Sunday, March 17, 2019

How does Jesus interpret the Law of Moses?


Mark 12:28-31

One of the teachers of religious law was standing there listening to the debate. He realized that Jesus had answered well, so he asked, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

29Jesus replied, “The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. 30And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ 31The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.”

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During the past several weeks (much longer than that actually) the United Methodist Church has been engaged in long debates and conversations about the most faithful interpretation of scripture relating to the rules we set in place having to do with human sexuality and the Church.

I am led to the thought that the most faithful witness has something to do with the way Jesus interprets scripture. The most faithful witness as disciples of Jesus has to be informed by the way that Jesus interprets the Law of Moses.

This is what I'd like to examine here.




Jesus, the one who Christians believe is the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, all of our mind, all of our soul, and all of our strength; and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The Law referred to the Jewish Torah which consists of the first 5 books of our Bible; Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

If Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law then why don’t we study these books as much as many others? Why don’t we know every one of the laws in the Torah like the back of our own hands?

It is because Jesus said that the message of the Law and the prophets can be summed up in the greatest commandment which is to love God with all of our heart soul mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

This is how Jesus interprets the Law of Moses. As a disciple of Jesus, this is how I want to interpret the Law of Moses too.

All other points of the Law (if we need to follow them at all is debatable depending upon your interpretation of the Bible) are of secondary importance in relation to these two:

In Deuteronomy 6:4-5… “Listen O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”

In Leviticus 19:18… “…love your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus is recorded in the Gospel according to John as telling his disciples to love each other as he has loved them.

Jesus tells us to love and then shows us what God’s love looks like extending himself in mercy (that’s the loving-kindness of God) to those who were largely considered to be outcasts and rejects of the culture and time period; Samaritans, lepers, women, those who were blind, crippled, and lame; tax collectors, shepherds and others. Jesus shows us what God’s love looks like in the humility with which he served; welcoming children and engaging in the work that was sometimes not even required of the lowliest of servants as he stooped down to wash the feet of his disciples. Jesus shows us what God’s love looks like in the grace (that is the totally undeserved and unmerited mercy of God) that he extends to those who nailed him to the cross as he spoke these words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Jesus told his disciples to love and he showed them what love looks like when its lived out.

And then there’s Paul. If it’s true that Jesus shows us how to love, it is equally true that Paul uses words to describe and define this love of God in Jesus.

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul describes love as the following;

Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Love does not demand its own way.
Love is not irritable and it keeps no record of being wronged.
Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices when the truth wins out.
Love never gives up.
Love never loses faith.
Love is always hopeful.
Love endures through every circumstance.
Three things will last forever.
Faith. Hope. Love.
And the greatest of these is Love.

So you can see, looking at the larger themes of scripture and Jesus’ interpretation of it; as a disciple of Jesus Christ it is a mistake to bring any point of the Law to higher significance than the command to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Furthermore, the quality that makes us unique among people in this world (after all, we are to season and brighten this world as salt and light, right? What does God want us to “season” the world with? With love! And not just any love; the love of God that Jesus modeled and Paul wrote about)….

The quality that makes us unique among people in this world as disciples of Jesus is not just that we love; it is the nature of the love that we share. It is that we share with intentionality the kind of love that God has for all people.
A love that as Paul says is patient, kind. Not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Not demanding its own way. Not irritable and keeping no record of being wronged. Not rejoicing about injustice but rejoicing when the truth wins out. Never giving up. Never losing faith. Always hopeful. Enduring through every circumstance. 

There is nothing spoken about any social position, ethnicity, dietary requirements or sexual orientation held within the parameters of this love that Paul defined and Jesus modeled.

With regard to Jesus' interpretation of the Law of Moses, what is sin then? To sin is to miss the mark. For the Israelite community under the leadership of Moses to miss the mark (to sin) was to fall short on any point of the Law. To do God's will in the ancient Israelite community was to follow every letter of the law to a "T"; essentially to do God's will was to do exactly what it said with no point overlooked.

Jesus redefines our understanding of missing the mark (to sin) with his interpretation of the Law of Moses.

The mark that Jesus commands and models and that Paul defines is love. To do God's will is to live this love that Jesus models and Paul defines. To miss the mark (to sin) is to fail to live a love that is patient, kind, and everything else that God's love is.

Consider Jesus' interpretation of the Law of Moses. Consider this your permission to live the love of God in relation with all of the people in your life placing no limits, borders, or boundaries based on age, ethnicity, national identity, gender identity, sexual identity, or any other categories we or others might align with.

God places no limits on love. Neither should we.

This is why I resolve to lead the way for the people of Wellsboro as a pastor who advocates for the full-inclusion of all people in the life of the church.

I long for the day when the United Methodist Church will fully-affirm God's call to ministry and marriage for those who identify as LGBTQ because to reject this people group is to miss the mark that Jesus set for us and to include this people group (as well as all other people groups) is to hit the mark and do the will of God (according to Jesus' interpretation of the Law of Moses).


Amen.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Give as freely as you have received

"The cost is all covered," said Steve as he handed the keys back to me. I had dropped the car off at Bastian's Tire and Auto earlier in the day and was stopping by to pick it up and pay for the work that was done. It turns out that some kind person (I have an idea who it may have been) unbeknownst to me called Bastian's and arranged to cover the cost of the oil change and servicing of my car.

 

It caused me to reflect on some of Jesus' words when he basically says don't do good deeds publicly to be admired by others but do those good deeds in private and God will reward you. 

Surprised and thankful I drove home and as I pulled in the driveway my neighbor Tom was clearing the front sidewalk of snow; both his house and the one I live in! 

Considering these kind gestures which I was the recipient of I thought to myself, "I didn't do anything to deserve this kindness. I should be helping them!"

It seems that some of us human beings are hard-wired to give and some of us are hard-wired to receive. But perhaps the truth is that we all should be open to both.

As Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to share the good news of God's love, among other things he said to them, "give as freely as you have received."

Here is a question for each of us as we seek to life our best lives possible: Is it more challenging for you to help others or is it more challenging for you to bring yourself to a point where your heart is open to being helped by others? 

Once again, this is just one person's opinion, but isn't it best to be open to both giving as well as receiving, receiving as well as giving? 

I think the most challenging and simultaneously the most freeing way we can travel through life is to have hands that are open to receiving and hands that are open to giving.

Whether it's financial help, material gifts, or the intangibles of life such as kindness, patience, or love; what can our lives and our communities look like if each of us resolves today to give as freely as we have received?





Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Lean into Love



It has been a very difficult day for the United Methodist Church. The General Conference (the church's largest governing body) has voted to approve a plan that limits the theological and social scope of the witness of our denomination. The Traditional Plan was passed by 438 delegates voting for its approval and 384 delegates voting against the traditional plan in favor of a plan that would maximize the church's diversity.

The plan that would maximize diversity was the One Church Plan, which was rejected by a vote of 436 against and 386 in favor.

It is a sad reality that the United Methodist Church is a church that is very divided over interpretations of scripture relating to diversity and inclusion. This is now on display for all the world to see.

I still have hope for what is to come. God is not limited by our limitations. God is still able to accomplish in and through us far more than we might hope for or imagine. 


At this point, what is in store for the future of the United Methodist Church is anything but certain.

In light of this uncertainty, there is a power at work in this world that is exponentially greater than our denomination and that is the love of God in Jesus Christ! 

And this Good News of Jesus Christ is for all people.

And so I encourage you, do not lean into fear. Do not lean into fear of those who are of different races and ethnicities. Do not lean into fear of those whose national identity and country of origin is different than your own. Do not lean into fear of those whose sexual orientation is different from your own.

Instead lean into hope. Lean into hope not that all might think and believe just as you do but that all might come to know the power of the love of God in Jesus. 

Lean into love. Resist the urge to judge others based on sexual orientation. Resist the urge to judge others based on their interpretation of the Bible. Lean into love, because Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Love is patient and kind.
Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude.
Love does not demand its own way.
Love is not irritable and it keeps no record of being wronged.
Love does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices when the truth wins out.
Love never gives up.
Love never loses faith.
Love is always hopeful.
Love endures through every circumstance.
Three things will last forever.
Faith.
Hope.
Love.
And the greatest of these is Love.
 

Pray for our church, and lean into love because love never fails.