Saturday, November 17, 2012

For Joy

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Matt 13:44

I teach a Sunday School class at my church. A few months ago we began a study of the Gospel of Matthew. I titled the series, Hearing Matthew. It is our desire to hear Matthew, that is, to hear as if hearing for the very first time. We confess that we do not come to the text as innocent hearers, but we are making a conscious effort to limit our control over what the text can and cannot say.

Several weeks into the series I confessed to the class I felt the need to relearn what being Christian means. As I attempt to hear Matthew I am confronted with several questions. Here are just a few examples:
Have I taken the edge off the hard sayings and demands of Jesus?
> Am I comfortable speaking of final judgment as Jesus did?
> Have I simply reduced following Jesus to status and a “better life”?
> Have I made it merely about being forgiven (i.e., forensic imputation)?

Being forgiven is only a byproduct of following Jesus. It is more than having your ticket to heaven and your Get out of jail free card. Like the Pharisees in Matthew, we have made it about our status as children of God, but Jesus is not checking your card; he is watching your life.

Be honest. Have you ever been bored with this version of Christianity? Have you ever thought to yourself, “There has to be more - Is this it?”  And if this is it, why bother going to church on Sunday night, or Wednesday, or revival service, or why bother going at all?

 Rather than promoting a perceived status, Jesus asks us to follow. He asks us to leave off our old life, even if that life was not marked by great sin. He asks us to live differently even if we had been living a “good” life. He asks us to take up our cross, deny ourselves and follow (Mt. 16:24).

At this point in Matthew’s story, if we are listening, it starts to dawn on us that
Jesus is not promoting decisions for Christ so much as a Kingdom. He is preaching the Kingdom, not just repentance, not just conversion, not just having sins forgiven, not just tickets to heaven and free stuff.

This Kingdom is its own culture, with its own values. It is a new family. It is the rule and reign of God on earth. It should have been obvious all along, but we just now start to get it. We heard his invitation, but did we? He is asking us to be part of that Kingdom.

This Kingdom foreign to us. It is like world travel and never leaving town. What does it mean? What does it look like? Jesus described what people of the Kingdom look like in the Sermon of the Mount (Mt chapters 5-7), and since then he models the Kingdom for us. Jesus models the message he brings and his message is the Kingdom. He describes the Kingdom with the parables and he himself is heavens parable for us to see.

Here is a question: Do we have the courage to see again? - The courage to review (i.e., re-view) what it means to be a disciple? I would say review what it means to be “Christian”, but I am afraid the term “Christian” has become for us what “Jew” came to be to the Pharisees in Matthew’s text – mere status. To be Christian, for most, means to be nice, to not do bad stuff, to believe the right things. To be a disciple is to deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Jesus.

But before you think I am only speaking of a glum and masochistic devotion to martyrdom, consider the attitude of the man in Matt 13:44 who “found treasure hidden in a field… and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field”. “For joy over it” the text says…makes me wonder if he had an “aha” moment. That is to say, he has a fresh view of what the Kingdom of God is. It is perhaps a vision in answer to the question, “There must be more…is this all there is?”

Perhaps this is an answer to similar questions today, e.g., “Is there more than just being a Christian with an American dream, more than just being a good conservative Republican, more than being a faithful Democrat, more than voting the way those voter guides tell us to, more than being a Christian who builds bigger barns, who keeps the rules, gets to work on time, goes to church…does not rock the boat?”

Tired of the same ole sermons that keep people middle of the road, sanitized and safe  - Tired of a pseudo-Christianity to control the masses and keep people from asking hard questions, embarrassing questions, and funnels them into manageable, cooperative, homogenize groups - Tired of pretending the emperor is wearing clothes, he desperately breaks out of line, goes for a much needed walk, breaths fresh air, looks down and there it is…there is that thing everyone pretended did not exist - A Christianity worth living for, worth dying for, worth selling all for.

However, there was a problem. Someone else owned the field. And the problem is, you don’t own discipleship, it owns you. You don’t own it, but you can buy it. For everything you can buy it. “For joy over it” the text says, because he sees it for what it is…“treasure”. Why hasn’t everyone found it? – It is hidden. Jesus will not cast pearls before swine and will not give what is holy to the dogs. That is to say, you have to want it. You must recognize its value. “For joy” the text!

Finally, something worth living for, more than career, houses, money, 401k, retirement, etc., something more than just coloring within the lines, minding your manners and repeating old mantras. Finally a life that has not been robbed of mystery and beauty, a life un-gelded and much bigger than we and what we can comprehend. This is more than saying “the prayer” and being forgiven. This is a mission, a new way of life, a new family, new citizenship, and a new Kingdom transcendent of the ordinary.

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