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Reflection August 12, 2018
"Listening to the Beloved" by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
God doesn’t speak very often in the New Testament. God is much quieter in the New Testament than in the Old Testament. But there is a reason for this. In the Gospels, we have Jesus speaking directly for God and in God. When Jesus speaks, we hear the voice of God. Is this not what we believe? Jesus is God made flesh.
As we know, in the Old Testament – we have ten major commandments from God. These Ten Commandments are found in the Book of Exodus and in the Book of Deuteronomy. There are also hundreds of other commandments from God found in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Many of these commandments are stated in no uncertain terms: “You shall not…”
A simple question that arises here: are we, as Christians, bound to the Old Testament law? As the Baptist pastor Jeremy Wallace makes clear: “As Christians, we are not under the law, but under Christ. Christ fulfilled the law and freed us from it.” And as Paul writes in Ephesians: “He (Christ) has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity…(Ephesians 2: 15)
Now this doesn’t mean that we should disregard the Ten Commandments. No one is saying that we Christians have a license – a liberty – to engage in wrongdoing. But I’d like to suggest that as Christians – we’ve been given a new commandment – directly from God. This commandment can be found in the preaching text I used this past Sunday: “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” (see Matthew 17:; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35)
God has given us one new commandment to supersede all previous commandments. “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” This is the primary commandment for all of us who are Christian.
We have one commandment as Christians. We have one task in life: to listen to Jesus Christ and follow him. That’s it! This is Christianity in a nutshell. This is Christianity boiled down to its core.
And where do we go to “listen to Jesus”? We go to the Gospels. We immerse ourselves in the Gospels. We see in the Gospels the fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity. We see in the Gospels the source of everything we need to know about our life in Christ.
We are people whose lives are centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Yes, we read and cherish the rest of the Bible – but we understand that it is in the four Gospels and the four Gospels alone that we encounter Jesus Christ, our brother and the ultimate example for how we are to live our lives.
Jesus is our Alpha and our Omega, the beginning of our spiritual life and the culmination of our spiritual life. In Jesus we see who we are meant to become. In Jesus we see who God wants us to become. In Jesus we see who we were created to become. We should strive to become more and more like Jesus if we seek to become fully Christian.
Listen to the South African Bible scholar Albert Nolan: “Jesus is a much underrated man, underrated not only by those who think of him as nothing more than a teacher of religious truth, but also by those who go to the opposite extreme of emphasizing his divinity in such a way that he ceases to be human. When one allows Jesus to speak for himself…what begins to emerge is a man of extraordinary independence, immense courage, and unparalleled authenticity.” (Jesus Before Christianity)
We are called to follow Jesus in his humanity - because we cannot follow him in his divinity. We cannot become God. We will never become God. We will – forever – be immersed in our humanity. So if we are to follow Jesus – if we are to listen to Jesus – then we must do so in terms of his humanity, his independence, his courage, his authenticity.
And when we listen to Jesus – we begin to act like Jesus. There are many things that Jesus did that we also can do. We can help heal whoever and whatever is in need of healing. We can look at our neighborhoods and see what needs to be addressed. We can help feed those who are hungry – and those who are hungry not only for food – but those who are hungry for companionship – those who are hungry for solace – those who are hungry for justice.
We can cultivate compassion as Jesus did. We can allow empathy to become a driving force for our hearts and souls as it was for Jesus. We can weep over the wounds of our world as Jesus did. We can embrace the fruit of the Holy Spirit as Jesus did. We can deeply listen to God as Jesus did.
What do we hear when we listen to Jesus? When we listen to Jesus we hear that we’re to participate in God’s On-Going Work. God’s grace prepares us to participate. As Nolan writes: “We can give up doing our own thing and begin to participate in the only work that is effective and real: God’s Work … (and) God’s Work … is revolutionary. It turns the world upside down. We participate (in God’s Work) by adding our voices to the many prophetic voices that are speaking out boldly in our day and age…
“The new movement for peace and the quiet development of compassion for all are clearly part of God’s Work in our times. Jesus must be delighted to hear the newly articulated voices of the marginalized, the victims, the poor, and the oppressed. God is at work there too.” (Jesus Today)
God will never cease to work until everything and every creature in God’s cosmos is healed into wholeness and holiness. We – as followers of Jesus Christ – are invited to share in this work. This is the primary message we hear when we listen deeply to God’s Son, the Beloved.
Let us together as a church committed to Jesus Christ and grounded in the Gospels embrace this message – embrace the work we are gracefully and gratefully called to share in – the Work of God. No other work can ever satisfy our hearts. No other work can ever satisfy our souls.
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor