Spirit Alive: It's Time for a Bit More Jesus
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog that looks at different aspects of mission and ministry throughout the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and beyond.
April 9, 2019
Food for the Soul:
What Can the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Teach Us About Our Own Life and Times?
As the Post-General Conference reality settles in and we continue seeking to find our spiritual bearings in the midst of troubled and turbulent times...it's not a bad time, in the middle of Lent, to turn to Jesus for guidance and direction. All too often, as we go through the rituals of the church, we do so as if we are visiting some distant, far off reality. But in many ways, Jesus' time, context, and challenges are a lot like our own.
It wouldn't be farfetched to say that the stark divisions that we find ourselves in today are occurring because many of our beliefs are expressed through fundamentally different religious principles, even within Christianity itself...And add to that our inability to connect with each other across borders, as the pace of globalization continues to accelerate, and it is easy to see why we struggle on so many fronts to find our collective equilibrium. It is always a difficult task to confront and integrate various perspectives across cultures and traditions in a cohesive, understandable manner. So maybe Jesus' reality isn't so distant from us after all.
And because of the similarities between Jesus' times and our own, I think it's important to pause and think about Jesus once again. Not in terms of the simplistic WWJD?...as in, what would Jesus do? And not as Marcus Borg says in his powerful book, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Because the reality is that it's hard to say exactly what Jesus would do today (although I have a lot of ideas about things he wouldn't do!)...and we are probably spending time with Jesus during this Lenten Season for the 100th time, not the first.
But our times so resemble Jesus' own times...which were filled with political power plays, social inequality, religious turmoil, and spiritual longing.....that not to focus on Jesus would be foolish on our part, especially as people who call ourselves Christians and who seek to follow his Way of living.
So here's where this journey and encounter with Jesus takes me....
But understanding what Jesus can teach us about our present journey does not end with Schweitzer. Recently I've jumped in head first to read a number of books about Jesus in hopes of getting some guidance about how he navigated his own world. I just completed reading the four Gospels once again, which serve as the "Owner's Manuel" for Christian living. But it was also through reading several other resources on Jesus that my understanding of him expanded and I came to know my own times and struggles better as well.
For Schweitzer this meant: "Only by means of reverence for life can we establish a spiritual and humane relationship with all living creatures within our reach. Only in this fashion can we avoid harming others, and, within the limits of our capacity, go to their aid whenever they need us...The essential element in Christianity as it was preached by Jesus and as it is comprehended by thought, is this, that it is only through love that we can attain to communion with God." This is wise counsel for troubled times!
Love... simply love God and others...and you will find sacredness residing there! It is the essence of the Christian faith.
But let's be clear about what Jesus' kind of love means....It is not passive. It is not lukewarm. And it is not without risks...as Jesus clearly demonstrates.
Instead, Jesus' love engages people where they are...Sure it is about kindness, patience, and perseverance...but love also confronts injustice, bigotry, social alienation, and imperial/colonial ways of living. And in the end it is the greatest of gifts-- both spiritual and political-- because through love we come to know both God...and neighbor in profound and lasting ways.
So as we approach Holy Week, let us return to Jesus' Way as we enter this dramatic historical moment in time, knowing that the events of this journey still have much to teach us about our own times and lives.
And in the process of doing so, we learn the Way to abundant living. Jesus put it like this: "I give you a new commandment: love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other." (John 13: 34)
Blessings on your journey,
Spirit Alive is a twice a month blog and email by Rev. Lowell Greathouse, Mission and Ministry Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Conference. It seeks to identify where the spirit is alive in our congregations and communities. Check out past editions, or subscribe to the email list.