Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Where the Wise, Being With #6

22-23 Feb 2020, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Scripture, Psalm 27, pp 758-759
       Sung response (as in the hymnal)
Children, Jeremiah 9.23-24 (things we brag about)
Message, 1 Corinthians 1.17-31 (wise, strong, etc.)

Story: What kind of church are you? “All about Jesus.”

Did I put the scandal of Jesus front and center? Jesus is wonderful, and I want everyone to know him and love him. He will change your life. And he will rock your world. That’s why there’s scandal. The Greek word for “stumbling block” is scandalon, the root from which we get our English word scandal.

Today we conclude our message series that I have titled “Being With.” Each week we have approached the text from the focus point of a particular question in the text. The first week, it was the question of John the baptizer to Jesus when Jesus came for baptism: “Do you come to me?” The question points out that Jesus chooses to identify with outsider sinners, that he has “friends in low places.” The second week, the questions were those to the man and woman in the garden and then to one of their sons: “Where are you?” “Where is your brother?” These questions expose our basic conflicts with God and with each other and call us to the practice of reconciliation in conflict. Then we had “Where is the house you will build for me?” This question from the prophet points out that God’s dwelling place is among us, that we are God’s house. And even if we are fixer-uppers, God is not waiting to move in. Then, “When did we… see you?” That story calls us to see Jesus, to meet Jesus, in the poor and marginalized and to be with them. Last week, “Aren’t you concerned?” a question that exposes the ways we are self-obsessed and completely oblivious to those whom we are with, even oblivious to being with Jesus himself.
       Today’s question is “Where the Wise?” It exposes the scandal of Jesus and the cross and invites us to be with God and each other in fresh ways.

First, the scandal of Jesus in particular as the unique Son of God, the unique Savior of the World. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6). “There is salvation in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven given among people whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4.12).
       Discussion in one of our small groups: What about infants who die before they are old enough to claim the name of Jesus, or before they are baptized? What, for that matter, about faithful practicing Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists? What about people who have never heard of Jesus? We have compassion, and that’s a good thing. Jesus was known for his compassion. “Don’t you care?” “Aren’t you concerned?” The answer, for Jesus, was always, “YES.”
       So, I rest in hope that God is much more compassionate and merciful than I am. In fact, if it was up to me, I’ve got a list of folks I’d rather not be saved. Adolf Hitler, Pol Pot, Josef Stalin, Nero, and some folks known personally to me.
       And, for those who cannot imagine following a God who would send most of the human race to hell in a handbasket, I do offer that within the broad outlines of the Christian tradition there is theological precedent for an expansive salvation that includes people we would never think would be “in” the kingdom. The promise to Abraham is that through him “all nations will be blessed” (Genesis 12). Isaiah the prophet offered that two of Israel’s great enemies, Egypt (the land of slavery) and Assyria (the superpower that wiped out the lost tribes), would be included under the big tent of God’s kingdom (Isaiah 19.23-25). John’s gospel declares that “God so loved the world that he gave his Son” (John 3.16). The arc of the biblical story has God “devising ways” so that the “banished might return” (2 Samuel 14.14).

Second, the scandal of the cross as the instrument and story of our salvation. Our conventional religion says, over and over, that we get to heaven, we find our salvation, by being good people. “I hope I’ve been good enough,” one person says to me, clearly imagining that scale on which the good and the bad we have done are set and hoping that their good outweighs their bad. But the Scripture declares that “all our righteousness is as filthy rags” in the sight of God (Isaiah 64.6). It doesn’t matter whether our good deeds outweigh our sins. All that matters is Jesus. That’s why we’re all about Jesus here at Christ Church.
       It doesn’t matter how wise or smart we are, how well we know the rules, how well we follow them. All that matters is Jesus. It doesn’t matter how powerful we are, how well we resist temptation, how strong our will power to choose good and shun evil. All that matters is Jesus. It doesn’t matter our how wealthy we are, how rich our store of good deeds, how much our philanthropy blesses our community and world. All that matters is Jesus. That’s why we’re all about Jesus here at Christ Church.
       That is only “part 1” of why the cross is such a scandal. It makes us all equal, no matter what we have done, before the grace of God. And it says decisively to you and to me: You cannot save yourself. You must throw yourself upon Jesus and his grace. Part 1 of the scandal is what the cross says about us.

Part 2 of the scandal, and the most important part, is what the cross says about Jesus. It says that Jesus comes not for the righteous but for the sinners. And that has never been good news for religious folks. It says that Jesus loves the outsider, loves the sinner. How does it say that? It says that becomes that’s what Jesus becomes, fully, in the cross. He dies “outside the gate” (Hebrews 13.12), a death of disgrace that joins him with all of us who are disgraced. He dies with sinners, not just for sinners. He dies as a sinner. “He made his grave with the wicked … and was counted with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53.9-12).

Note that this vision of salvation is not just about dealing with our sin. It isn’t just about justification in a legal sense – “pardon for sin.” It is also about justification in the relational sense – “peace that endureth,” peace with God (Hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”). That’s being with and it is the theme of the salvation story from beginning to end of the Scripture. In the wilderness, the LORD tells Israel: “I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them” (Exodus 29.45-46). That’s being with. Isaiah imagines Egypt, Assyria, and Israel worshiping God together. That’s being with. The wise woman speaks with king David about the return of his son in terms of God’s saving work, so that the “banished might return” and be family. That’s being with. Jesus dies as an outsider and we too are invited to go to him, “outside the gate” (Hebrews 13.12). That’s being with. Jesus dies as a sinner and we are invited to join him as a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11.19). That’s being with. So, who are we to say that we cannot be in communion with sinners, let alone persons with whom we disagree? (Steve West)
       If there is to be a scandal in the church, it should not be Christians suing each other. It should not be getting a reputation as hateful and judgmental people. It should not be marital indiscretions by our pastors and leaders. It should be that we are all about Jesus – as the unique Son of God, the unique Savior, the unique lover of our souls. In Jesus, God definitively and permanently chose US! Not because we’re all that wonderful but because God just decided to love us. In Jesus, God chose to be with us radically and totally, and to be with us to death. That is why the cross is such a scandal in the world. It makes no sense to those who want the world to make sense, and it is a total failure to those who always want to win. But because of the cross, because God chose to be with us radically even unto death, we can join God and be with God, and with each other, in LIFE.

Samuel Wells, The Nazareth Manifesto: Being With God.

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