Sunday, September 10, 2017

Professor Jesus

What comes to your mind when you think about Jesus? Theologically, you might think of Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah: God's Anointed One. He's the one who died on the cross to save us from our sins. Salvation comes through Jesus. If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved.

Another direction you might go is thinking about Jesus as the nicest, friendliest guy who ever lived. Boy was he ever so nice. He loved sinners and enemies and children. He loves you and me. Jesus is the ideal of niceness.

Few might think of Jesus this way, however: as the smartest man who ever lived. Jesus was wise of the ways of the world and pointed toward the true ways of God's Kingdom at hand. He is rabbi and teacher... the master from whom we learn to live abundant life, today. It's a shame that we don't often think about this Jesus. When we forget about Jesus the Master Professor, we forget that we've been enrolled as students in the graduate level courses he teaches us. Our acceptance letter came in the mail when we were sealed by the Holy Spirit, and our enrollment form was filled out when we were marked with the cross of Christ through baptism. What's worse is that we also forget that Jesus the Teacher is here. We forget that he's ready to teach us and train us right now in the ways of God.

Matthew 18:15-20 is prominently placed within Professor Jesus' syllabus for life, because he knows humans. He knows us. Inside and out, he knows us. God created us to be in community, but the free will we have been given makes us uncomfortable, even as we are drawn to other people. We need each other, but when we get together we find people don't agree about things. People are difficult. Then we wonder, together, in community, what are we going to do with those that are difficult. How do we get them to change.

Jesus knows all about this, so he flat out names it: "if another member of the church sins against you..." When there is trouble with someone in the community, there has got to be a process for how the community can deal with this. He gives us one, and we see the process right here, moving right down the line if the step doesn't work:
  1. Go directly to the other (one-on-one)
  2. Go directly to the other with one or two witnesses
  3. Bring the issue to the community
  4. Consider the other like a Gentile or tax collector 
This is such a nice process that it's even been included in many of the organizing constitutions for churches and congregations of many different faith traditions. These are the steps we take for those sinners out there. For those who love process, it is a delight process to have. 

But how has it worked, these 2,000 years? I mean think about it, since the problems that were happening in the early Christian communities that Paul wrote to in the decades following Jesus' death and resurrection, have we grown in our ministry of reconciliation? Have we gotten better at this? Have legal proceedings and processes led to community bliss? 

I'm leaving those questions out there. But some of you might be wondering if we should maybe take another look at Professor Jesus' credentials. Maybe this lesson is more the result of Mr. Nice-guy Jesus... particularly if we consider the way he treated Gentiles and tax collectors. He's such a nice Jesus. 

Ahhhh, but if those are the conclusions we are suddenly coming up with, I'll going to wager that we haven't stayed for the whole class. You know what's happened: We got the nice four point process from Jesus' power point, but haven't actually learned the way of Christ at all. 

Let's keep reading: "Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three of you are gathered in my name, I am there among you" (Mt 18:18-20). 

The smartest man who ever lived knows that we cannot grow through a legal process alone. Our egos and our selfish desires to take care of uncomfortable situations and uncomfortable people once and for all will always move us to want to focus on the process only. But we need soooo much more than four steps. We need Jesus. We need the Master. We need you, Lord. 

Jesus promises to be with us. Only when we open our hearts to this reality that Jesus is in our midst can we even begin to find reconciliation in community. Only when our eyes are opened to the very real Jesus among us can we thrive in hope in the midst of disagreement. Jesus teaches us: "I am there among you." I am here. Right here. And that can be in church, yes. But that's not all. Jesus is with us in our homes. In our places of work. In our schools. In our neighborhoods. Jesus says, I am with you. And there is both the beginning and the end to our possibilities for thriving together in the Kingdom. 

When we bind our differences. When we tie up our conflicts in processes and blaming and pointing fingers the reality of our gracious Father pouring his grace within us is missed. It is bound in heaven, in other words. Quit binding our pain and our fears and our agitations and instead allow the Lord to freely bring us together in grace. He's looking to loosen us up. 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks of Jesus being the mediator in every single relationship we have. Every one! After all, he is with us till the end of the age. So when we have a disagreement with John Doe and our egos pull us over toward Jane, like a triangle, so the two of us can both bemoan together how awful John is, the Master teaches us to quit going over there. Come to me, Jesus say. Come to me, let me be your mediator. Let me be your triangle... and find peace. 

So this is the homework that Jesus has given to us. Know about the processes that are available, yes. Go directly to those who trouble you. Talk about it. Listen. Be slow to judge and quick to love... yes. But first and foremost: Learn from me. Come to Jesus. Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Mt 11:28-30).

Jesus is our salvation. Jesus is ever so nice, yes. But, Jesus is also sooooo smart. He knows us. He teaches us. He will carry our burdens and knows how much we need him. Allow the Professor to be your Mediator. And remember that Jesus is present with us right here, right now, and until the end of the age. 

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