Sunday, 19 January 2014

Jesus as the centre of Christian life part 3: Holiness vs Mercy

Epiphany 2 year A Sermon  Isaiah 49:1-7 John 8: 12-20
It’s no coincidence…Jesus delivers this teaching where he does…in the temple courts…near the place where sacrifices were offered…

You judge by human standards…Jesus says…I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge…

my decisions are true because I’m not alone. I stand with the Father who sent me. In your own Law it’s written …
the testimony of two witnesses is true. I’m one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father who sent me…….

So they ask him, “Where’s your father?”

You don’t know me or my Father,” Jesus replies.

Lamb slide with words
If you knew me, you’d know my Father also.

Feet slide with words
Knowing the Jesus of the Gospels as the focus of Christian life…is the theme of our sermon series this month…
as we begin to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary
of the Gospel in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Beginning two weeks ago…we learned how Jesus read the Hebrew Scriptures and how he taught his followers... that the key to interpreting the scriptures and the greatest commandments were these

Word slide
The Lord our God, the Lord is one… Love the Lord your God with all your heart all your soul all your mind and all your strength and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’

Baptism slide
Last week we learned how Jesus understands his relationship with God…is revealed in his favourite name for God – Abba – Father. We hear at Jesus baptism…the echo of Israel’s ancient commission to be a light to the world…as the voice from heaven confirms God’s beloved son…

slide words
I’ve put my spirit upon him, I am YHWH, I’ve given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness. [pause]

blank baptism side
And we hear how in his hometown synagogue…
this Jesus of the Gospelsproclaims the day of the Lord
has come…This Yeshua of Nazareth…son of Miriam
is the centre of our faith today

And as we learn how Jesus interprets the Jewish text and understands his relationship with God…we discover two contradictory streams in the Hebrew Scriptures…
One Jesus affirms…and one he rejects. One reveals a God of mercy …the other paints God as vengeful and violent…

Here’s an example of this internal contradiction.  In the book of 2 Kings… a captain and a company of fifty men are sent to Elijah…the captain goes up to Elijah, who’s sitting on top of a hill, and says, Man of God, the king orders you to come down!

Fire slide
But Elijah answers, if I am a man of God, may fire come down from heaven and consume you…and your fifty men! Then the scripture says…fire fell from heaven and consumed the captain and his men.

In the Gospel of Luke…that’s precisely the story

the disciples have in mind…when Jesus sends messengers ahead to a Samaritan village to get things ready for him.

when the people in the village refuse to welcome Jesus …James and John want to call down fire from heaven

to destroy them?

Feet slide
But the Jesus of the Gospels…turns and rebukes them.
By implication…that’s neither my way, nor my father’s.

The story in Luke stands in direct contradiction to the violence of God in one stream of Jewish scriptures – a stream that created real problems for Judaism. Because all rabbis had to wrestle with these internal contradictions… including Jesus.

The question for us is the same as it was for them
not which God should we follow…by Jesus day
Jews believed there was only one God…the question is
which texts should we endorse…in light of God’s revelation in Christ on the cross.

And of course we now have a third strand of scripture as well…the story of the transformative power of the resurrection.  While the Cross reveals God’s mercy and forgiveness in light of the worst humanity can do…

the resurrection offers us…the possibility of new life.

Tallit slide
From the very beginning the Bible is critical of the destructive way humans behave. And in the risen Christ… we’re offered a real way out…the transformation of humanity into the true image of God. It’s not God who’s changed
it’s our understanding of God.

And our understanding could change again… today

as we explore the third part of our series…
how Jesus saw holiness… in light of his Father’s mercy. [pause]

You see Jesus knew there was a way of being religious…
that caused destruction wherever it was practised –
because it misinterprets what it means to be holy.

In Jesus’ day the various streams of Judaism…Pharisee, Sadducee, Essene and Samaritan… all held to some kind of holiness code… by which they determined

what behaviour… made people right before God
and that whole system focused on Temple sacrifice.

Long before the Romans invaded…arguments over who should hold power in the Temple…lead to as much bloodshed

in the Jewish community…as the sacrificial system in the Temple…Who had the right to officiate at the altar…who got to preside over sacrifice and how… was never settled.

From the outer courts of the gentiles…to the Holy of holies…the Temple reinforced different degrees of holiness…and this was reflected in the Jewish community.
Some people achieved greater holiness than others. And this hierarchical model of holiness was lived out by every single Jewish group…except one – that of Jesus.

In his teaching and his actions…Jesus refuses to recognize cultural and religious degrees of holiness. He heals on the Sabbathtouches the unclean…and eats with sinners.

Even today some churches still have some form of holiness code… in order to belong…members who break the rules
risk getting kicked out.

But actually…holiness codes are the religious equivalent of the secular rule of law. Remember humans were religious… before they were secular

All human culture is founded in religion. Even in secular cultures like New Zealand… the social effects of religion remain and are reflected in our laws.
And yes there’s a sense in which… it’s not possible for human society to exist without laws prohibitions and commandments.

Temple slide
But whether we like it or not…ancient holiness codes were based on there being an innocent victim… that was sacrificed. Because these codes insisted on redemption through ritual killing. If a human being wasn’t sacrificed to make things right with God…then then an unblemished calf or bull or dove would be.

So if Jesus is the centre of Christian life… then it’s important to understand how Jesus interacts with the holiness codes of his day… and how he viewed the sacrificial system which supported it…where something had to die for holiness to be restored.

Jesus actually confronted the holiness codes of the other Jewish parties…in this…the Jesus of the Gospels
isn’t a meek and mild keeper of the status quo…nor is he overly concerned with religious and social niceties…

No…Jesus is determined to speak the truth to power…
to be a prophetic voice who dares to say and do things that are counter to the prevailing holiness codes. And this gets him into serious trouble with the religious authorities.

Why…because to them…there was a clear distinction between what was holy and what was profane, unclean or unholy.  In fact there were six degrees of holiness …all the way to super ultra-extra holy.

Different things you did… people you had contact with and certain religious activities… produced varying degrees of uncleanliness. And according to the holiness codes…there were various rituals you could engage in

to become clean again.

That’s why Jesus tells the Lepers…to present themselves to the local priest… who’d offer the sacrifices Moses commanded… for their cleansing. Jesus mother Mary had to undergo a time of purification after giving birth…
following that she went to the Temple to offer the appropriate sacrifices.

For Mary and the Lepers downside of uncleanliness was that it kept them from fully participating in the social and religious life of the community

but there was a way to get back in… ritual sacrifice.

By the first century…the Pharisees concluded the priesthood in the Temple was so corruptthey had no option but to be holy outside the temple… to ensure a holy remnant remained in the holy land. [they believed in the written and oral law]

In Jesus day the Sadducees controlled the Temple.
They came mainly from ruling families and only held to the written Torah. And because they were wealthy
it was in their interest… to accommodate the Romans with whom they did business.

Other groups sought holiness by living separated from other Jews in ghettos or in caves like Qumran – where the scrolls were discovered.

Finally there were the Zealots who wanted to purge the Israel of all unholy foreign influence through violent rebellion. They started the conflict that ended with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

And Jesus had run ins with every one of these groups
Having taken the mantle of Israel onto his own shoulders Jesus was as concerned as anyone…with the future of his community
and clearly sought to bring about a time when only God was sovereign…

But how Jesus went about achieving this…was poles apart from those who sought the solution through ritual holiness. And this is the key point for today’s sermon…
Did you ever notice Jesus never teaches…
‘Be holy as I am holy’ instead Jesus teaches…
be merciful… as your father in heaven is merciful.

Mercy… was for Jesus…the way to holiness.
Ritual holiness demanding sacrifice…only reinforces isolation and rejection and is based on killing…

Mercy brings reconciliation and restoration to community. Holiness through sacrifice depends on degrees of perfection mercy breaks through all barriers and recognizes God’ loves everyone and seeks to bless them.

In Jesus Sermon on the Mount…it’s clear that to be merciful is to be blessed. As is loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you. And in Jesus parables… the one who shows mercy… is the one who fulfils the greatest commandment.

Jesus gets into trouble his entire ministry
because he shows extraordinary mercy to those who are labelled by the religious authorities…as unclean and outside the grace of God or punished by God with infirmities because of their sins.

But it wasn’t enough for Jesus simply to redefine what constitutes right behaviour in the kingdom of God kingdom  he insisted on confronting the religious authorities about it.

And they thought… some of Jesus’ prophetic actions …so shocking and vile…it sealed his fate…especially –when he takes his challenge…right into the heart of the Temple’s sacrificial system. For Jesus…zeal for God’s house wasn’t to be symbolised by killing…

the people’s desire for holiness just fed a system of greed and corruption. Clearing the Temple isn’t just about Jesus getting mad… it is a great prophetic act… signalling the end has come for Temple sacrifices…and that holiness comes from mercy and compassion…not the blood of animals and humans

Of course the prophets who tried to say this in the past
were killed on the altar of ritual holiness for their trouble.

It’s no accident that twice in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus quotes Hosea 6.6
Slide words
‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’.
And love your enemies…anyone can love their friends…but it’ll cost you something to love your enemies. That’s the kind of holiness God desires.

Feet slide
For some people being a Christian is little more than praying the short salvation prayer acknowledging what some call the four spiritual laws. For others it’s adhering to a particular set of rules or even a particular political ideology.

For others being a Christian is only about the sweet devotion of their internal religious experience. Still others think it means being nice people… tolerant and generally warm and fuzzy around the edges.

Tallit slide

But all these are far from the way of life Jesus called his followers to live. The goal of discipleship isn’t holiness to make sure God will love us… Jesus showed in the Temple…the kingdom of God isn’t an economy of exchange…
God already loves us…and comes toward us in Jesus Christ…to show us how to live… and if necessary…how to die… for the salvation of the world.  

Sunday, 12 January 2014

Jesus as the centre of Christian life Part 2 Jesus' understanding of God

Epiphany 1 year A Sermon

Six centuries before the baptism of Jesus…..
A divine commission for the nation of Israel
is proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah…you just heard it.

Word slide
Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I’ve put my spirit upon him…
I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you;
I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, and those who sit in darkness. [pause]

Six hundred years later… Matthew’s Gospel tells us when Jesus came up out of the water
Word slide
At that moment… heaven was opened
and John saw the Spirit of God…
descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

Blank slide
Everyone present at the Jordan…would recognise
what is spoken…for the words bring to mind the scroll of Isaiah…for those with ears to hear and eyes to see ….…the mantle of Israel is passing… to this man coming out of the water…this Jesus from Nazareth

Blank slide
The mantle of Israel
Something has changed… something new is happening…
in the past… Israel is commissioned…anointed
chosen in righteousness…now… this Jesus…
will signify a new covenant to the people…a light to the nations…this Jesus will open the eyes of the blind, this Jesus will free the prisoners and those who sit in darkness.

Jesus feet slide
And soon this Jesus of the Gospels
will proclaim… in his hometown synagogue
that the words of Isaiah are fulfilled… in him [pause]

This Yeshua of Nazareth, son of Miriam
is the centre of our faith today

Slide words and the focus of our sermon series this month …as we celebrate the two hundredth anniversary …of the Gospel… in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Slide words
In the series which began last week
we’re looking at how Jesus understood
1. his Bible 2. his relationship with God
3. holiness vs mercy… and how he understood
4. the meaning of discipleship

Blank slide
Last week in part one
we learned how Jesus read the Hebrew Scriptures and how he taught his followers…the key to interpreting the scriptures as well as the greatest commandments were these

Word slide
The Lord our God, the Lord is one
Love the Lord your God with all your heart
all your soul all your mind and all your strength
and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ [pause]

The teaching of Jesus…on fairness, poverty, justice and peace for the salvation of the earth…are attracting a lot of attention at the moment…. all over the world…
in public statements made
Pope slide
by Francis…the new Pope.  He’s so popular…
that in the US… politicians from both parties…
are co-opting the Popes statements…to court Catholic voters

But one Senator isn’t quite so cynicalhe told the media
‘I don’t talk about the pope that much…He’s not there to promote Republicans or Democrats…He’s there
simply to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and so the chips fall where they may when he does.

Wood chopping slide
Last Sunday…after preaching the first sermon in this series I’d have loved it…if anyone described what I said like that …Diane’s just here to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ
and let the chips fall where they may when she does

But three things happened this week…to teach me a different perspective…on how I was preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ…

First thing: after church my most loving critic…otherwise known as my husband Reg…told me I’d sounded in some parts of the sermon like I was taking my anger out on somebody…and at the same time... preaching about loving our enemies and forgiveness.

Immediately I saw that my passion allowed my anger at those who dismiss Jesus… to override the peaceful nature of the Gospel message. I think God was really trying to tell me something…because two other things happened
to bring me up short about this.

The next as I read the words from Isaiah… for this week… remember?
Slide words
 ‘my servant says the Lord ‘won’t shout or raise his voice,
in the street; a bruised reed he will not break, and a dimly burning wick he won’t quench;
he’ll faithfully bring forth justice.

Blank slide
Third was discovering what the idiom used by that US Senator actually means ‘let the chips falling where they may’ when talking about the Pope and the Gospel…
laugh if you will…but I’d always thought it was about poker chips…but Reg told me it’s about chopping wood …without caring who might get hurt by flying chips

So if you thought I was angry at you last week I’m sorry. I realise that when I raise my voice… my energy and passion and yes my anger…could be bruising if you thought I was aiming at you…and that’s not what God’s servant does.

Jesus feet slide
So to part two of our series! What it’s all about…is the centrality of Jesus to our Christian life…
the Gospel of Jesus can speak for itself
and at the heart of it…is Jesus relationship…to the one who sent him…to deliver the good news…and the radically different way Jesus taught about Godfrom the God who was to be feared… in the Hebrew Scriptures.

So what is the character  of the God revealed…
in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? You and I probably take for granted… two centuries of Trinitarian theologyOne God Father Son and Holy Spirit and we teach our children…songs about how powerful God is…but in the re-papering and re-painting of Jesus over time…
Cross slide
We’ve some to overlook the vulnerability of God
dying on the Cross.
And right there…is the key point for today’s message…

Just as the Cross of Christ is the starting point for interpreting the scripturesit’s also the starting point for understanding Jesus’ revelation of God.

The whole Protestant reformation…
was ignited in protestagainst the glorified all powerful Christ of the Roman Church. Protestantism is about protest. Speaking out against any attempt to describe God…
other than the God revealed in the life of Jesus.

If Jesus is forgiving, can God be any less so. If Jesus heals the sick, does God do any less? If Jesus battles the principalities and powers… that imprison humanity body mind and spirit……..can less be said of God.

If Jesus and God are one…and if to know Jesus is to know God… John 8:19… then any conception of God that doesn’t look like Jesus… is an idol.
For he is ‘The image of the invisible God’

Jesus tallit slide
Last week we learned… not only is Jesus the lens through which view Scripture…and that he lived out
that interpretation…Today we learn the God revealed in Jesus is a loving God…whose judgment is grace.

The first clue to this is that the Jesus of the good news calls upon God… as his Abba. Jesus favourite designation for God… is Abba.
But before we assume we know… what an Abba is,
or create analogies… that compare God to an earthly parent …we are reminded in the Gospels that Jesus tells us…
even our understanding of ‘father’ must change.
As Jesus says in Luke 11
Slide words
Which of you Abbas if your son asks for a fish will give him a snake instead or is he asks for an egg will give him a scorpion. If you then though you are evil know how to give good gifts to your children how much more will your Abba in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him?

Jesus is saying…not only is God never malicious…but that even at its best the love of human parents…
can’t be compared…to God…the giver of all good gifts. 

Blank slide
Most importantly in the Gospel of Matthew…
Jesus ties the giving of God…to the ‘Golden Rule’.
To do unto others as we’d have them do unto us…
this saying reflects a way of life… oriented to the God of forgiveness…peace…reconciliation and healing
this God revealed in Jesus

When people persist in likening God to the way earthly parents behave…particularly when parents abuse emotional and physical power…it’s very bruising for some people. Calling on God as father or mother can be difficult… if you think God’s like your difficult parent.

What’s at stake here…is our willingness to recognise
that God… as our spiritual parent…isn’t like us.
We may do our best… to love and nurture our children
or we may not…but the point is…
God loves us so much more.
Cross slide
If you’re starting point of for understanding God
is the Cross of Christ…you will encounter the most challenging questions you’ll ever face as a Christian ‘just what is God’s relationship to Jesus as he’s dying?’

Some Christians speak as though God is pouring out his wrath on Jesus…because God’s placed our sins on him they believe the way God deals with sin…is to exercise wrath.

But the Psalm Jesus quotes from the cross… is both a cry of dereliction and vindication…a cry killers and kin
at the foot of the cross… would have memorised from childhood…Psalm 22…is the cry of a victim of unjust punishment

When Jesus choses to cry out Psalm 22…he reminds his executioners… that killing him is not the end of things
its comfort though choked back by pain is clearly there.

Slide words
For he has not despised or scorned
    the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
    but has listened to his cry for help.

For Jesus on the Cross…God isn’t some far off angry deity… it’s the crowd who are angry….it’s the crowd demanding sacrifice…not God…in fact by not retaliating the sacrificial religious system is dismantled. [pause]

blank slide
We don’t need to fear that anything ever changed in Jesus’ relationship with his Abba.
The voice from heaven speaking ‘You are my beloved son… at Jesus baptism…doesn't change…one constant we can rely on…the relationship between the Son and the Father… never changes.

If the god we worship is two faced…if the God we worship… is in turn loving and violently angry
then the god we worship is a pagan God…

pagan gods were a blend of human characteristics both good and bad…but Jesus reveals God…
without those tensions and contradictions.

Slide Jesus knocking
I found this cartoon recently which illustrates the contradictions Christians sometimes project onto God.
Knock knock
Whose there?
What do you want?
To save you
To save me from what?
From what I'm going to do with you if you don't open the door!

Jesus tallit
Last week we learned…if we don’t start with Jesus
we will not end with him…if we don’t start with Jesus understanding of God…then we can project
anything we like onto God…but it won’t be the God Jesus called Abba.

In all his teaching about God…Jesus creates a crisis of faith for anyone listening who’s been taught about a vengeful god…they have a choice…they can believe in that god or they can believe in the gracious life-giving God whose kingdom Jesus proclaims.

We have that same choice. Let us pray

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Jesus as the focus for Christian life Part 1 How Jesus read his Bible

Christmas 2 year A Sermon
A wise man named Michael Hardin wrote recently…
We must begin with Jesus, the full and final revelation of God …
as the early Christians did…
or we will not end with Him.

This month were beginning a series… on Jesus as the focus of Christian life. We’ll be looking at four things: 
How Jesus understood
1. his Bible
2. his relationship with God
3. holiness vs mercy and how he understood
4. the meaning of discipleship

And I warn you… there’s a high risk of re-conversion
if you take Jesus as seriously as this series will suggest.
But we must begin with him…or we will not end with him.

Why is this important? Well…two reasons…
some highly spiritual people… would like to negotiate Jesus right out of Christianity. For them all divinity rests in a spiritual being beyond the human dimension – maybe sustaining all creation… maybe quite apart from it.

To these people…all the stuff that’s written about Jesus in the Gospels is a little embarrassing…they say the Gospels aren’t trustworthy…that Jesus can’t be known…they say the early church invented a lot of what Jesus says… in the Gospels….
but today we know… from insights gained in the modern sciences of astronomy and archaeology…
the Gospels are quite accurate historically. [adlib re sermons?]
The second way people want to negotiate Jesus out of their faith is much more subtle…many who call themselves Christian …somehow believe the whole entire Bible…has equal divine status to Jesus. They hold what’s called a ‘flat view’ of scripture…
where Jesus is displaced as the interpretive centre of the Bible.
Today I’m going to make the radical suggestion that...
if Jesus really is to be the focus of our Christian life
we must begin with him in everything we do and everything we say……. about the Bible…about God, and what it means to be a disciple of Yeshua of Nazareth…whose mother was Mariam…
the Jesus who came with a defined mission and message.

Superstar slide
We must begin with the Jesus of the gospels…because that Jesus has been papered over and painted over so much…
that 2000 years later…it’s hard to recognise him.
Yet in spite of any attempts to dispense with Jesus…it’s clear
that some have known him…and modelled their lives…on his.

Feet slide
Another reason we need to make Jesus the central focus of Christian life… is that today…Christianity is having an identity crises. Young people especially… are revolting against a church which fails to demonstrate discipleship

in any meaningful way relating to Jesus.

Communities are springing up around the world… seeking to follow Jesus… in what they see as an authentic and radical way – it’s like they’re seeing Jesus… in a new and vital and refreshing way. The Jesus they talk about

sounds like a real person… who lived a real life.

While most of us accept Jesus’ Jewishness and know the earliest Christians were almost all Jewish…but we take for granted that the early Roman Church chose to include… the story of the Jewish people in what we now call the Bible.
They did it to make two important points…one that they worshipped the same God and…as the author of the letter
to the Hebrews says…in our New Testament

Slide words
‘In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets
at many times and in diverse ways, but in these last days
God has spoken to us by his Son.’

Notice the explicit contrast the writer makes…between the way God spoke in the past and the way God has spoken in Jesus? The Gospel of John… also makes this distinction.

Blank slide
In the verses we heard today…John contrasts…the grace and truth that have come through Jesus… with the ‘instruction’… … that came through Moses. 

In the same way…the apostle Paul contrasts

the covenant revealed in the Old Testament with the new covenant inaugurated in Jesus.

Not one of these Christian writers assumes the Jewish scriptures put together in 70AD were perfect…

instead they maintain that in Jesus…
something new has occurred.
Something that demanded a re-evaluation…of how they interpret the scriptures… and how they view God.

Road to Emmaus
Just remember… how incognito…the risen Jesus walks along the road…doing Bible study with two Jewish men…
first he asks them what they’re talking about….
Jesus of Nazareth,” they reply. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people.
The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and crucified him; but we hoped he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

Have you ever noticed where the resurrected Jesus starts!
He turns their attention to the problem of suffering and violence. He tells them the violence done to an innocent victim…is the key for interpreting the scriptures.

How foolish you are…Jesus says…and how slow to believe all the prophets have spoken! Didn’t the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?

Text slide
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explains
to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
Jesus explains how to read and interpret the scriptures …which they’d all memorised from childhood. Jesus asks them a question about suffering…to help them understand
the meaning of his suffering and death.
But wait a minute…

blank slide

up to that moment… their theology…their understanding of God …their assumptions about God…would predict a violent vengeful response on God’s part…following the death of God’s beloved Son. But the forgiveness expressed by God in the resurrected Christ…
collapses their previous ideas about God…

Violent retribution never happens…instead…
peace… reconciliation…forgiveness and love are proclaimed!

Feet slide
And we read in the book of Acts…by virtue of their encounter with the risen Christ…the earliest Christians insist in their preaching…that filled with the fullness of God…
Jesus forgives our sin. 

So if Jesus is the central focus for our Christian life…
his interpretation of scripture has to provide the centre from which we begin all biblical interpretation. And in particular…it’s a cruciform centre…for I suggest to you that all Biblical interpretation must begin from point of view of the Cross…

where the violence done by humans… to the innocent Jesus
is met with forgiveness.

The earliest Christian communities who wrote what we now have as our New Testament… didn’t preach about the infallibility of Scripture…they preached Jesus…

his life death his resurrection and ascension…
were the beginning, the middle and the end of all they thought and taught………..because…they…had… known him…

Jesus is central. And so in this new year of 2014…as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Gospel in this land…
the Jesus of the gospels must always be our starting point.

Why?...Because it’s a whole lot easier to follow a generic god…with a small g…
onto which we can project whatever we want God to be like!

It’s much harder to follow Jesus…because then you have to take seriously…his teaching about what it means
to follow him. Because Christian theology…Christian understanding and talking about God…starts with a particular person…Jesus of Nazareth…not with the general.
A major flaw with a lot of God talk…is it begins with abstract ideas… rather than the specific….final…
authoritative revelation…of God’s character in Jesus.

In fact I suggest you beware of anyone today who urges you to think about God in the abstract. The Bible certainly doesn’t!

The Bible begins with a specific God…creator of all that is.
This specific God is revealed in how God acts…most notably in the act of incarnation…in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

And if our starting point for interpreting the bible is forgiveness from Cross rather than retaliation…
how can we reconcile the violence of God we read about in the Old Testament… with this non-violence of Jesus?

The problem arises… because Christian’s often refer to both Jesus and the Bible as the word of God. What can happen is that people think just as Jesus is sinless…so the whole Bible
is free from human mistakes in understanding.

But when we do this… we act as though the words themselves are sacred…rather than God of which they speak…the living God… who can breathe meaning through the words of scripture to each one of us.

To equate Jesus the Living Word…
with the Bible…the written word
means we’re likely to miss the interpretative direction of the apostolic church…who knew Jesus…

to see the entire written word as equal to Jesus…
rather than in relation to him...seems to me…to be idolatrous.

Jesus and Pharisees slide
The fact is…struggles over interpretation of Scripture go back way before Jesus. It’s well known the Jews debated amongst themselves what might be the key commandments to keep –
and the right way to interpret or fulfil the scriptures.

And this was happening when Mark tells us when a teachers of the law heard them debating he was impressed with Jesus answer. And so he asks Jesus ‘Of all the commandments, which do you think is the most important?’

And Jesus says…the most important is this…‘Hear, O Israel: slide words
The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart…all your soul…all your mind…all your strength.’ The second is: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Blank slide
You’re right says the man… more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices. And here Jesus tells him

Slide words
You’re not far from the kingdom of God.’

Jesus perspective on the scriptures is profoundly important for us… beginning with the confession that ‘God is one’
God isn’t a mixture of yin and yang, good and evil, terror and love. God is consistent.

Maybe other gods are mixed up, but Jesus’ God…the one Jesus calls Abba…the One who made heaven and the earth… the one we’re called to love…is… and always will be…
Only two-faced gods needs to be feared. If Jesus is God’s wisdom incarnate… and Jesus says don’t be afraid…the greatest commandment is not to fear the Lord…
but to love the Lord...

For Jesus… love of God is more than just keeping the Law
love trumps everything…including sacrifice and an eye for an eye. For Jesus…love of God is active… and expressed in a radical new way…yes love your neighbour…but love them even when they’re your enemy…
for as Paul discovered… ‘perfect love… casts out fear’.

Earth slide
At stake in Jesus’ debate about the greatest commandment
is how you and I are to interpret the Scriptures of the Old and the New stake is how we live out
that interpretation in the world today.  

You see in this era of global awareness…our neighbour includes all seven plus billion people on the planet. Loving God as Jesus defines it…means actively making sure everyone is cared for…actively forgiving those who sin against us… actively making peace and reconciling with others.

Jesus slide
If we begin our interpretation from our own viewpoint and not from the cross…it’s easy to lose sight how distinctive Jesus’ perspective actually is. And if the Jesus of the gospels is to be your primary interpreter for understanding the bible…then how can any behaviour that doesn’t look or sound like the Jesus of the Gospels…be Christian behaviour.

The writer of the fourth Gospel puts it this way…
Jesus said Slide words
I am the Way the Truth and the Life’ [pause]

The time has come for us to stop relating to false and graven images … and begin relating to the Jesus of the Gospels.
Then we will know how to truly love God and our neighbour and all those… with whom we need to be reconciled.

The bottom line is this…you and I live out in our everyday relationships…what we believe about God.

We must begin with Jesus,
the full and final revelation of God…
as the early Christians did…
or we will not end with Him.

My thanks to Michael Hardin - author of The Jesus driven life for his inspiration for this sermon.