by Christine Sine.
August on Godspace is a month for learning from the life of Jesus. Isn’t that what Christianity is all about you may ask? Well yes and no. Sometimes it seems we skip straight from Jesus’ birth to his death. His amazing life story of healings, liberation and generosity are often ignored. Birth and death are easier to focus on because we have no control over the outcome. Reading about the life of Jesus means taking a stand and making a commitment to a transformed way of life.
So what does the life of Jesus teach me?
1. Learning to Rethink the Biblical Story
Jesus turned the Israelite’s view of God and God’s story upside down. He showed them that God is not into judgment and criticism but rather love and forgiveness. Jesus helps us to see that our views of God are distorted by empire builders and power grabbers that lauded wealth and control over freedom and equality. It’s amazing how easily we buy into their story.
Rethinking the Biblical story has convinced me that at the center of human history is a God who cares deeply not just for “the chosen people” but also for prodigal sons, prostitutes, refugees and gentiles to name just few. God wants to overturn injustice, dispel oppression and heal disease. God is doing everything possible to restore all of creation to the wholeness of the original creation.
My rethinking of the Biblical story continues to be shaped by some radical theologians – like Ched Myers whose understanding of the Parable of the Talents – A View From the Other Side rocked my boat a few years ago. And Australian theologian Mark Brett whose contention that God’s intent for human freedom, equality and prosperity has been twisted through faulty interpretation into a mandate for the strong to subjugate the weak is a challenge to all of us.
Question: When was the last time your read theology that took you outside your comfort zone? What are the places in which God still wants to turn our understanding of the Biblical story upside down?
2. Learning to do as well as talk.
I hate armchair Christians and Jesus life story constantly encourages me not to become one. Jesus didn’t just talk about all the right things to do, he did them. I meet a lot of armchair activists at church, people who know about all the right things, encourage others to do them but never get involved themselves. James asks us:
What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? (James 2:14)
This kind of faith does not bring wholeness to others and it does not bring wholeness to ourselves either. Our best theological education occurs not in the classroom but on the streets. We cannot say that we are Christ followers unless we DO as Jesus DID – healing the sick, talking to outcasts, upsetting the economic systems (or whatever the equivalent of knocking over the money tables in the temple is in our society). In the process we will be radically changed.
Question: Where have I settled for words without actions in my faith? How can I become more involved in the radical way of Jesus?
3. Learning to Immerse Ourselves in the Gospel Story.
For the last few years Tom and I have used the daily lectionary readings from the Book of Common prayer as our Bible reading plan. It walks us through the gospels every year. It immerses us in the story and encourages us to do as Jesus did.
Part of what I love about this is the way the daily gospel readings share a story from the life of Jesus and connect it back to the original OT story or principle. For example when Jesus says The poor you will have with you always, his audience immediately knew he was quoting Deuteronomy 18: The poor you will have with you always, therefore be open handed and generous towards them. They knew his words were not an excuse to ignore the poor but rather an admonish to those who were not reaching out to help.
How often do we misunderstand what Jesus means or find excuses not to respond because we don’t know the connections? Jesus’ childhood education would have immersed him in the Torah. He knew what the scriptures said and was therefore less vulnerable to the attacks of the devil in the desert and to the attacks of the Pharisees and Sadducees in society.
Question: When do I become vulnerable to spiritual attacks and criticism because my life is not immersed in the gospel story?
4. Learning to Party the Story.
N.T. Wright says “everywhere that Jesus went there was a party.” Jesus loved to enjoy life and helped others to enjoy life too. He turned water into wine at a wedding. He multiplied fish and loaves to feed thousands. He made breakfast on the beach of his friends. I can’t imagine that any of these were somber occasions.
When I was on the mercy ship Anastasis, we held a celebration in each port called a “highways and byways feast.” As with the story of the banquet feast in Luke 14 where the host sent out servants into the streets and country lanes, crew members would go out into the neighbourhood and invite people back for dinner. It was one of my favourite celebrations, bringing the joy of food and fellowship to many who were rarely invited into a home. Often the meal forged lasting friendships with people at the margins.
More recently I learnt about a church in Southern California that held a Pentecost Chili Cookout where they invited neighbourhood people into the celebration and into the gospel story in a fresh way.
Meals change people. Fellowship round the dining room table is probably the most effective form of discipleship and evangelism there is.
Question: What is one idea you have for a party that revolves around a story form the life of Jesus? How could you use this to both concretize your own faith and invite others into your faith journey?
5. Learning to Write Your Own Story.
Experimenting with creative ways to express my faith convinced me that the ongoing creativity of God can be lived out in our lives and our faith. I come alive and my faith is strengthened as I paint rocks, plant gardens, write prayers and draw close to God in the process.
Don’t get stuck in the ruts of stale spiritual practices and rituals. Jesus played with mud, drew in the dirt, talked to outcasts, held children on his lap, all outside the Jewish understanding of spiritual practices. Such innovation helps us rethink our own practices – from how we pray or read scripture and to how we record our journey. We can reinvent the ways we reach out into our neighbourhood and world so they are appropriate for today’s context.
When Tom worked in Haiti, his Haitian friends shared their frustrations with Americans who were always anxious to get to the end of a journey, to reach the destination. For Haitians it was the journey itself that mattered most – they made new friends, they learnt new skills, they shared new experiences and in the process learnt a new story to share with others.
Question: Are your faith practices stuck in a rut? What is one creative new exercise you could learn from the revolutionary practices of Jesus that could transform your faith?