Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"The Gospel We Don't Have"

"The Gospel We Don't Have."

Proverbs 3:5-10
Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
   and do not rely on your own insight.
In all your ways acknowledge him,
   and he will make straight your paths.
Do not be wise in your own eyes;
   fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.
It will be a healing for your flesh
   and a refreshment for your body.
Honor the Lord with your substance
   and with the first fruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
   and your vats will be bursting with wine. 
Matthew 6: 24-33 

No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth. But strive first for the kingdom of God and God's righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Recently I heard a man on NPR explain how he pretty much looks at the world through a lens of fear and anxiety.  He laughed and said, "that way I'm never disappointed."  It seemed particularly strange because this man directs big action blockbuster movies like Wild West and Men In Black..which seem to expect people to come though and save the day.  But maybe it's easy to look at the world with no expectation.  Don't expect someone to come when you need help and don't expect someone to stay when they say they will.  If you’re on a team don't expect anyone else to be a team player.  Plus if you have low expectations of others. You apply that to yourself.  Live with the reality that people suck and if someone comes through. Well that is really a bonus.

So I started to imagine if Jesus had approached his ministry with this general frame work.  What would the gospel would look like if Jesus lived in fear?  I suspect he would have saved a lot of time teaching and re-teaching.  Every time the disciples don't understand or make a mistake Jesus would have just taken that as par for the course.  Perhaps he would have said, "That's what I expected.  I figured I would have to do this all myself anyway.  Why don't you guys try fishing again."   The scene where two disciples are fighting over who is the best and calling some type of holy "shot gun" that meant the winner got to sit by Jesus for eternity would have looked different.  Instead of Jesus reminding them that the first is last and that discipleship means being a servant to all. I suspect Jesus would have said, "Hey guys, how about you take turns or something."  Would feeding the 5,000 have looked like Jesus standing up with a few fish and a bit of bread saying, "I have mine so open your baskets people because you probably brought some food and you might want to think carefully about sharing because you know sometimes people take advantage."  If the red letter print involved Jesus asking for a favor after healing the sick or standing up in the synagogue to whine; I am 100% confident we would not be gathering for worship on Sundays to celebrate the Christian spirit.  Jesus told the disciples and us alike not to worry.  Again and again he points out the pointless-ness of fear.

In our scriptures, Jesus seems to be the only one not worried about food, not worried about clothing, not worried about saving for a new house or diversifying his portfolio.  Jesus in fact only seems to express interest in food or money when it relates to how much he cares for people who don't have any or people have so much that they place it before God.  Again and again he says give it way, takes the risk and share.  Which I think is why the primary object of fear in the New Testament is Jesus.  If you will excuse, for just a moment, my objectification of Jesus. Consider all the plotting that goes on to quiz him, trick him, trap him, chase him and kill him.  His way of being in the world was a practice of peace.  A practice of letting go of stuff and things.  Letting go of wants and even needs.  Letting go and living in the confidence that his true self and the true self of others was enough.  Jesus was confident in God's presence within and around him.  He didn't need to worry, he just needed to help people discover that true presence within.  If everyone would discover their true selves there would no need to store up and hold back.

The only fear Jesus had is what his tradition called, the fear of the Lord.  Now perhaps that makes you uncomfortable. But the fear of the Lord is not about a big, bad vengeance loving God.  The Hebrew wisdom tradition invited Jesus to explore the fear of the Lord as an avenue of honoring your relationship with God and image of God within.  You don't fear anything else because that money or that emperor doesn't reflect your identity like God.  Focus on God.  Jesus would have grown up in a tradition that invited him to honor God and by honoring God you honor yourself and others.  There is nothing to fear but falling away from that.  The fear of the Lord was a practice.  Dr. Alyce McKenzie says the fear of the Lord means approaching God with awe on bended knee, opening a listening ear to discern Gods call, keeping a cool spirit of self-control in the midst of hard times, and ultimately working to subvert unjust systems for the Kingdom of God.  Fear of the Lord is nothing like fear.

Kingdom of God is about a bold, fearless life.  It keeps your focus on God not on the worries of the day.   You can listen with the Shepherds when Angels say, "fear not for I bring you good news of great Joy."  You can imagine yourself as Mary, vulnerable and alone except aware of the life growing within.  With her you can imagine the urging of angels and aunts to remember you are blessed.  Fear the Lord and walk with God.  Fear the Lord and expect the best from yourself, from people, from the world.  Fear the Lord not your boss or the stock market, not smoking or weight-loss.  Fear the Lord and really live.  Live with your truth out for everyone to see and share.  Live with your whole heart and live ready to grow.