Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been raised. On the Sabbath he went to the synagogue as he normally did and stood up to read. The synagogue assistant gave him the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
He rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the synagogue assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the synagogue was fixed on him. He began to explain to them, “Today, this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it.”Luke 4:16-21
Recently I have been thinking a lot about how puffed up, and angry, and belligerent so many people get in response to points of view they don’t agree with. As if there is nothing to be learned from listening to other people, or asking good questions, or at least recognizing that there are many ways to look at most things and there is so much room for personal growth in all of us.
This is even harder when people are convinced that their thoughts are pretty much the same as God’s, and that their understanding or interpretation of the scriptures is unquestionably correct.
Fact is, my thoughts and conclusions have shifted over the years. I have contradicted myself, disagreed with myself, changed my mind, expanded my original ideas, retracted my original ideas, based my conclusions on emotion one day and intellect another, rethought what the Bible teaches, waffled about how I should respond, and more. For me, understanding what is “right” and what is “wrong,” learning the scriptures and how they speak into today… and then tomorrow… is a constant work in progress, especially when it comes to social issues.
And this, bear in mind, is from someone who has sat under the teaching of Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, evangelicals, seminary professors, progressives, conservatives, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and more.
I am relatively intelligent, faithful in prayer, always reading, very much aware of my own limitations, thoroughly immersed in the Bible, respectful of tradition, a student of history, open to look for more helpful viewpoints, willing to learn and relearn, sensitive of the tensions between culture and faith, not afraid to be wrong, suspicious of tidy answers, very much aware of both the power and the limitations of words, and – most important of all, I believe – convinced that the very God who creates us and sustains us also loves us fiercely!
I believe that, “If God is for us, who can be against us…? In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:32,37-39).
God is not so readily definable as we would like for our own comfort’s sake. St Augustine famously said that “If you think you have grasped God, it is not God you have grasped.” I like to express this idea this way: The moment we believe we understand God, it is no longer God we are thinking about.
Of course this was why God sent Jesus. “If you really know me, you will know my Father as well,” he said in John 14:7. “From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”
But we need this constant humility in terms of how we understand God working among us:
- Modern America is not First Century Palestine, and Jesus came as much for us today as he did to the people of Galilee two thousand years ago.
- The rough Aramaic dialect is not the 250,000 word English language of 2022, yet the words Jesus shared hold truth that always translates into life and promise and light and grace.
- Children had no standing, yet Jesus said to come like one of them.
- Women were repressed by institutionalized patriarchy, yet Jesus invited them into his inner circle.
- People outside of gender identity norms were excluded from worship at the Temple, yet God told Philip not to “heal” the Ethiopian eunuch but to baptize him!
Where I am going with this is to say that God’s love is always a wide-open invitation. If we follow Jesus with any authenticity then we are going to represent his humility, grace, compassion, integrity, open heart, mercy, vulnerability, healing touch, generosity, and goodness.
My final word in this thread of thought is as follows: The more I age – and I am definitely getting older – the more I am leaning in the direction of grace. Like I said, I am wrong much of the time. So if I err then I want it to be on the side of mercy and grace.
One day Jesus will take me aside and say, “Derek, you have got a lot of things wrong, you know…” To which I will reply, “Yes, Lord, it has been the theme of my life.”
But if I am wrong – when I am wrong – I do not want it to have been in the direction of judgment, of harshness, of obduracy, or of intransigence. I want my error to have been too much grace, too much kindness, too much of being reasonable, too much in the way of mercy.
Spirit of the Living God,Daniel Iverson, 1926
Fall afresh on me,
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh on me.
Break me, melt me, mold me, fill me.
Spirit of the Living God,
Fall afresh on me.
In love, and because of love – DEREK