. He invites himself, to eat with, to drink…to rub elbows with the sinners, the outcasts, the marginalized. Simply he is a friend of sinners. This is the God of extreme, scandalous grace and love. This is the God that says love your enemies. This is the God that says never tire of forgiveness. This is the God that tears down all the fences, the walls and barriers that are erected in the midst of humanity. This is the God who says the profound reality to abundant life can be found in something as small as a Tweet, ” Love God with absolutely everything you have, and Love your neighbor the same way ” #extreme love @God.
This was the character of God that Jesus came to reveal…a God a world away from the god the proprietors of religious goods and services were selling. But, a God that was infinitely and intimately close to humanity…camped in the midst of the worst of it.And what’s this mission of God. Well we get a really good idea from where Jesus pitched his tent. He was camped out on the extreme fringe of society…it was with the people of no worth. It was the sick, the lame, the blind, the oppressed, the poor, the homeless, the sinners…on the ladder to success these people were stepping stones for others to reach that first wrung. This was the God of the Old Testament prophets that continually tried to reboot the imagination of humanity to justice, and mercy…for the very people Jesus camped out with. This missional strand of justice weaves itself through the whole story and is connected the very DNA that is the reality of Jesus’ life. These prophetic words still echo down the corridor of history…
“The Lord is exalted”, proclaims Isaiah. ” He dwells on high; he filled Zion with justice and righteousness.” ( 33:5 )
” I am the Lord ” announces Jeremiah in the name of God. ” I act with steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight.” ( 9:24 )
Again Isaiah, ” Is such the fast I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and lie is a sack cloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this fast that I choose; to break the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? ( 58:5-7 )
From Micah, ” He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. ( 6:6-8 )
Lastly from Amos, ” I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. ( 5:21-24 )
This is the essence of the ” Kingdom of God ” stuff…it is the very heart-beat of the Gospels, and Jesus life pulsated with passion for the Kingdom. God’s mission is establishing the Kingdom of God, on earth as in heaven.
And lastly Jesus came to show us how to center our lives in God…Jesus called it abiding. You sense in abiding that it is effortless, you just had to rest in the profound reality that Jesus is…simply as branch on a tree. Life comes from Jesus, pure and simple. I love Jesus encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well and her struggle of trying to get it right…of connecting with God. Do we need to go to some mountain, or do we need to go to the temple? She is asking God standing right in front of her, Jesus, ” how do I do it right…give me the formula?” Jesus says it simply doesn’t matter, it is about doing it, living life in a spirit of truth…these are the people God is looking for.”
I don’t know how we read the gospels and come up with the idea that Jesus came to make us believe. That somehow he came to pound the ” word ” into us. Profound as it seems God came to reveal the ” word ” to us not by writing it out on a scroll, or in a book…but by making the word ” flesh ” and placing it in our midst. I know that for a lot of people absolute belief is important. We need doctrine, we need creeds…we must have a statement of faith. It’s not that I don’t believe them, I just don’t believe in them in the same way. I am not willing to waste my energy, and exhaust myself fighting to get people to believe. I don’t think Jesus was about belief…I think Jesus was about living. The more and more I read the gospels I find something ” beyond belief .” I find something that must be lived, something that must be discovered. Jesus said, ” follow me.” One thinks if he wanted mere belief he could have just set up shop like the rest of the proprietors of religious goods and services. But it’s only in following Jesus into the midst of the world, our neighborhoods, the inner city…and love our neighbor as much as we love God. It’s in this divine redemptive reactive interaction I find truth…something I can believe in beyond mere words.
In the gospels, I find the greatest story ever told, I am consumed by Jesus and it’s cast of characters. It is truly beyond belief, but yet I know for certain, without out a doubt if we dared live the story in our own lives the world would change. It is in this incredible profound mysterious truth that I have come to believe…this incredible power and redemptive imagination that creates new possibilities. I don’t believe in the simplicity of doctrines…I believe in the greatest story ever told…”all” of it. If you want to know what I believe, it is the whole gospels, and only as much as I live it. The world will know Jesus not by what I say I believe, but by how I live. So please don’t ask me simply what I believe anymore…because I’ve moved some where way beyond that.