I have spent much of my time in this Covid Wilderness thinking about the men and women whom Jesus gathered around him while he was living on earth. The twelve men who are called “Apostle” were not the only people he kept company with. There was Lazarus of Bethany (the famed one who Jesus raised from the dead), his two sisters Mary (the devoted student) and Martha (the devoted housekeeper/worker). Peter’s wife and Mother-in-Law and Mary of Magdalene (who Jesus healed of demons).
There was also Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus who were Jewish religious leaders and men of the Law. Now of the twelve, there were the blue-collar working men, James, John, and Peter. Good fishermen who might not have had the education of some of the others, but knew the value of good, hard work. Matthew would be considered a civil servant working for the Roman government as a tax man. There were the Zealots, Judas and Simon, and the savvy Judas Iscariot. These are just some of the men and women who came from diverse backgrounds and experiences all gathered around one man, dedicated to his ministry and mission. None of them truly understood the mission, perhaps but they all loved the man Jesus.
I am convinced, because let’s face it, it is the way of humanity, and scripture attests to this truth, that there is no way they saw eye to eye on matters of faith, theology or doctrine even though they heard Jesus’ teachings first hand, literally from the mouth of God, the source. They all listened to his words and teachings with their own experiences, beliefs, backgrounds, prejudices and opinions, and none of them had the absolute right of it, yet together they formed The Church. Much of the epistle literature addresses the reality of their differences as these men and women spread out across the globe to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with people as they struggled to keep the basics of faith, the meaning of salvation and the resurrection at the forefront of their teachings.
Christianity still struggles with this; we each struggle with this. If even the first disciples, the very first, who knew him personally, ate with him, touched him, laughed and cried with him, those first believers struggled with this, then why do we insist there is only one way to look at scripture? We continue to believe that “we” (by “we” I mean anyone whose opinion on the matter at hand agrees with ours) have the orthodox, precise way of interpreting what scripture says, and we are the “true” believers. Throughout history Christians from all backgrounds have whittled away at the only scriptural requirement of salvation, putting our faith in Jesus Christ and believing he is who he claimed to be.
It is the propensity of human nature to want to be “right,” and when you couple that with “religion,” the danger rises of putting God in a “me” shaped box. In the past eight weeks I have heard a lot of “me” shaped exclamations [and have probably said a few myself].
“Do you believe in Jesus?” (yes)
“Okay, I just need to know when you gave your life over to Christ.” (um, why do you need to know?)
“The only way to be sure you are saved is if you say the Sinner’s Prayer.”
You mean the one contained in scripture? Because I cannot find it in the Bible; or do you mean the one that originated in the 18th Century?
“You will know you are truly a Christian if you don’t watch Television, or movies or listen to the ‘wrong’ music or read the ‘wrong’ books.”
“If money is a worry, you need to repent.”
“If you constantly repent, then and only then will you be assured of your salvation.”
And with each of these qualifiers, I feel the burden of the Law heavy upon my shoulders once again, weighing me down and making me feel like a failure, worthless, and very, very much in need of salvation. My heart becomes troubled and fear my prison. Listen, I may not know what is absolutely right, but I know what is not right. And brothers and sisters, this ain’t right.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God and believe also in me.” Jesus in John’s Gospel. In response to Thomas, same Gospel when Thomas asks, “How can we know the way?” and Jesus answers, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also.”
THIS, I believe!!! THIS, I trust.
I also trust Paul in Romans when he declares, “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” AMEN!!
Jesus had money men, rich men, businesswomen, wives and stay-at-home mothers, people with loose morals, government employees, solders, prophets, zealots, lawmen, fishermen, wise men, teachers, religious men and all kinds of other people. Guess what? He still does, and this is a good thing! So, let us show each other the same grace that was shown to us by this man we have all staked our lives on.
My final thoughts coming from the Covid wilderness are these: As we come out of this shelter-in-place, virus ridden reality (and we will someday), we need to remember that we are not to judge others if they see things differently than we do. We need to avoid trying to shackle others to our way of thinking. We need to be humble and to recognize that God is greater than our “me” shaped boxes.
God speaks to us the way we need to hear. It is not the same for everyone and we are all united despite our differences, because we are made in God’s image, and because we breathe the same Holy Ruach. So trust that we will find our way together and we will walk the road with Christ beside us.
I for one, want to see Him in every twist and turn, in every piece of bread and cup of wine, in every conversation and in worship. Let us stop worrying over who is right and just open the eyes of our hearts, recognize the grace, truth, life and salvation in our midst. Because virus or not, differences aside, we are still The Church.