“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as the unique Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.“John 1:1-3, 14
John’s Gospel points us toward the whole sweep of the Divine Story – the Biblical Story. John invites us to look back to the Original Creation, on from there to the Incarnation of the Lord Jesus, forward to our place in God’s Good Creation, and toward the future New Creation when the Heavens and the Earth are reunited. This Story reveals God’s Promise.
What is God’s Promise? In a short phrase: to dwell with His People within His Creation. Working like the center of a bicycle tire, this Promise expands to encompass the wide range of human experiences: relationship, fellowship, stewardship, courtship, friendship, rulership, companionship, etc. “God’s Story” incorporates the entirety of the “human story.” He is involved with us; we are involved with Him.
The all-encompassing Story of the Scripture is straightforward. As we live and breathe in our everyday lives, the Story follows these main outlines:
+ God initiates His Good Purpose in creating the heavens and the earth, dwelling with Humans made in His Image.
+ Humans resist, then rebel, choosing to self-identify, and are forced into Exile.
+ God remains faithful to His Promise to dwell among His People.
+ Humans are unfaithful, chasing after the creation to self-discover their identity rather than honoring the Identity we are created with.
+ God takes decisive action in Christ, reconciling with the Creation, establishing a renewed People among whom He is pleased to dwell, restoring Human Identity.
+ Some humans are reborn by faith, restored to our original Identity as Image-bearers who are imaging the Creator, gathered into communities of Faithfulness and Loyalty, fulfilling – again – God’s Desire to dwell among His creations through the Holy Spirit now and, at the proper future time, Face-to-face. We are going to tell this Story in the next few months. Starting Wednesday, March 2, which is Ash Wednesday, we are going to discover and explore God’s Promise for His Creation and His People. This will be the overall theme for our 2022 Lenten and Easter seasons: “I Love to Tell the Story.” God’s Story … my story … our story together.
“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”G.K. Chesterton (1910)
What would make the “Christian ideal” so difficult? What causes so many to think Christianity is not worth pursuing? Perhaps it is how present-day Christians are labeled? Perhaps churchgoers are not living the “Christian ideal”? Perhaps present-day Christianity is thought to be irrelevant? Truth is that most of us will not do, join, buy, or commit to something unless it is relevant to our lives. Think about it, when it comes to music, beverages, friendships, and conversation, would you say: “let’s go to the local church” or “let’s go to the local pub”?
We think Chesterton is right. The “Christian ideal” has not been tried and found wanting. The “Christian ideal” has been found difficult and not really tried. What makes the “Christian ideal” so difficult that people conclude “that’s not for me/us”? What is the “Christian Ideal”? We suggest the following:
The Way of Life that Jesus announced and encouraged for his followers is all about a magnificent, hilarious, even absurd, generosity. “Think of the best thing you can do for the worst person you know,” Jesus challenges, “and go ahead and do it!” Think of what you would really like someone to do for you then, taking the initiative, do it for them. “Think of the person who deserves your nastiest response,” Jesus teaches, “and lavish generosity on them instead.” This is one way to announce the “Christian ideal.” Little wonder people find this difficult.
Is this “Christian Ideal” taught by Jesus possible? Is it realistic? Is it relevant? Yes and no, we think. Jesus’ point was not to provide his followers with a new rulebook, a list of do’s and don’ts that you could tick off one by one and sit back satisfied at the end of a successful moral day. That would be too easy. The “Christian Ideal” is intended to inspire and illustrate an attitude of heart, a lightness of spirit, in the face of all the hurt and pain that others throw at you. And at the center of this Way of Life is the one reality that motivates and choreographs the entire Christian Life: you are to be like this because that’s what God is like. No wonder people think this is so difficult.
We are convinced God is generous to all people, generous to a fault. The God of Jesus provides good things for all to enjoy, the undeserving as well as the deserving. He is astonishingly merciful! Think of the last time you were compassionate to someone you thought did not deserve it: someone cheated you, abused you, ridiculed you, ratted you out. What was your immediate reaction? Now you can better understand why so many would rather not follow Jesus.
“Following Jesus is impossible!” is a common response. We agree. Perhaps so many choose not to follow Jesus because it requires us to admit we cannot do it on our own. Following Jesus takes help, outside help, his help. This is humbling since we’ve been told our whole lives, “You can do whatever you put your mind to do” or “you can be whatever you choose to be.” What if I mess it up?
We must admit with shame that large sections of Christianity across the years seem to have known little or nothing of the God Jesus was talking about. Much that has called itself by the name of Jesus seems to have a gloomy God, a penny-pinching God, a God whose only concern is to make life difficult, to set up rules that are nearly impossible (and certainly no fun). We know that living under the oppression of the wrong god is difficult.
If you lived in a county where everyone believed in and behaved like the God Jesus reveals, what do you think would happen? What would happen to violence? What about revenge or abuse? What about hatred and “hate speech”? What about poor self-esteem? There would be no divisions of class or caste or race or rank. Property and possessions would not be nearly as important as making sure your neighbor and her children have what she needs to thrive and flourish. Imagine if even a few people around you took Jesus seriously and lived like that. Life would be exuberant, different, astonishing. People would stare. That, too, would be difficult.
People did stare when Jesus lived generously. Large crowds gathered around Jesus to experience the love flowing out of him, healing, transforming, renewing. Around Jesus, Life was put back together! His teaches of exuberant generosity, cheerfully giving all that he had to give to anyone who needed it. Jesus taught the way he lived, sharing the extravagant love of his Father, and calling us to live a lavish, generous human life in response. Even when they struck him on the cheek, and ripped the coat and shirt off his back, and beat him to within an inch of his life, he went on loving and forgiving. He showed love not only to his friends but to his enemies also, weeping over the people that rejected his plea for peace. He was the true embodiment of the God of whom he spoke.
Concordia Lutheran Church invites you to explore and experience the “Christian Ideal” with us. Yes, it is difficult. Yes, we get it right, sometimes. Yes, we make mistakes, many times. Yet, we keep at it, we keep moving forward, exploring what generous, lavish, crazy love looks like in our county. We have been inspired to practice what Jesus teaches. Would you like to discover more?
March 2nd is Ash Wednesday. Come join us as we explore the “Christian Ideal.” Got questions? Come and ask them. Become someone who gave it a try and … hopefully … finds the Jesus-Life worthy. We gather at 6:30pm. You can watch it online. Maybe we could join you at your favorite pub.