March 12, 2023
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE READING:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ Jesus. It is the power of God to bring salvation to everyone who believes; first to the Jew and then to the Greek [read ‘to the rest of the world].” (Romans 1.16)
“They [the believers in the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth who is the Son of God and Messiah] devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. All the believers were together and had everything in common.” (Acts 2.42,44)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFLECTION:
Most recently I have been reading a book while doing a 30-35 stroll on my treadmill six mornings a week. I have added this discipline to my morning routine to refresh my mental, spiritual and physical well-being. This has become a renewed priority after going through a second surgery for cancer in seven years. Now, since June of 2006, I have been praying, studying God’s word, meditating on it and reflecting upon it in a shared fashion of one sort of another. The discipline of exercise was not a part of that routine mostly because I 1) didn’t think it was as necessary being active throughout the day and 2) it wasn’t an available option to me at that time. Now it is a different priority and opportunity which I am committed to for my sake and for my service to others. I am being renewed not with the strength of eagles (as I have not yet figured out how to fly) but with the strength of an ox (as I will plow ahead in prayerfully straight furrows for the seed of God to be broadcast.) It is my desire and my pleasure to serve. Out of that introduction, I want to create a picture of the first community of faith established after the remarkable Pentecost experience in 29 A.D. Imagine the desire of a people influenced by the call of “the world” to be served instead of to serve. We know of the scripture in Matthew (chapter 20, verses 25ff) “Jesus called them together and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.‘” Obviously, Jesus was counter-cultural. Little wonder that the ruling elite in Jerusalem, and later in Rome, would see Jesus as a threat to their “way of life” and the established culture and climate of the day. While Jesus was promoting the identity of servanthood and sacrificial love, the ruling elite (Pharisees, Saducees and the elders who would be priests…all Jews) promoted masters of destiny (self-serving faith) and sacrificial receiving (they promoted the tithe intended for the good of the Temple was to include the tithes for the poor, thanksgiving and forgiveness). To the ruling elite and their disciples this was the fulfillment of their “manifest destiny” to make the whole world Jewish. However, it didn’t seem to work well for all other Jews: the outcast, the poor, the widow, the orphan, the Samaritan (representative of the inter-cultural lost tribes of Israel) and the unrepentant sinner (mostly the prostitutes and tax collectors who often found themselves in the service of the ruling elite like small business owners pay protection “tithes” to mob bosses.) Their motto could have well been “It is better to be served than to serve.” We see this attitude among the disciples themselves such as Judas of Kerioth (the presumed treasurer of the Christ fraternity) as well as James and John (who either in their own voices or in proxy through their mother) asked for special privileges in the here-after. It was the latter that served as the impetus for Jesus’ teaching mentioned above. The gist of it would be “If you are My disciples committed to following Me, then you must be just like Me. If you want to sit on the thrones of Heaven, then God will certainly make a place for you as He does for Me…if you are just like Me.” Of course, who could be just like Jesus? There can be “only One.” Still, we know we are called to live into the image of Christ by which we were first created and now are recreated in His name.
So, what then of the first community of faith in Jesus as the Christ following the empowering Pentecost experience as “young men (and women) had visions and old men (and women) had dreams while all of them declared the truth by the power of the Holy Spirit? We can see the very first response which came after their confession of sin and profession of faith (which may had been validated by baptism of water and definitely by the Spirit). That response was sacrificial servanthood. Luke reports in his Gospel of the Church: The Acts of the Apostles, “All the believers were together and had everything in common.” They sold what they had and pooled it together for the good welfare of this new community. Obviously Judas of Kerioth wasn’t appointed treasurer because he had already “left the building.” To solve this matter, the apostles issued (re. Acts, chapter 6) the request that seven men from among the community be chosen to oversee the intake and outreach of the monies surrendered for the cause of the people. Among them was Stephen, a Greek Christian. Already the multi-cultural identity of the Church was being developed. When Luke wrote “All the believers were together and had everything in common,” he was speaking to their singular identity as followers of Christ regardless of their old history. This was a new day, a new season, a new age and a new reality. That reality was centered around the new commandment “And they will know you are My disciples as you ‘love one another.’” And that love was expressed by the intention to not be like the ruling elite (Jew or Gentile) who lorded it over the people and demanded their service but to be like Christ who came “to serve and not be served.” And what of the leadership of this community- the apostles and their appointees? I guarantee they did not appear as the Pharisees did in long robes with phylacteries of wool interlaced with gold and bells as tassels jostled by fine leather sandals. They were still fishermen, stonecutters, retired soldiers and the like. Their outward appearance was not like that of John the Baptizer, mind you, but that of Jesus of Nazareth whose appearance was prophetically non-descript so as to blend in with the people whom He served. The servant would not be greater than the master. They stayed as they were just as they came as they were. But, their heart and mind and spirit was better because while Jesus accepted them as they were, He would not leave them in that condition. They were new creations, renewed from the inside out. Their outward manifestation of the inner transformation was to serve “one another” and “bring glory to God” as one people, with one faith, inducted by one birth, for one purpose, by one will in honor of one God who was, is and shall always be Father of them all. Their treasures were laid up in Heaven where neither dust nor moth could destroy and remained out of reach of the thief who came to steal and kill in order to take the treasure for his or her own purpose. Ah, the innuendoes included in the gospels which gave silent fingerpointing and elbow jabs to the “those people- the ruling elite.” We know the difference, don’t we? Or do we?
Look at the contemporary communities of faith which jointly together represent the Church in its current Age. It didn’t take long for Gentile Christians to cry foul against the Jewish Christians for not executing financial justice (supporting the Greek widows and orphans). It didn’t take long for Jewish Christians to cry foul on Gentile Christians for not executing spiritual justice (meaning the Jewish purity requirements of diet and circumcision). And before we know it the two main leaders of the “Christ Movement” were pitted against each other: Peter versus Paul. Or was it Paul versus Peter?. The main issue was the inclusion of Gentile believers along the lines of fidelity to Mosaic Law, tradition and the teachings of Christ Himself who radically interpreted it all according to the “righteousness of God.” If all of that happened within a decade of Pentecost and was rampant within a generation (forty years), then we can only imagine the picture as it is now two thousand years later! Dare I re-offer that old saying “a miss is as good as a mile”? The Apostle Paul (a Christ follower who was a Pharisee until he accepted the call to preach the gospel to the Gentiles) identified sin as hamartia, or “missing the mark.” Missing the mark is less critical when standing a “reach” away from the target. Not hitting dead center by a micron or an inch still fell within the “bull’s eye.” But, faulty aim from twenty feet, fifty feet or even a hundred yards would result in missing the bull’s eye if not the entire target as the arrow seemingly followed its own tangent. So, “missing the mark” a month later, a year later, forty years later would be one thing. What if that tangent, in spite of prophetic correction, was not truly impeded? Where would that arrow land two thousand years later? One would only need to hear the teachings of Jesus on this point. He did mention something about this to those ruling elites as they called upon the identity of “Abraham as their father.” Jesus knew they only meant the bloodline of descendancy as their claim to righteousness. Jesus, however, would call them into accountability with the recognition that Abraham was blessed by faith and not by blood. Yes, two thousand years had passed from Abraham to Jesus and the state of the “church,” that is the Temple, was in such disrepair that it had become a “den of thieves” instead of a “house of worship and prayer.” Mighty ones of God, I pray we will put some time and energy in “working out” our commitment to “physical and spiritual” improvement as members of the Body of Christ, the Church, with Jesus as the head and not any human being. Let us, and those who would be leaders, be ever mindful of “becoming like Christ in the image of Jesus who came to serve and not be served.” Let the Church be that community of faith in Christ which had all things in common and contributed in “love for one another” to the welfare of that community. Let it also declare with such fidelity to the gospel as it was revealed and reflected upon by Jesus as the Christ that the world will see there are only two ways in life and only one of them leads to the Father’s House as the true way of life and living. We are called to serve and not be served. That hasn’t changed in two thousand years nor from the beginning of time nor after the end of time. There is something to be said of such consistency, don’t you think?
Father, Your provision for our lives is sufficient to sustain us in our desire to meet the expectations which You have shared in stewarding creations and shepherding Your people with particular attention to seek and to restore those who are lost. Let us be ever mindful of our authentic identity. It is our desire to reflect upon it and reflect it as a city set on a hill not to be hidden or idolized but serving as a guide to those who seek He who is born King of kings and Lord of lords. It is in His name we live, serve and pray. AMEN!