We’ve worked through Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, and followed it up with Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. These were my objectives during the Lenten devotionals and those that followed:
- To show that critical reading and devotional reading can go hand-in-hand. Each begins with a different question. Critical reading asks “What did the original author mean?” Devotional reading asks “What does this text mean to me?” When we come to some of Jesus’s most foundational sayings, I think we need to ask both kinds of questions.
- To deepen understanding about the ekklesia. Conventional popular thinking argues, “Jesus never meant to create the church.” That would be a surprise to Matthew and Luke! Matthew’s Jesus clearly intends to create a community of prophets. The Sermon on the Mount is his manifesto for how the church should be “the light of the world.” Luke’s Jesus seems pretty confident that the Holy Spirit will do the job. Both versions of Jesus have no use for personal, private spirituality that doesn’t change the world. He believes our inner light should manifest in society.
- To show how different biblical authors interpreted Jesus differently. Both Matthew and Luke are working from the same set of Jesus sayings, but come to different conclusions about how to understand them. What was true in biblical times is true today: we need different theological perspectives to reveal complex truth.
More than one thing can be true at a time! This is part of why, in my preaching and teaching, I try to give people a buffet of theological options. Christian history is deep and diverse, and what works for some simply will not work for others.
I’m going to turn now in a different direction: doing a critical and devotional comparison of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita. This emerges from my conviction that if God is going to save the world, God must do so with the help of non-Christians. Bill Hybels often said that the church is the hope of the world, that the church is God’s plan A and there is no plan B. I do think that the ekklesia represents Christ’s physical body on earth, and that God intends to create a community that will change the world. But the climate crisis reveals that this salvation community cannot be made up only of Christians. We ain’t gonna save the world by ourselves.
And why should anyone trust us to? The legacy of the colonizing church in the West is a theology of domination and exclusion. It has treated the Earth as a resource to be strip-mined, packaged, and sold in the service of oligarchy. Its theology is far from the interconnected web of life we see in the creation story, where human beings are created on the same day as the rest of the animals, where we are unique mainly in that we are assigned the role of loving and caring for the Earth as God does.
While I believe Jesus intended and commissioned a prophetic community, I also believe that the church does not have a monopoly on truth or on God. Indeed, as we’ve seen in Matthew and Luke, Jesus seemed frustrated with religious posturing and exclusivism. He was less concerned with how people labeled themselves and more concerned with how they put love into action.
We in the church desperately need a different way to frame our role and identity, our very sense of self, to manifest God’s kin-dom in this present crisis. And that’s why I’m going to turn to a different faith tradition to get some perspective on my own.
Source of Truth, deepen my understanding.