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Following Jesus in an Age of Many Faiths

John 14:1-10

Nearness – The Challenge and Mystery of other Faiths
As a child, I grew up in a sectarian world. We joked about being the only ones going to heaven, but thought it likely true. A small heaven. The religious “others” were Baptist, Methodist. The Nat. Geographic still explored unknown regions of earth. Now we’re all next door.
I’ve learned a lot by study and relationships: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, vast cultures and literatures. I’ve learned the vast variety in Christianity. There’s so much I’ll never grasp because I don’t live inside the world of Vishnu or Pure Land Buddhism or Greek Orthodoxy. We can’t escape human limitation. A continuing journey, drawing on resources of faith.
We live in a secular world that deals with faiths by saying none/all are “true.” I partly share in that. I put little trust in “religion” as a general phenomenon in human culture. It’s both good and bad. My faith stakes all of life on Jesus, on the God of Israel known in Jesus, on the God who as creator is the source of all existence, the lover of all, giver of life and hope.
Modesty – Learning from other Faiths

A Living Faith in a Secular Age

Colossians 1:9-23

From Christendom to a Secular Age
We’re part of a society and world that is “Secular” – “God” may be important personally, but God in himself is not part of public discourse in government, culture, science, economics, technology, academics, education, social sciences, psychology, etc. It’s a radical change from 500 yrs ago – the demise of “Christendom” in Europe. [Charles Taylor, A Secular Age.]
Many Christians feel a loss– defeat, a desire to regain cultural and political power. But few want to undo the development of today’s world– Modernity. Renaissance, Enlightenment, end of feudal/clerical dominance, science, medicine(!), technological rationalism, political rights for individuals, human rights, diverse nation-states, innovative economies, freedom, democracy. But each word is complex, with a dark side. Materialism, loss of meaning.

A Loving God in a Scientific World

Genesis 1:1 - 2:3

Living in the World of Science and Faith
We breathe the air of science and technology: a smartphone is a powerful computer connected to a vast network. We share in a stream of discoveries in medicine, genetics, microbiology, physics, chemistry, geology, cosmology, archeology, paleontology, various fields of biology, etc.
We also live in a world of Biblical faith, the reality of Jesus, which reveals the deep meaning and purpose of human life, its freedom and brokenness, its hope and destiny. This event and story was firmly in place before modern technology. We embody the interplay of modern and ancient, both part of us, both flowing into the future. We feel the tension. Who are we? What is right? Does our life have purpose? We’re thinking, conscious beings, and our every thought has intention, is about something. Do we live in a world without mind, intention, purpose?
Learning to Read the Book of Scripture
Often tensions grow from not letting the scriptures be themselves. They were given to us long before modern science, which grew up based on the Biblical view of a world created by a wise, consistent God. Scriptures don’t speak in scientific terms even for their own day. In telling of creation, Genesis uses an everyday view of the world to teach about God and humans: vault, lamps, no planets, two different narratives. Not the scientific “Ptolemaic system.”
Modern Christians decided God could not use such a non-factual story to teach anything. Gen was re-conceived as scientific fact, distorting what God gave us into what moderns desired.

The Reality and Generosity of God

Matthew 6:19-34

Heaven and Earth through Jesus’ Eyes
We start a New Year not in a freezing crowd in Times Square, but in a crowd on a mountain with Jesus. Even the poorest among us can hardly imagine this crowd from Galilee towns. No medicine, police, grocery, banks; few schools; no political voice, no technology. But still like us, human, hoping, wanting a better life, identity, wanting help to understand. What do you say to powerless, struggling people, gathered because of suffering, desire?
Jesus does not condescend with platitudes. He teaches them, reshaping theology, ethics, anthropology, cosmology through powerful images that still challenge every real listener.

Walking Together in Shared Life

Ephesians 4:1-6

Going for a Walk Together
When Paul writes Ephesians, he can’t walk, as he has through his ministry. He’s in prison. But he loves the image of walking, prominent in scripture, and uses it throughout his letter. For Paul, it’s not where you go (travel, prison) but how you walk – “worthy” of your calling, the invitation you’ve received from God in Jesus. Paul saw all kinds of people come into these communities shaped by the event of Jesus, and he saw transformations: Eph 2:1-10. We were dead people walking, in delusion, futility, shaped by the air we breathed. God in his Love gave us life in Jesus, raised us with him. It’s Grace, a gift we receive by faith. A new creation, a new walk, toward every good action. Minds made new. Walking in love, as “children of light.” Becoming wise adults who learn to think for themselves, to discern God’s will, “humbly to walk with God.” Learning from a Shared Walk

Christ Comes to All the World

Romans 15:13-21

Apostle to Nations who’ve Never Heard of Jesus
Paul knew that he was called to a special role, as one saturated in the Law, a Roman citizen, a Greek-speaker, confronted by the resurrected Jesus, sent especially to cities/people across a pagan Roman empire. He worked in Syria, Arabia, Asia Minor, Greece, now Rome, Spain. Paul has a strong sense of Advent. God is always breaking in, coming to new peoples new lives. He’s seen it. Participated. That’s the particular calling he received. Rome’s empire was tied to its own throng of gods. The Jews’ story seemed superstition. – A crucified Jew as Lord? Paul was the instrument of Advent in regions beyond what’s known in Acts – Illyricum.

Christ Opens God’s Welcome

Romans 15:7-13

Advent – Story of the Event that Shapes Us
Advent means “Coming.” The coming of Jesus as Messiah. All that that event means. No one knows Jesus’ birthday, but Advent/Christmas is about structuring life around the events of God’s promises of grace and salvation flowing from his love: Powerful, continuing Drama: One man (Abram) –> a Nation (Israel) –> One man (Messiah Jesus) –> the Whole World.... Paul comes to the climactic end of the main body of Romans: A way of life and relationships that flows from the whole story. The heart of Christian life & ethics – not general morality. Welcome – As the Messiah welcomed You – God’s Glory. What God has done for us in Jesus Christ, we learn as the permanent heart of God, we learn to practice toward others.

A Harmony that Sings of Jesus

Romans 15:1-7

True Strength -- Loving My Neighbor -- Jesus
A diverse community means that people are at many stages on their journey of faith. Some with long experience, others new, some struggling, others confident, hiding problems. Paul nears the end of Romans, brings together the impact of God's Good News of his Son (1:1-5). 
Here Paul starts with (1) strength contrasted to weakness, lifting up weaknesses, something he's often thought about. (2) He sets that next to pleasing the neighbor, directed love. (3)This flows from focus on Jesus--coming among us, dying for us-- (4) climaxing the long story of scripture. (5) He prays for all the diverse community to shape life by the event of Jesus (6) so that all delight in God's grace for their journey and unite in worship. (7) Do it! 
Paul starts with "we who have strength." Strength is real here, confident faith. But it's easily coopted as power to control, please self. This strength is love, obligated to support others.

Justice, Peace, and Joy in the Holy Spirit

Romans 14:14-23

The Importance of What's Not Important
Paul wants us to see that the profound event that God has brought about in Jesus (Gospel) comes to embodied fulfillment in transformation of life through a renewed mind -- a way of seeing ourselves, others, and God through the lens of Jesus -- his life, cross, & resurrection.
This section is marked by confident assertions: "nothing is unclean," "the kingdom of God is...," "everything is clean," "faith." But something happens. The idea of clean/unclean, holy/ common used to be objective, as in so much of the Torah: God is separate from the world. Paul's statements are heretical to Paul's own past. But Jesus happened! Now God has placed at the center of his holiness and love a cross, a scandal, horror, God dying for us. God is different from the world -- his self-giving, serving love is weakness and foolishness to our world, but embodies his power to overcome death's grip on us and give us real life now.

Being Right and Being Right

Romans 14:7-16

Jesus as Lord and the Love that Shapes Life (7-9)
Paul wants the Romans to see the nature of a community that includes people not only diverse in background but in spiritual growth and understanding. He’s used issues of food and of special days, both with long histories and deep emotions, to highlight fundamentals. Everything flows from the heart of the Gospel: Jesus’ life, death, resurrection that puts him at the heart of human existence as Lord – the Lord who conquers death and creates life. Jesus’ cross opens a relationship deeper and more defining than any human structure. Human power stratifications are rendered obsolete by the one relationship of every person in life and death to Jesus/God as loving and saving Lord. That new, direct tie has deep power to shape life because it embodies God’s love for us in our weakness and hostility. Each individual has a distinct relation to Christ, as a loved creature for whom Christ died. Each is called into “a walk” according to that Love seen in Jesus, empowered by God’s Spirit.

Community of Many Minds

Romans 14:1-9

Welcoming When It Matters

Paul is helping the Romans see a basic vision for the new communities that include Jew, Gentile, Roman, foreigner, slave, free, prosperous, poor. At the same time they transform the life and actions of all by the renewing of mind. The center is what happened in Jesus – living in a world created and sustained by the one God seen in Jesus’ self-giving love. This creates a living body with a great diversity of body parts: gifts, cultures, weaknesses. Welcome/accept/take to yourself is the basic theme, tested when serious differences arise. We sense distance: “weak in faith”– eating vegetables? Faith to eat everything? To us “weak in faith” means doubt. We might reverse the terms. For Paul “stronger faith” is seeing the meaning of Jesus’ story to define a relationship to God by real transformation by Grace, Faith, and Love, rather than various religious practices. But Paul knows those practices carry great weight and are a powerful language for both Jews and Gentiles.

The Harvest of the Wicked Wounded

John 4:27-28

A Small Text to Radically Reorient Our Worlds

This text falls in an awkward place in the middle of one of the most famous narratives from the Gospel of John. We have before us a side conversation, and a cryptic one at that, as John is often want to do. Here Jesus offers John’s version of a most elemental metaphor for Christian faith and witness: the harvest. But as is often the case in the fourth Gospel, Jesus is here not just to communicate but to disrupt our assumptions, to jar our categories, and to enable us to reconsider God’s work in the world and our place in it. In other words, Jesus is concerned with nothing more than the revelation of the very nature of God in himself and his encounters with people, particularly those who are seeking some answers, some hope, something that doesn’t perish, spoil, or fade. 

Jesus in this engagement with his disciples is concerned that they have a change of vision, a change of priorities, a transformation on the way in which they engage with and perceive the needs of the people around them. 

But when you and I approach this text we do not come to it blindly, as if we are hearing for the first time. Neither do we come to it in a vacuum, as if what is really going on here has no bearing on this response that Jesus has to those closest to him. And what I want to explore are a number of ways that we have been misshaped to read this text, and the larger story that it is a part of, and more importantly how we have thought about our place in the world as the redemptive presence of God in a deeply wounded world.