I love Jesus Christ, and I have some pretty definite reasons why I love him, as a person, as a religious figure, as a image of God relating to humanity. Yes, I was raised as a Christian, but that’s not the reason I’m a Christian, today. I’m a follower of Jesus Christ because he:
1) doesn’t feel the need to judge me before loving and living life with me,
2) isn’t afraid to challenge me and move me forcibly from my apathy, and
3) invites me to live my life in a Way that has proven rich and worthy of my time and effort.
This is not a post about why my religion is betters than yours, why my faith is deeper than yours, or why you should consider being more like me in any way at all. I just had a deep need this week to talk about how much I love and respect the man, Jesus Christ. And I’m going to explain these three reasons by sharing some stories from his life and teachings.
He doesn’t feel the need to judge me before loving me! Man, that’s just how Jesus liked to roll when walking the dusty roads of earth! He didn’t need to start with condemnation. Has that been your experience in churches? Have preachers needed to condemn you and then try to change you? Sometimes we approach sharing Good News in a burn it down and rebuild it mindset toward people, but that’s not the Way of Jesus. I’m sorry if you’ve had that kind of experience in church, we just don’t always get things right as human beings. Check out Jesus silencing an angry crowd in John 8:1-11. He didn’t need to condemn someone caught in the act! Jesus in John 4:1-42 doesn’t need to condemn a person who has messed up marriages and even worships in a different religion than his. What? Yup. Now wrap all that up with some sermonizing from Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5. Judging: we don’t. We shouldn’t. And if we are, we’re doing our Christianity wrong. Jesus has a special way of drawing me to himself and to Christianity because he doesn’t need to start by condemning everyone else and shaming their experience and effort, or mine.
Yet, he isn’t afraid to challenge me! Not needing to judge me doesn’t mean that Jesus won’t transform me. Just like with the woman in John 8, Jesus tells me to get my act together and do better. Jesus did sometimes have some pretty scathing words for people, but have you noticed that they tended to be for the religious professionals, as in Matthew 23:1-36? That’s right, when Jesus did take people task, it was the religious leaders. Jesus does not like religion that depends on fakery, form over substance or that neglects the essential core of religion: justice, mercy and faith. As a pastor and a life-long theology student, I need to take this heart. Being non-judgmental does not mean being less concerned about doctrine and life or having fewer personal convictions. Jesus challenges and provokes and moves us with a message of intrinsic value and worth, belief in ourselves and what we can actually be in this world. We are made to be light and flavor for the world around us! He said that in Matthew 5:13-16, and he modeled it in his daily life and ministry. Flavoring the world and lighting the path for our neighbor is our purpose, and he isn’t shy about pointing out what a tragic loss it is for us to lose that sense of purpose.
Speaking of purpose, the Way of Jesus is my constant guide and meaning. I’m so glad to have the formation of Jesus in my life, to teach me my true worth and the worth of others, and then to send me into a life of action and support for this world, God’s beloved world. That’s Gospel; it’s the Good News. Jesus came into our lives to remind us of something. He’s reminding us that God has not left, finished the work in and with us, or ever given up hope that we would rise above self-destruction and change the world. Think for a moment on one of the ways that Jesus announced his work, “The kingdom of God is near,” as in Mark 1:9-15. A simple statement that says so much: 1) God is near, 2) the sovereignty of God is active, 3) we are invited to citizenship in God’s kingdom, and 4) hope is not limited to the reach and efficacy of human kingdoms. We have a calling, an identify, and a hope. Think about the way that Jesus famously summarized the Law and Prophets, or put religion in a nutshell in the famous passage of Matthew 22:34-40: “Love God, and love others as you love yourself.” Encapsulated in this brief summary is the love of God, the love people and the love of self. I have been guilty of often paraphrasing this teaching as two loves, love God and love others, but it’s really three. I am free, invited and needed to love myself as basis for empathically loving and caring for others. We are connected, bound up and whole in the love of God. The love of God is the foundation upon which we build life, and that love as the mortar between every stone and person. This is the Way of Jesus.
This morning, finishing up this blog post and trying to start my day with a big bottle of water (I tend not to hydrate enough), I’m recommitting myself to opportunities to live my daily prayer: let me love, let me learn, let me serve. All that I’ve learned of Jesus over the years can be expressed in these three values: love, growth and service. May the world be enriched for our time within it, and may God be made glad as we give ourselves to the Way of Jesus. May my actions and words support my own value, yours, and the worth of God’s beautiful world.