Jesus doesn't matter primarily because he somehow gets believers to heaven.  To believe that faith is some kind of ticket to a blissful afterlife is an ugly and dangerous corruption of the gospel of Jesus.  

Jesus, frankly, was more interested in earth than he was in heaven. 

The Incarnation of Jesus means that matter matters to God. 

So, let's not drink the Kool Aid and think (and act) as if what matters happens later--after this life.  No, the Kingdom has come.  And the presence of God is here and now, and that means that all life matters, in fact all matter matters. 

So, let's talk trees.  Yeah, roots and bark and leaves.  

What will life be like without trees, after we've cut them all down?  

Consider this . . .

Then go plant a few. 

AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
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I hear many Christians say that the church is not political; “We need to focus on the gospel not on public policy.”

Image by Scott*

Image by Scott*

I cannot read the Bible and the history of Christianity and go along with that. The prophets, and Jesus himself, were passionate about justice.  The church today must rise up, finding courage and freedom to address—from the perspective of the Bible’s vision of the flourishing of all creation—issues of gun control, immigration, the environment, poverty, war, corporate greed, and racism in America, among other things.

I want to be part of a people who are willing to grapple with such things.  Lord knows we won’t all agree.  But agreement isn’t what I’m after as a pastor.  Agreement can be too dull, too insular, too myopic.  What we need is vigorous disagreement, real wrangling with things that matter from inside a covenant community—that is, a people who love each other and seek the truth, loving and appreciating even those with whom they don’t see eye to eye.  In fact, they will love each other because they don’t see eye to eye and know that this is what’s important for helping them stay honest and moving in the direction of what God is up to in our world.

What I want to see in our churches is engagement—honest, open, passionate engagement.  Only out of that kind of wrestling comes a new vision for the way forward.

The Bible itself is our model for this.  The Bible is one great big wrestling match.  Hundreds of voices over a thousand or more years of wrestling with what they see of God and what they see in the world around them.  All of them trying to make sense of it and create a way for genuine human flourishing.

In a recent interview with seminary student, Mickey Jones, Old Testament theologian, Walter Brueggemann, moves us in this direction.  At the end of the interview, Brueggemann sums up a bracing vision for the way people, serious about the Bible and Christian faith, might awaken to God’s summons to live the justice of God: 

“The Gospel is a very dangerous idea. We have to see how much of that dangerous idea we can perform in our own lives. There is nothing innocuous or safe about the Gospel. Jesus did not get crucified because he was a nice man.

The problem with Christianity today is that we’ve made Jesus too nice.  Our churches are too nice.  We’re too nice.  (But there are plenty of grumpy Christians, you say.  Yes, you’re right, but they’re largely grumpy about all the wrong things.)  All the while the world struggles, creation withers, human lives teeter on the edge.  Nicety may well be a toxic and demonic seduction in the American church.

This doesn’t give us license to be jerks.  Joy and generosity ought to characterize our lives, even in the midst of our struggle for all that’s just and good.  We ought to smile, even while we say: “No! That injustice must not continue; it’ll not remain uncontested—not as long as I’m alive.”

AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman
Photo  by   tinyenormous

Photo by tinyenormous

I've got to say a little something about the beauty of our humanity.  Yours.  Mine.  Everyone's.

I said things kinds of thing last Sunday in a sermon.  And it struck a chord.  It seems there's a darkness and heaviness that lies heavy over a lot of us.  Maybe this is a time when seeing the beauty of ourselves is, for a lot of us, particularly difficult.

And so, to convey something of our essential beauty, I'm exploring the words of two witnesses to this beauty:  Jesus Christ and Dante Alighieri.  Jesus likely doesn't need an introduction, but maybe Dante does.  He's the thirteenth century Italian genius, who's epic poem, the Comedia or Divine Comedy, may well be the ultimate masterpiece exploring the inner work of spiritual transformation.

Dante begins his vision of the path of inner, spiritual transformation with these words:

“I woke to find myself in a dark wood.”

The spiritual journey is a journey, often dark and frightful, to discover what is within us all the time. 

And what is within us?

Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5).  He means that there is within each of us a light that comes from God and will never be put out.  The problem is that there are forces in our lives that have distanced and disconnected us from that light—the parent who told us that we’d never amount to anything, the relative or neighbor who abused us, the loved one who abandoned or neglected or betrayed us.  These kinds of things lead us to believe false things about ourselves—things opposed to the truth Jesus tells us about ourselves.  

“You are the light of the world,” says Jesus.  But we say, You gotta be kidding.”

Jesus means to open us to a deeper truth too long hidden from our eyes.  He means to soften the hard ground, to give light within where too much darkness abounds, to bless where shame and pain hold us in an inner prison.  Sin loves the shame the shrouds our souls.  Sin exults in the pain that blankets the inner light.  Sin is the great deception that would lead me, for example, to believe that I’m worse that I really am.  Of course, it can also lead me to believe, in a self-inflated way, that I’m better than others. 

The work of transformation isn’t easy work.  It’s a journey from darkness to light, from falsehood to truth.  It means suffering—for all that is false and ugly must be pulled from me.  The things I cling to, the things that hold me captive must go—my illusions about myself, my addictions, my failures . . . all this must go, and none of it will go without a fight.

Embracing the truth about myself, the light I hold within me, will mean that I must journey through suffering into wholeness, from ugliness into beauty, from fear into wonder.  It’s a journey into the depths of my beautiful, God-breathed soul—a soul made by God, cherished by God, held by God.  It’s a journey into freedom.  But that I have trouble seeing that beauty doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

Jesus says, “You are the light of the world.”  

Something inside me scoffs and hisses in my head, but something else within me hopes and wonders.

Am I?  Are you?

In a dark wood it’s hard to see anything at all.  And so, we, as did Dante on his journey into the depths of fear and pain, will emerge in paradise, through suffering, to find the light Jesus says was there all the time.  Dante ends his great poem with these lines:

“As in a wheel whose motion nothing jars/By the love that moves the sun and the other stars.”

That love and light is within you and me, it holds the center of our lives.  Our spiritual work is to become what we, made in God’s image, already are and will more fully become . . . sooner or later.

AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman