Pastor’s Friday Comments (01.24.20)

As you probably know, our men’s group is reading a powerful and persuasive book by Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, entitled Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus. I commend this book to you enthusiastically, though some of you may not like his political conclusions.

Wallis’s basic premise is that the way out of the divisive tribalism of our culture is not through adopting any particular political stance, but by understanding and committing ourselves to the teachings of Jesus. As he puts it, “Don’t go left; don’t go right; go deeper.”

In the introduction, Wallis writes, “This crisis of faith and politics thus presents us an opportunity to go deeper – deeper into what we call faith; deeper into our relationships with each other, especially across racial lines; and deeper into our proximity to the most marginalized, whom we often don’t think about or whose faces we don’t see. Crisis can take us deeper into the moral, spiritual, or faith commitments that can and do shape both our personal and public existence.”

I believe that this kind of “deeper faith” is what we seek at Parkway. Our emphasis should always be on understanding and committing ourselves to the teachings of Jesus. In that spirit, for the next few weeks we will be taking a foray into what is usually considered the most comprehensive summary of Jesus’ teachings, the Sermon on the Mount.

Because we will soon be in the Season of Lent (hard to believe, but Ash Wednesday is February 26), we will just be delving into Matthew 5, while the Sermon comprises all of the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of that Gospel. However, I would like for you to read the entire sermon – several times. If you want to understand both what Jesus taught and their radical nature both in Jesus’ time and ours, then “go deeper” into this section of the New Testament.As you

It can be discouraging to engage in dialogue with many Christians today and discover how woefully ignorant they are about what Jesus actually taught. If we accept, as all Christians must, that the historical Jesus is the full revelation of God’s will and desire for humanity, and if we accept that to be a Christian is to follow Jesus’ teachings, then familiarity with his teachings is essential.

I am willing to have a conversation with anyone about how the principles that Jesus taught are to be applied both to personal behavior and public policy in our day, but that conversation has to be based on what we believe Jesus actually said, rather than on what our own opinions might be about what we think he would be saying today. It’s not really surprising that, if we don’t restrict ourselves to the words of Jesus, our conception of him conforms closely to what we want to believe anyway.

Here’s the challenge: Tell me when you’ve read Matthew 5, 6, and 7. I’m keeping count. Since I can’t rely on everyone reading this column (I’m not naive), I’ll be making the challenge in church the next couple of Sundays too. If I haven’t heard from you by the end of February, I’ll send you an email asking if you’ve read it yet. And I’ll keep after you until I get a response. I think it is that important.

So do it now. Even if you’ve read it a dozen times, I am sure you will find something there you hadn’t noticed before or some teaching that you will realize you need to apply at this time in your life. That sort of thing happens almost every time we read Scripture, especially if we approach it with a prayer that the Holy Spirit will open our lives up to its teachings. I look forward to hearing you share about what effect this reading has on you.