Saturday, August 5, 2017
Spending a cool, bright summer morning reading the red letter words of Jesus has been such a blessing to me today! I began reading chapter 7 of the Red Letter Revolution book, and one of the first things I read was the question, can any two of us have the same image of God and know who it is that we believe? Where do we get our own idea of who God is? The author, Tony Campolo, suggests that we look to Jesus, as He was the fullness of God. So, I went to Matthew, chapters 5-7, which is His sermon on the mount. Jesus had a LOT to say, and since He is the fullness of God, we can learn a lot about the the heart of God by listening to those red words.
I went even a little bit further, and I turned on the audio of my Bible app on my phone, so I could feel as though I was listening to Jesus speaking. Now, I realize that Jesus didn't speak in English, and this may be part of my overactive imagination, but in my mind I was sitting on that hillside with my legs drawn under me, hanging on each word my Savior was speaking.
Jesus spoke a lot about how we are to treat others, and He also gives us consequences for our actions, both positive and negative. I believe He was doing this, lovingly teaching us, so that we can have a better life here on earth, as well as in heaven. A parent lovingly teaches a child the ways to act so that they can prepare the child for life when they grow up and leave the protection of the home. Our Heavenly Father wants to prepare us as well. Jesus gave us stories and ways to understand what He was saying, so that we could relate to what He was saying.
"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets." (Matthew 7:12) This golden rule prepares us for every relationship we can possible have.
Chapter 7 of the Red Letter Revolution is a dialog about Islam. I was anxious to read this chapter, as I know several people who have strong feelings about how we are to treat and deal with Muslims. Because of the war and the other consequences of the terrorism attack of 9/11, there is much fear and hatred for Muslims, even in our Christian communities. I also have some friends from college who are Muslim, and I have always known them to be kind, gentle and peaceful, nothing like the picture of the terrorists I see in the media. The words of both authors in this chapter touched me deeply. Shane Claiborne tells of experiences he had while in Iraq, experiences that showed him that the core beliefs of Islam and the core beliefs of Christianity are really not that far apart. There were Muslims who risked their lives to protect this Christian person visiting this strange country. This showed me that perhaps the red letters of the golden rule are not just for Christians to follow. Perhaps the heart of Jesus and His teachings lives in the hearts of people who many not even know him.
We fear what we don't understand. We rely on our own understanding of our beliefs. We seem to need to know who's in and who's out, in regard to heaven and our salvation. In our Christian belief, we know that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him." (John 14:6) This verse has given me such peace and comfort, for because of it I know who I am, to whom I belong and where I am going. For many, though, this verse provides the weapon to keep others out of heaven. If you don't know Jesus, you won't go to heaven. Period. Who's to say, though, that God, who is more powerful than we can ever imagine, is not powerful enough to show Jesus to those who don't know Him, even without a human being there to lead them to Him? Could Jesus be working in the hearts of Muslims, even as they read the words of the Koran? Perhaps there are people who are becoming Christians without yet calling themselves Christians. I don't understand how this could be possible, but it doesn't mean it couldn't happen.
On the chance that it COULD happen, and Jesus teaches me to treat and love others the way I would want to be loved and treated...perhaps I should respect and show love to others who believe differently than I.
Tony Campolo ends Chapter 7 with these words, which sound like a wonderful prayer to me: "We can pray that the Spirit continues to draw us all - Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Atheist, and Christians - closer to God and all things that matter to Him."
Friday, August 4, 2017
At my library, there is a beautiful statue of St. Francis. It stands in a small room on the main floor and has scared me out of my wits when I thought it was a person standing there. I am not Catholic, and do not know very much about the man or the saint. Today, however, I am intrigued and touched by his words.
Francis of Assisi lived in a time of turmoil, much like today. In the culture of his time, there was a great gap between the very wealthy and the very poor and Christians and Muslims were warring with each other in dramatic battles and hatred was rampant. Francis longed to do something that would make a difference and heal the hate and hurt. He studied the words of Jesus, and actually took those words seriously. He gave up every possession he had and gave to anyone who was in need. He spoke out and wrote poetry and tried to make the world understand that in order to change the world, we have to love others and love the world we live in.
Francis wasn't some hippie shouting "make love, not war,' he was on a mission from God. He heard God whispering to him to repair His church, which was in ruins. All he did with his life from that point on was to obey his heavenly Father. He left a legacy many years ago that you and I can pick up and continue today, by studying those red words of Jesus and putting them in practice every day.
What does that mean? Love.
"This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you." John 15:12
"For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;" Matthew 25:35
"YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF." Matthew 22:39
St. Francis' prayer so many years ago is so very relevant today. May we all be instruments of His peace and do what we can to repair the church and the world, today and every day.
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.
-- St. Francis of Assisi
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Chapters 2 & 3 of Red Letter Revolution (Claiborne and Campolo) have moved me to tears! At last! I feel like someone actually understands the things in my head and my heart! These two chapters were about the church and living in community. It made me think of my own family and church experience.
When I was in elementary school, something happened to my parents at the church we attended. The result of this event caused my father, who had been a leader in our church, to lose faith in the church. He left and never stepped foot in a church again until my wedding day when he walked me down the isle. He adamantly still believed in God, but he felt that the church was full of hypocrites only out for "the almighty dollar," and felt he could worship God just as well as he was driving the tractor or feeding the sheep. He felt this way until the day he died, which was way too early at the age of 46.
My mother, however, felt it was still important for their children to go to church and learn about Jesus as she and my dad had, in Sunday school. So, she took my brother and me to a different church, where we finished growing up and where I had a firm foundation of the love of God and the loving and saving grace of Jesus placed in my heart that has stayed with me all my life.
But, even though my faith has stayed with me, I have had many times when I questioned the church, no matter which church I was attending. Even today, I question God almost daily. I don't doubt Him or not believe in Him, but I question things that don't make sense to me. Many times, I don't get answers to my questions, and sometimes I still feel frustrated, but my questioning has also brought me closer to God. I look at this world and my heart hurts. There is so much pain, so many broken hearts, so much hate and violence. I want to do more to ease the hurt for others around me.
My dad felt the church was too full of hypocrites, and many young people I meet today feel the same way and don't want anything to do with church. In some of those red letters, in Matthew Chapter 23, Jesus talked about hypocrisy. He explained that many leaders and teachers of the word were too wrapped up in themselves, preaching the right way to go, but not doing it themselves. He called them on it as well, in a most forceful and emphatic manner, in fact. On top of calling them hypocrites, he calls them fools, blind guides, snakes, and a brood of vipers. WOW! This gentle Son of God spoke some serious words to these leaders!
A new church that was started in the name of Jesus, after his death - the church we read about in Acts - was the beginning of what I believe God saw as what he wanted for his people. People living in community, helping each other, lifting each other up, sharing what they had and living and doing life together in the name of Jesus. It started out well, but as is our human nature to do, they messed it up. As history shows us, many horrendous and despicable things have been done in the name of Jesus, and "the church" is really nothing like the first church we see in Acts. Today, many churches strive to be Acts churches, but still many people around the world have left the church behind them.
While I also get fed up from time to time with the hypocritical things I see in churches and Christians today, I also know that I am a hypocrite as well. As Paul says in Romans, 7:15, "I do not understand what I do. For what I WANT to do I do not do, but what I hate, I do." I find myself doing the things I hate! Instead of filling up self-loathing about this behavior, however, talking to some of my trusted friends from church has always helped me, for they too find themselves doing the same thing.
Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." The church needs to be a place where we are honest about our hypocrisy We need to EMBRACE those red words and embrace each other in our hypocrisy. If we are honest with each other, we CAN live in harmony in our faith communities. As he was preparing to leave this earth, Jesus prayed for his disciples and prayed that "they may as one as we are one." That we, as disciples of Christ, could be like the trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, three different entities, living as one in heart and mind.
I know my dad's heart was broken over the hurt he felt in the situation that happened to him in his church. He felt he was better off worshiping on his own. I know of so many other people who have felt broken hearted or lost because of hurt they experienced at church. What they don't see is that we NEED each other, hypocrisy, warts and all, to truly live and experience the wonder of Christ's love for us.
I long to see a red letter revolution of people who live out the words of Jesus and embrace each others failures, sins and trials instead of judging them and making them feel they do not belong in church because of the things they do. Instead of reminding people they are going to hell for doing things God tells them not to, SHOW THEM the loving and forgiving grace of Jesus. How are people who are sinning (EVERY ONE OF US!) going to find Jesus' grace if they feel they aren't worthy of even walking through our church doors?
I know I NEED my community off fellow hypocrites around me, who honestly and lovingly help me through life, even when I mess up. I'll let God worry about the sin and I will just show people His love. What if each of us did that every day?