In the past couple of months I have found myself responding to a new set of critiques. It has to do with the use of the word “Jesus.”
The first incident happened in response to a proposal for a new church start. One of the people reviewing the proposal noticed that Jesus wasn’t mentioned. A few weeks later I received some emails expressing concern that DOOR’s new website didn’t have enough Jesus language. This summer many of our DOOR locations are focusing on race. In light of all the violence committed against our brothers and sisters of color, it seemed like an appropriate focus. So far the major critique is that staff are not mentioning Jesus enough.
I take these critiques seriously. Today I spent some time reflecting on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). As Jesus is bringing the sermon to a close he makes a very interesting statement, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.”
Is it possible that Jesus doesn’t really care how much we do or do not use his name? If all we do is talk about Jesus, but don’t confront our neighbor flying the rebel flag, have we really done anything? Believing in Jesus is mostly about doing. Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words.”
I can’t help but wonder if the “Jesus police” take up their cause because doing something is too difficult. It is much easier to count how many times Jesus is used in a website or a sermon than to live as if black lives really matter.
The church has worked long and hard at separating Jesus from justice. This has helped to make Christianity accessible, individual, and nice. The problem with this separation is that it is not biblical. It is not possible to separate the story of salvation from justice. Talking about Jesus and ignoring justice is simply sin.
Have you ever found yourself passionately believing something to be true, but unable to convince others of your truth? Frustrating, isn’t it? I have found that the frustration level dramatically increases when talking about faith issues.
Faith convictions and beliefs tend to be sacred. Changing or adjusting these beliefs is often seen as back-sliding or drifting from the truth. Encountering people of faith who hold different positions while at the same time claiming to be “Christian” can be stressful. Why can’t they read the bible correctly?
Right now the denomination I am part of is in a fierce debate about ordaining gay and lesbian persons. There are entire churches and conferences talking about leaving the denomination. From their perspective a clearly discernable line of sin has been crossed. There is scripture to back this all up.
Equally as fascinating is the other side. The church is finally figuring out that all people should be included in the full life of the church. For them a clear line has also been crossed. Interestingly it is in the exact opposite direction, the church is moving from sin to righteousness. Like the other side they have scripture to back up their position.
What I have discovered in the various debates, discussions, and arguments I have been part of is the first person to say something like “Scripture clearly says…” wins the debate. To my embarrassment I need to own that I have used this tactic myself.
I think we use this tactic because as people of faith we desperately want Scripture to speak clearly to the big issues of the day. I am just old enough to remember when people of faith were convinced that rock ‘n’ roll was Satan’s music, or when drums in church, drinking, and smoking. I live in Colorado; currently there is a whole lot of conversation about marijuana. Believe it or not Jesus never addressed the subject of legal pot. What was he thinking?
Framing theological arguments in such a way that those who don’t agree with us are wrong is probably something people of faith need to avoid. It embarrasses me that church leaders so quickly move to absolute positions.
Learning to live with difference, even when that difference is seen as sin by some, might just be a sign of Christian maturity.
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My friend Steve did a funeral last week. The man was well into his 80’s. He died alone in his apartment and he was not discovered until the smell became overwhelming for nearby tenants. Other than Steve and some leaders from his church, no one else showed up for the service. As far as could be determined he had no friends or family.
I live in Denver, it’s a big city and there are lots of people. How does a person end up completely alone?
This is the season of Easter. Jesus came to bring us life. Living and dying alone hardly sounds like life. It sounds more like a living hell.
I remember as a kid hearing a poem about footprints in the sand. It talks about Jesus walking with us through all the ups and downs of life. It ends with Jesus saying, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.” I have always been moved by the idea of Jesus being present – no matter what.
Did this man sense Jesus’ presence when he died? I don’t know. What I do know is that Christians have been called to be Jesus’ representatives right here, right now. There is no evidence that any of Jesus’ representatives were present as this man died.
I am still struggling with what all this means.
I am convinced that no one should have to die alone.
Last week, I attended a gathering of urban church leaders. The afternoon session began with sharing.
The first pastor to share started with these words, “Jesus was a communist.”
It certainly got my attention. I do not normally think of Jesus in quite that way.
When I hear the word “communism,” I first think of Stalin. Some historians claim that this guy is responsible for killing more people than Hitler. Placing Jesus in this camp seems wrong.
But as the pastor started unpacking this idea, I began to wonder about Jesus’ political leanings.
Would Jesus have voted for the Democrat or Republican candidate? (This question by itself assumes a lot: Would Jesus have come to earth as an American? Probably not.)
Would Jesus have supported the Western ideas of capitalism and individuality?
As this pastor continued sharing, he reminded us that scripture has a bias toward the poor, the immigrant and the widow. He then went on to suggest that capitalism and individuality do not easily make space for the poor, the immigrant and the widow.
If we define communism as a system that puts the needs of the community ahead of the desires of the individual, then it becomes possible to define Jesus as a communist.
Jesus was known for putting the needs of others ahead of his own.
Jesus was known for including the outsiders and outcasts.
If being a Christian means being Christ-like, maybe we all have to become a little less capitalist and a little more communist.