The Least, First

Monte Asbury's blog

Is Jesus MIA? (Readings for September 14, 2008)

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Jesus Christ is, of course, what’s missing from Christianity.

We have positions aplently—”Biblical” positions—or so we’re told by experts. Perhaps we should call our religion “Biblianity.” For Jesus Christ, incarnated again in his ever-new Body, the church, and lived out through the love and acceptance of his apprentices for each other and the whole world—well, Jesus Christ expressed that way is rarer than Nazarenes at a bingo hall.

Mohandas Gandhi

Mohandas Gandhi

It’s not a new problem.  And those who don’t call themselves Christians often see it more clearly than those who do. For example, consider these insights of that spiritual giant Mohandas Gandhi:

  • I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.
  • If Christians would really live according to the teachings of Christ, as found in the Bible, all of India would be Christian today.

Imagine. He’s not suggesting proselyting, but rather simply that Jesus Christ lived-out in public and private is mighty appealing.  Which is, of course, just what Jesus did.

So in this week’s readings, Jesus explains one element of what that would look like.  Then Paul brings it home, expecting a new kind of normal for we who follow Jesus together.  Let him take your breath away.

Hope you get to hear it preached somewhere this Sunday.

Proper 19 (24) A; September 14, 2008

Hebrew Bible: Exodus 14:19-31 [Moses parts the sea]
or Genesis 50:15-21 [Joseph forgives his brothers]
Psalm: Psalm 114 [after Israel left Egypt]
or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 [Moses’ song of victory]
or Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13 [God is sheer mercy and grace, slow to anger]
Epistle: Romans 14:1-12 [Welcome the weaker brother]
Gospel: Matthew 18:21-35 [How many times shall I forgive? Parable of unmerciful servant]

A Story About Forgiveness

21At that point Peter got up the nerve to ask, “Master, how many times do I forgive a brother or sister who hurts me? Seven?”

22Jesus replied, “Seven! Hardly. Try seventy times seven.

23-25″The kingdom of God is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn’t pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.

26-27″The poor wretch threw himself at the king’s feet and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.

28″The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, ‘Pay up. Now!’

29-31″The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, ‘Give me a chance and I’ll pay it all back.’ But he wouldn’t do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.

32-35″The king summoned the man and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn’t you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?’ The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that’s exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn’t forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy.”

Matthew 18:21-35 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

When people are strong on opinions but weak in faith

1 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with-even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.

2-4For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.

5Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.

6-9What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to-all the way from life to death and everything in between-not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.

10-12So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly-or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:

“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.

Romans 14:1-12 (The Message) The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Joseph forgives his brothers

14-15 After burying his father, Joseph went back to Egypt. All his brothers who had come with him to bury his father returned with him. After the funeral, Joseph’s brothers talked among themselves: “What if Joseph is carrying a grudge and decides to pay us back for all the wrong we did him?”

16-17 So they sent Joseph a message, “Before his death, your father gave this command: Tell Joseph, ‘Forgive your brothers’ sin-all that wrongdoing. They did treat you very badly.’ Will you do it? Will you forgive the sins of the servants of your father’s God?”

When Joseph received their message, he wept.

18 Then the brothers went in person to him, threw themselves on the ground before him and said, “We’ll be your slaves.”

19-21 Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now-life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.” He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart.

Genesis 50:15-21 The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Slow to anger, abounding in love

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

Psalm 103:8-13 New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society


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  1. Jesus is MIA because what we’re left with isn’t Christianity, it’s Constantinianism. (I just got that from an op-ed piece I linked to in my latest post, “Who Would Jesus Bomb.”) I think you’d like what this guy has to say…he’s got a book called *Grand Theft Jesus* that looks like a good read. I think you’d dig it.

    Monte says: Lots of truth in that! I’ll be digging around on it – thanks for the tip!

    honestpoet

    September 16, 2008 at 8:48 pm


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