Friday, May 10, 2013

Meeting 7: The Presence of Jesus

He is risen indeed…but what does Jesus’ bodily resurrection really mean?

McClendon’s thoughts on the resurrection [Doctrine, 247]:

...this was an act of God in time, reversing history’s judgment as represented by the authorities, by the opponents, even by the hapless friends of Jesus. All these read history’s judgment to be: death to this one. The resurrection opposed that judgment by entering God’s own judgment: life, Life to this same one. God reversed all human judgment by identifying the life of Jesus of Nazareth afresh with God’s own life, so that from that time, and in accordance with an eternal purpose of God, the history of this man, Jesus of Nazareth, was to be counted identical with God’s inner history, in such a way that in the knowing of Jesus Christ God could be truly known.

The Gospel of Matthew was written to a Christian community located somewhere in the Roman Empire, living about 50 years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. According to McClendon, Matthew is best read as an identity-document. The first readers (and hearers) of the Gospel of Matthew were identifying with the very first Christian community (12 disciples and various others), who followed Jesus in Israel and witnessed the tragic death and shocking resurrection of their leader. This very first Christian community received the Spirit of Jesus and were commissioned to live out their faith and invite everyone else to join them. The original audience of the Gospel of Mathew, as recipients of this same Spirit of Jesus (decades later), read this powerful story and identified with the disciples and worshipped Jesus as their risen leader.

A very important message from the author of Matthew to this Christian community was that God was both present and active in their community. The story of Jesus was written so that they would more deeply know this same Jesus who taught, healed, performed miracles, died, was raised and, poured out his Spirit, and, finally, ascended into heaven.
Matthew’s Gospel proclaims God’s continued presence in Christian communities all over the world in our worship, in our work, in our witness and in the reading of his word, the Bible. Jesus’ presence, in all of these ways, has powerful implications for the community’s radical way-of-life.

WORSHIP—Matthew 18:15-20
When a community comes together to worship God through prayer and song and conversation, Jesus is present and active. We know Jesus more and more as we meet together and center our time on the authority of Jesus. In the context of Matthew 18, Jesus is promising something very powerful for the community who worships him. Specifically, Jesus is calling his disciples to be honest with each other, both one-on-one and before the community, in the midst of their own weaknesses, sinfulness and imperfection. When a brother or sister in Christ is struggling, Jesus’ command is to restore that brother or sister to the community and empower them to live a righteous and free lifestyle. When this kind of radical restoration [reconciliation] happens, Jesus is in our midst!

Matthean Christianity, we might conclude, was not ‘perfectionist’ if that means lacking a sense of their own shortcomings, but they knew themselves summoned to a mature way of life, and to wholehearted sharing in it. [Ethics, 234]

WORK—Matthew 25:31-46
In Jesus, God’s reign [in Matthew, the ‘Kingdom of Heaven’] came to this world in a unique way and Jesus summoned anyone and everyone to participate in the powerful justice of God, caring for the poor, oppressed, sick, injured. Matthew 25 portrays a scene at the End of the world as we know it, where Jesus is appointed to judge the quality of our lives. In this powerful scene, the ‘righteous’ are the followers of Jesus who participate in God’s justice to the poor and needy. In these very acts of kindness and justice, Jesus is present as the one who is being cared for!

How the ‘sheep’ and ‘goats’ behaved when they could not think it counted—that is what counts, for that is what has disclosed their true character. [Doctrine, 79]

WITNESS—Matthew 28:18-20
In Jesus’ ‘farewell address’ to his disciples, his final words before he leaves them physically, he commissions them to be on a mission to be witnesses of the powerful reign of God all over the world. This witness was an invitation to the rest of the world to be a part of what God continues to do in the world through Christian communities that are empowered by the Spirit. The witness of early Christian communities came with a promise: ‘I will be with you to the very end of the age.’ This promise continues today in communities from ancient Palestine to the United States in the 21st century to the end of the world.

...the Christians’ engagement in evangelism or witness, the overriding practice that shaped participation in all other social practices: discipling [forming lives in accordance with the gospel story]—going [withdrawal was impossible!]…baptizing [full communal commitment by each to the Way]…teaching [the formation of a church culture that would stand creatively over against the world’s culture by imparting its own].
[Ethics, 233]

WORD—Matthew 1:23
God’s word has spoken throughout history through the voice of poets, philosophers and prophets in Israel. In the event of Jesus, God spoke to the world through his unique prophet and son. The Gospels, the letters of Paul and other apostles and the apocalypse of John [Revelation] have become the unique word of God to communities who bear the name of Jesus. When the Bible is opened and read in communities all over the world, God continues to speak—inspiring and challenging disciples to follow Jesus through the power of his Spirit.

A Closing Prayer:

Knowing the King [inspired by Doctrine, 242ff]
Lord Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead,
You pursue us and know us and never leave us.
You know us perfectly as we hurry and hobble, stumble and slobber to know you more.

In our work, you meet us as ‘the other’ who we feed, clothe, visit, serve.
In our witness, you are always with us until the End.
In our worship, we are not mere spectators, but fellow participants in your Reign.
In your word, you direct us with a script as we perform on this stage.

Knowing you is reciprocal—you are always the Initiator.
Knowing you is social—most often with others, always with You.
Knowing you is partial—through a glass dimly until that Day.

For Discussion:
1. What does it mean to ‘know’ Jesus?
2. How, specifically, can we get to ‘know’ Jesus in more intimate ways?
3. Out of the four—work, witness, worship, word—which one would you like to see the community participate more in?

For Further Reading:
Ethics, McClendon [Chapter 12]
Doctrine, McClendon [Chapter 6]
Living Jesus by Luke Timothy Johnson

Working Overtime:
The ‘baptist vision’ emphasizes the on-going nature of the Great Story where Jesus is actually present and active in the communities who have accepted the invitation to participate in this adventure. Because Jesus is present, our relationship with him is continuous and transforming. Luke Timothy Johnson [in both The Real Jesus and Living Jesus] emphasizes the importance of the presence of Jesus in the lives of the New Testament writers themselves over time. Johnson’s concern is with ongoing ‘projects’ in the United States that attempt to portray the ‘historical Jesus’—what Jesus really said and did while he lived his 30-some-years in Palestine [usually these studies emphasize how far off the historical mark the four gospels really are]. This has led to Jesus bracing the cover of Newsweek and Time [and many other publications] usually sometime during Easter week when another ‘Jesus scholar’ releases yet another book about who Jesus really is. Johnson puts the focus on the Resurrection: if Jesus is raised and continues to be present in the community, then the New Testament writers were writing about a Jesus whom they had been in continuous relationship with over the course of decades! This is the Jesus experienced in community that they wrote about in their gospels.

Writing 30 to 70 years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, they continued to grow in their relationship with him, just as we grow in relationship with friends, spouses co-workers, etc. We know now what we didn’t know a few years ago and that continues to transform the bond that we have with that ‘other’ person. As a community in Syria in 80AD would read Matthew’s gospel, they would identify the Jesus in the story as the very same Jesus that they knew in their community in Syria. As our faith journey consists of work, witness, word and worship, we will continue to recognize Jesus in the gospels and in our midst and we will grow and transform as a result of that ‘knowing.’

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