For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him, God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. Colossians 1:19-20
In this section of his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul attempts to clarify the true nature of Jesus and God’s intention in the Incarnation. During those early years, the leaders of the Church were still trying to understand exactly what had occurred in the Christ event…the Passion and Resurrection of the man Jesus. While there was a general acceptance of the dual nature of Jesus…that he was both human and divine…there was conflict over exactly what that meant. The concept of gods disguising themselves as human was common in the Greek and Roman tradition, but this idea of a God who actually became human was quite novel. For the faithful in the Jewish community, a human claiming to be God was blasphemy. Those first followers of Jesus who would become the Church were breaking into new theological territory.
Modern Christians more than two thousand years later affirm their faith in creedal statements often with little thought as to whether or not they actually believe the words they recite. Those of us in the progressive churches have become much more concerned with applied theology…how we live as people of faith. This focus on orthopraxy rather than orthodoxy can lead one to think that belief is less important than behavior. I think that it is our belief that drives our behavior. This may not necessarily be our belief in the Incarnation or the divinity of Jesus but rather a belief that God created humanity for good and that one’s actions can be a part of some higher purpose. For those of us who do believe that the Incarnation is the foundation of God’s redeeming work in the world, the question becomes how does that belief influence our lives, both as individuals and as a community?
The theology of the Incarnation is based on acceptance of a God whose love is so great that the all-powerful, omnipotent, omnipresent being chose to become human…limited by time, by physical weakness and by finite knowledge. In the suffering and death of Jesus, God entered fully into the darkest part of human experience. Setting aside the theology of ransom…that somehow God had to offer his only son to death to appease God’s own honor, more modern theologians focus instead on the love revealed in the Incarnation itself…not the need to reconcile some outdated honor system of a barbaric culture that worshipped a vengeful God.
Finding the means to make the love of God as revealed in Jesus Christ present in the world and in the lives of individuals is the principal commandment of those profess themselves to be followers of Christ. In his new commandment offered to his disciples on the night before his trial and death, our Lord instructed us to “love one another as he loved us”. This is more than loving one’s neighbor as oneself for in his love for humanity God in Jesus Christ poured out his entire self for the sake of the world. He held nothing back and allowed himself to become the sacrifice for a people who did not even realize what was being given to them or why it was necessary.
Living into Jesus’ gospel of love opens us up to engage the world even in its suffering. The boundaries of tribe or nation…of social strata…or class are broken open and all become neighbors. There are no gated communities in the kingdom of God…all are welcome…all are loved. If we are living as God intended us to live we choose not to…in fact, cannot shut out the cries of those in pain. We seek out the weak and the vulnerable…the lost and the forgotten… offering what help we can….what healing we can…and most importantly what love we can. It is not an easy path we are asked to walk…and it may lead us into danger. It will certainly lead us to sorrow. But there is also the joy…and the deep satisfaction that comes from doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
But following the gospel path is not only about what one does…. but this is also a path of learning…of seeking wisdom and a deeper knowledge of God. In our Gospel lesson for today, Martha was all about doing….making her guests feel welcome by preparing her home and seeing to the practical tasks. Mary, on the other hand, chose to sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to his teaching. She put aside social protocol for the moment and focused on being in the presence of the One whom God had sent.
While Jesus does not condemn Martha for resenting Mary’s decision he makes it clear the Mary had chosen the better way. He tells Martha that what Mary had chosen would not be taken from her.
In our righteous zeal to do godly things, we must not forget to spend time in the presence of God…in prayer and in contemplation…in fellowship with other believers. We are to study the ways of God and to think deeply about the belief that underlies our actions. God does not expect blind faith…asking questions is not sin and doubt is not unbelief.
We are told to try the spirits to be assured that the voices we hear are those of God through the Holy Spirit and not the echoes of our own misconceptions of the misguided counsel of false teachers who would lead us astray. Not everyone who claims to speak for God actually does. There are many false teachers in the world preaching a perverted gospel and twisting the words of holy scripture to validate ungodly attitudes and actions.
When in doubt it is best to defer to love. If the message out of the teacher’s mouth is love and forgiveness…if it lifts up and encourages the community…if it speaks truth to evil powers that oppress and terrorize the vulnerable and the weak…then you can trust that it is of God. We must not be fooled by those who tell us lies that appeal to our sinful nature….lies that some people are more valuable than others…that we should selfishly hoard our blessings because we deserve them more than anyone else… that the poor are poor because God wanted it that way…that being strong is better than being kind….that we must protect ourselves from those others who are different. God is no respecter of persons and neither should we be….all are welcome in God’s world…in God’s kingdom and in God’s house.
So, does it really matter what one believes…about God and about Jesus? To be a good person….of course not….to be a faithful Christian…then yes I think it does. That does not mean that we will all agree on all points of theology or perhaps even in how that theology is applied. But it does mean that we, as people of faith, will continually seek to increase our understanding of God and his redeeming work in Jesus Christ. We are all on a journey of discovery…about ourselves and about God and this glorious creation.
We will never know or understand all knowledge but it is in the very nature of humanity to ask questions…to seek the truth. In the meantime the best we can do is to humbly and faithfully strive for love…in our thoughts and in our actions. The more love we cultivate in our hearts the more we have to share with a world that needs it so desperately. The Gospel message is simple and we are all called to share it in every way we can. So, brothers and sisters …let us seek the Lord and call upon his name and when he replies let us be swift to answer and respond. Let us love one another as Christ loved us and serve only God who is the source of all love..