Opinion: Finding the center

A word of hope for living in this world as Jesus intended

Oct 13, 2014 by

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What have we done with God’s good news? The church tends to define the good news as something we have — and if you become like us, we may let you in on it too. My vision for the Mennonite church is simple: to recover the vision of God as seen in Jesus, and to start living it again in a radically fresh, faithful way.

What is the good news of God? The following three-point outline comes from pastor and writer Palmer Becker. It is a radical statement of God’s good news that flows into us, then through us to our neighbors, community, nation and world.

Jesus: the center of our faith

There is a reason the Gospels are filled with stories of Jesus healing the blind, lame and lepers or feeding the hungry and offering acceptance to those the religious community rejected. They tell us what Jesus was doing. Jesus models what God’s love for humanity looks like.

We have images of heaven as a place of banquets and mansions. Jesus tells us to take these images and use them right now as models for how we live. Don’t tell the hungry they will have a banquet in heaven; they need a sandwich right now. Don’t tell the homeless they will have a mansion in heaven; they need a warm place to sleep tonight.

What we do for others does not save us. But it does show whether God’s love and mercy has any impact on our lives. Following Jesus is at the center of our faith, and Jesus models what it means to follow him.

Community: the center of our life

Jesus surrounded himself with a group we call disciples. Paul started communities of faith wherever he went. The early Anabaptists withdrew from the official state church and formed small communities of support and worship, of mutual caring and mission. Anabaptist faith is built on the principle of creating faith communities as rallying points for mission. Have we lost the call of being communities of faith in mission to the world around us?

The question early Anabaptists asked others was not “Are you saved for a future world?” but “Are you following Jesus in this world?” Following Jesus in this life takes care of any worries about a future world.

I am convinced we love people into the presence of God’s grace. Regardless of the wonderful things a pastor might preach, if people do not feel the connection between the words and the way members of the congregation care for each other, they will find the door.

Our invitation is not best seen as “Come get saved so you can go to heaven when you die” but “Come experience God’s grace and mercy and join us in living out God’s new way as we care for our neighbor, love our enemy and feed the hungry.”

Our nation teaches competition and individualism, then uses the language of war. Jesus instead uses community language — of loving, sharing, walking together in peace.
The New Testament tells us God is right here in our midst, calling us to be a community of Jesus people who are a living witness to God’s intentions for all humanity here on Earth. Jesus calls us to be communities of faith bringing salvation in the form of food, mercy, friendship, forgiveness and acceptance for everyone. Community is at the center of our life.

Reconciliation: the center of our work

Jesus faced a challenge that still faces us. How do we apply Scripture? In the Sermon on the Mount, six times Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said . . . but I say . . . ” Jesus knows what is being taught but says, “This is what God wants.” In every case, Jesus talks about how we treat each other. Do we kill people as a way of solving problems? Do we turn women into sexual objects? Do we have integrity in how we speak? Do we distinguish between friend and enemy when both are people whom God loves?

The Pharisees maintained their holiness by separating themselves from everyone they deemed unclean. Jesus included these very people within the faith community — redeeming, healing and restoring them to wholeness and giving them hope. I see a new way by watching how Jesus treated people.

Jesus would not be happy to hear us say force is the only language our enemy understands yet not learn the language our enemy actually speaks.

Jesus brought lepers back into the community by touching them. He gave women status by including them as full members in God’s new community.

Much healing needs to be done in the church. We preach peace from the pulpit, then fight and exclude. We separate ourselves from those with whom we disagree. We say we cannot fellowship with those who are not as holy as we think we are.

As followers of Jesus, we are people of peace. Let’s be honest and public with that message. If people who don’t share that belief want to join us, let’s accept them. But let’s be clear that this is what you will hear from the pulpit and that it is a guiding principle for how we try to live.

The Quaker leader William Penn was asked how long he would permit a new member to carry a sword. He replied: “Only as long as he thinks he needs it.” If we are patient and able to listen, God’s grace within us can be a powerful thing. Some day that person will need to decide: “I cannot stay here because I need to keep my sword” or “I can now put my sword away because I see the new way in Jesus.” Let’s trust God’s grace and mercy to change lives.

Don Blosser is a retired pastor and retired Goshen (Ind.) College New Testament professor.

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