No rocks, please. I have criticized sermons and teaching, but if I criticize, then I need to provide an answer or a flip side. The church has grown comfortable with the orthodoxy that was adopted between 100 CE and 1000 CE. Not much has really changed since then. During that time, the church left Jesus behind. If you have read this far, you are either already out of the boat or considering getting out, and possibly considering encouraging your pastor to get out of the boat. I suspect that in many churches, if you encourage others to get out of the boat, you can be isolated or even asked to leave.
Jesus centered sermons and Jesus centered teaching in the church can guide you into a living relationship with God. So… you buy that idea or at least you want to hear more about it. In these blog posts, there is not enough space and time to go into great details. In the next post, I will provide references for those who want to get into detail.
To get to Jesus centered sermons and Jesus centered teaching (Jesus centered church), it is important to learn more about who Jesus is. Jesus was and is a first century Jew – a devout Jew. Even more important than that, Jesus is our model of what happens when a human is filled with God. Have you ever wondered what such a person would be like? Jesus shows us and more than that, Jesus shows us how to work toward being filled with God ourselves.
Take yourself back 2,000 years into the world where Jesus grew up and lived as a Jew. The world of the Jews was built around their temple in Jerusalem and their synagogues in smaller communities. Jesus is believed to have grown up in a village or town named Nazareth far from Jerusalem so his religious exposure would have been through a synagogue either in Nazareth or the nearby city of Sepphoris. Sepphoris was a city built as a regional administration center for the Romans. As such, there would have been people from many other cities and nations passing through the area. If Jesus spent much time in Sepphoris while growing up, he would have been exposed to many people and their many cultures. There is much evidence in the Bible that Jesus was quite devout as a Jew and very knowledgeable of their scripture. I feel that Jesus’s exposure to people (Gentiles) in Sepphoris in his early years may have caused him to take particular note of scripture concerning that the Jews were to be a light to all of the world and that through the Jews, the world would be saved.
At this time, I will not go into my belief that Jesus at some point must have learned to read and write and that he must have spent a great deal of time learning in a synagogue. It is said that he was a carpenter, but in those days, in order to make a living, a carpenter would have found it necessary to work long hours virtually every day. That does not mean he was never a carpenter, but I wonder how he gained so much knowledge and insight into the scripture and such a deep understanding of God. I do not buy the idea that it was simply because of the idea that Jesus was the son of God. It has seemed to me that people lean on the idea that Jesus was the son of God so they can excuse themselves from an adequate response to the call to follow Jesus. The important idea is that Jesus was a very knowledgeable Jew with an exemplary relationship with God. That relationship with God allowed Jesus to perceive beyond the ability of the average person. I think turning constantly to the idea that Jesus was the son of God leads to a lazy approach to implementing the lessons that Jesus delivers for us. One wants to say, “Of course Jesus could do it! He is God!” Jesus calls us to be like him.
Jesus did not just know the scripture. Jesus understood it. He understood it and lived in an uncommon and awesome manner. Jesus contained and lived God and it made a difference. Jesus made God active in his life.
Jesus understood scripture as understood by an early first century Jew. Since most people in that day could neither read nor write, people were reliant upon storytelling and even when stories were written down, the storytelling methods, styles and customs affected the content of the stories.
When I read the stories in the Bible, I see a difference between Jesus and the religious and political leaders of the day. In the Old Testament, I see a difference between the prophets and the religious and political leaders of those times. If one takes the time to learn about the stories about Jesus and the stories in the Old Testament, one will find links that are much more powerful and much more profound than what we tend to think is the purpose of prophets – that they tell the future.
I see stories in the Old Testament that tell us how the people of Israel thought about God. We can learn how they related to God and how they understood God and God’s creation. Then, we learn how various prophets over the years attempted to open people’s eyes, ears, minds and hearts to God. The stories we read about the prophets tended to apply to the religious and political leaders. Prophets were generally busy calling those leaders out because they did not look to God. The glory was not to God. The leaders glorified themselves and took care of themselves. The leaders’ spotlight was on themselves and not on God. The prophets stepped into that spotlight make it obvious that the political and religious leaders were falling short. A common thread among the prophets right up through Jesus is the call to leadership about fairness and justice to all, including the “least of these”. It is important to remember that those leaders included the leaders of what we would call the church today. The prophets disturbed the status quo – the current order of things. Another common thread was the powerful people of the Jewish society persecuted and often killed the prophets. Church and the broader society continue this tradition today.
When I consider the Bible in its wholeness, I can see that those stories of the Old Testament are reused in the New Testament to explain God through Jesus. Some of the stories are used multiple times in the Old Testament before being used again, frequently multiple times, in the New Testament.
Explaining the overall story of the Bible takes time and work which is never very popular. It will also require patience and talent in the one teaching or preaching the story. It seems as if the church developed a formula to first attract people, then successfully recruit them to join the club. That formula is
1. Threaten a person with damnation
2. Offer them a relatively easy way to avoid damnation – this is usually in some form of joining the church and becoming a member of the tribe.
3. Once the church gets the person to join, rituals are provided to maintain that relationship, but not much is done to encourage growth with Jesus. This has been my experience with several denominations and independent churches.
4. Members are then pushed to provide resources for the church, including helping to recruit more members.
It seems there is little desire or effort toward growing an in depth understanding of Jesus. Implementation of the love of God through Jesus is more difficult and tends to be dropped. The above process could be more acceptable, if it was followed by encouraging growth. I believe the above process has helped churches over much of the history of Christianity, but it is inadequate today. There is a call to bring Jesus out front so we can once again follow him as the earliest disciples followed him.
The difficult part has been convincing people to follow the path marked by the life of Jesus. Simply being saved by making a public statement, then usually being baptized and giving a little bit of your time and wealth to the church is agreeable to many. Today, a growing number are very happy to declare a belief that Jesus saves, then deny the necessity for a church except on special occasions such as weddings, funerals, Christmas, and Easter.
What is the problem with these practices? Why hasn’t Jesus andor the church had a greater impact on the world? The church and subsequently, the Christians, have left Jesus behind. Jesus was left behind in the dust created by the first century stories that were created to explain Jesus to the world. The love of God through Jesus and thus our love of the world through Jesus has been lost to misunderstood and inappropriately applied Jewish stories from 2,000 years ago. A fork in the road was met and the wide and easy road was taken while Jesus was leading us down the long, winding, and narrow road that is the love of God.
Continued in the next blog post.