The Jesus Manifesto - 1st Intallment
Shocking, right? A Christian pastor preaching on Jesus... what is the world coming to?
I should be a bit more specific I suppose. The Lenten sermon series that I am working on is entitled "The Jesus Manifesto"--a title that I borrowed from Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola, who wrote a book by the same name last year. The question that this sermon series will be seeking to answer is one that was posed by Jesus himself to his disciples.
Who do you say that I am?
I think that the Church and the people who call themselves Christians who make up the Church have lost the plot when it comes to Jesus being the center of the Christian faith. I'm grieved to observe that the Christian Church that claims to be the hands of feet of Jesus, to be the Body of Christ, to have Jesus at it's "head," doesn't seem to be acting on behalf of the Jesus we see revealed in the Bible. In fact, you could argue that the Church is acting against Jesus more often than not.
I'll explain. When the Church is at it's best, it's a beautiful thing. You know it when you see it. Stuff gets done. And I do mean some serious stuff. God-stuff. The hungry get fed, the naked get clothed, lives get transformed, captives are set free... and there is unity, people are drawn together in hope, joy, peace and above all love. When you walk into a church, a community of faith where this is happening, you feel it like static electricity running through the air.
The sad thing is, more often than not the Church is not at it's best. When the Church is at it's worst there is little unity, no peace, not a lot of hope and no real evidence of love. When the Church is at it's worst, it is more concerned for it's own life than it is for the things that break the heart of God. You know this when you see it, too. Nothing is getting done. People are more interested in fighting over doctrinal issues, being right, retaining their own members at all costs, hanging on to their traditions than they are on reaching the lost, feeding the hungry, caring for the poor, and basically being the Church. When you walk into a church where this is happening you feel it like a wet blanket--maybe not on your first visit, but fairly quickly.
The Children of Israel in the Old Testament, who grumbled, complained and griped their way to the Promised Land, exhibited the latter kind of behavior. And ironically, Christians in our culture look down their nose at them from our safe place in history. We say things like, "How could they have grumbled so much when they were surrounded by God's presence and witnessed so many incredible miracles?"
Meanwhile, God is doing awesome and beautiful things all around us, and we can't even pull our eyes away from our hymnals long enough to see them. We rail against all the things that are wrong in the world, and pray that God will make everything right, and will finally put us in charge when Jesus "comes back." Then we'll wear our What Would Jesus Do bracelets, and try to keep all of the rules that we've created while we engage in a few good deeds, or support a missionary or two.
And Jesus has ceased to be the center of our faith.
What sort of lives ultimately bring pleasure to God, do you think?
Lives that garner respect of the religious establishment?
Lives that seek comfort, protect personal wealth and personal safety?
Lives that seek to live out a social gospel?
Lives that are grounded in denominational loyalty, partisan politics or pious appearance?
Is it possible that, in the words of Chris Seay, "we have ignored Jesus--our wild messianic King" and have "chosen to re-create him in the image of the Pharisees?" (The Gospel According to Jesus)
Ralph Winter has written about how those of us in the developed world live in a sort of rarefied air of own making. We think we've got it all, and count ourselves "blessed" that we are not like the poor people starving and scratching out survival around the world. Meanwhile, we suffer from all sorts of diseases and ailments that we've created from our excess, and we find ourselves isolated by our self-indulgences. He writes, "in saving ourselves, we have nearly lost ourselves."
I see the Church in that description. It's as if we got our "ticket punched" and have withdrawn a safe distance from the world that Jesus came to save, and that God so loves. We like the idea of Jesus, but the reality of Jesus is too much for us to handle.
I also see that the Church is a unique position to change that, but it's going to have to find it's first love.
In Romans 3:9-20 the Apostle Paul lays out a pretty serious argument that there is "none righteous." Read it. I'll wait. Here's the thing. The word "righteous" appears over 180 times in the New Testament, and almost all of those are in the letters of Paul, particularly in Romans. Here's something else. I would guess 90 percent of all Christians misunderstand the word "righteous," which would explain why so many of us assume that Paul was writing about other people--not us.
The Barna Group, which does research in Christian organizations, churches, etc. did a survey where they asked Christians who were active in church to define "righteousness." The highest percentage defined it as "holiness," then "faithfulness," "morality" and "justice." There were other definitions, but these were the top four.
When Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you, too?" did he mean it? If you think he did, then you need to actually understand what he meant. The best translation of "righteousness" is "restorative justice." It's not about being holy, keeping the rules, or trying to be a good person. It's not even---and here is where it gets sticky for a lot of people--about saying your a Christian.
Righteousness is about setting right the things that are wrong. Through Jesus, God stepped into our brokenness. Righteousness is about making what was shattered whole. Righteousness is about repairing brokenness. It's about taking the fragments of everything that has been shattered by sin and bringing them together into something new.
Because we've neglected to understand the work of Jesus in the world, and in our own lives, we don't live our lives in the light that real Christianity ignites. It's the reason our churches are racked by division and bickering. It's the reason why we are splintered in hundreds of pieces, all the while believing that we've got it made. It's the reason why the Church and Christians have lot our voice in culture. We've missed the point of the Gospel (to set things right) and we've misunderstood Jesus (who sets them right.)
I love this quote from "Love doesn't play it safe; it takes risks. Love doesn't make excuses; it takes responsibility. Love doesn't see problems; it seizes opportunities to step up and step in."
The Church needs to realize that the "none" righteous part of Paul's statement applies to it, and to the people who make up the Church---namely those of us call ourselves Christians. We aren't able to restore, mend, fix, redeem and we definitely cannot save. Only through Jesus is any of this possible.
So, who do you say that he is?