Sunday, September 9, 2012

in seven words or less...

Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Open our ears and unblock our voices, so that we may hear and we may speak, and we may be doers of your Word. Amen.

A long time ago a man who did not believe in God came to the rabbis and said, I will convert and worship the God that you worship, if you teach me the entire Torah while standing on one foot. One rabbi tried to run him off but Rabbi Hillel responded: “What is hurtful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” (Talmud Shabbat 31a, cf. “Number Our Days” by Barbara Myerhoff, New York: E. P. Dutton, 1978)

Sounds a lot like the Golden Rule, doesn’t it? It got me wondering, how would I answer such a question?

In the current issue of The Christian Century, a number of people give their answers to a similar challenge: “to proclaim the gospel in a maximum of seven words and expand on their statement in a few sentences.” 

(“The Gospel in Seven Words,” The Christian Century, September 5, 2012, p. 20)

There were some wonderful answers…

And that got me wondering more! What would you say if you were asked to express the entire good news of Jesus in seven words or less?

Let’s try it! Let’s take a blank sheet of paper and try to come up with something. No grades; no handing in the assignment. Just give it a try. What have we come up with?

Lamin Sanneh said, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world.” (2 Corinthians 5:19)

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. (2 Corinthians 5.17-19)

Bill McKibben said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Brian McLaren said, “In Christ, God calls all to reconciliation.”

The prophet Micah said, “Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” (6:8)

The prophet Jeremiah said that God delights in “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness” (9:22-23)

Jeff said (this morning): "The kingdom of God is at hand."

And: "This is my body given for you."

And Laurie said (this morning): "Come and see, go and tell."

Jesus gave us the summary of the Law:

"The first commandment is this: Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God is the only Lord. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these."  (Mark 12:29-31)

Or, in seven words: "God loves; love God; love your neighbor."

A friend of mine began to talk one time about “the rules” – and I responded, “Your rules need to give way to some compassion!” I realized later, that he had convicted me: it was my own rules that needed to give way to some compassion.

For Jesus the rule is compassion.

God’s love shows itself in Jesus; faith in Jesus shows itself in love.

Jesus announced his ministry when he stood up in the synagogue of Nazareth and read from the book of the prophet Isaiah:

‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
   because he has anointed me
     to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
   and recovery of sight to the blind,
     to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ (Luke 4:18-19)

He announced it. And then he went and did something about it.

‘Blessed are you who are poor,
   for yours is the kingdom of God.
‘Blessed are you who are hungry now,
   for you will be filled.
‘Blessed are you who weep now,
   for you will laugh.’ (Luke 6:20-21)

Who are these poor but us?

“He became poor that we might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

Who are these blind, these sick, these poor, and these captives yearning to be free?

Who but people like us?

And to whom is this message of restoration and peace, of wholeness and reconciliation, offered, but to people like us?

Jesus proclaimed the good news – of freedom and the kingdom of peace.

He emptied himself, not taking equality with God for granted, but made himself one of us, took on our flesh and our human situation, that we might share with him and enjoy with him true life. (Cf. Phil 2:5-11) He showed us what a human being can be; he was the Son of Man, the Man of God, the fully human one among us.

And he came to proclaim the coming of God’s kingdom.

He proclaimed this message to Israel, and then, like the Old Testament prophet Elijah, God led him far beyond the borders of Israel. He encountered a woman of a far country, who asked his aid. At first he spurned her and gave a grumpy answer. But she responded to Rabbi Jesus – and the question turned back on him. He recognized that she was not just speaking empty words. She truly put her trust in God and his Messiah. And so with that, he made her daughter well.

Then God led Jesus by a long route – even perhaps through Damascus – around through Sidon and down by the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile regions on the eastern shore. There he encountered people who wanted another miracle. He sighed. And said, “Be opened.”

“He makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:37)

Who was this importunate woman? Who was this unfortunate man?

None but such as we.

Open our ears and unblock our voices, so that we may hear and we may speak plainly, and we may be doers of your Word.

And show us that you are in the midst of us still, Lord; and still we are called to your service.

At the fulfillment of time we may hear Jesus say to us: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:31-46)

A woman named Mary Glover worked in the food line at a soup kitchen in Washington, D.C., every day. And every day, she would begin the day with prayer: “Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this line today. So, Lord, help us to treat you well.” 

(Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2005, p. 212-214)

God’s love shows itself in Jesus; faith in Jesus shows itself in love.

The gospel was not just words for Jesus. It was love embodied in action. When he spoke, he spoke with authority. Faith without works is dead. Faith comes alive when it is revealed in our actions.

How will we respond to the challenge? How will we ‘proclaim the gospel’ in seven words or less? How will we show the Word in no words at all?

Open our ears, unblock our voices, that we may hear and we may speak, and we may do your Word. Amen.

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