What would happen if I/we spent a year with Jesus?
I began 2018 asking this question. I spent the year, in sermons, classes, blog posts, and other areas, focusing on the life of Jesus. I mostly used the Gospel of Luke for this adventure, although at times I did lean into other gospels as well. Each week I would immerse myself in another narrative, trying to avoid the pitfall of finding cute antidotes from peripheral characters in the story, and instead intentionally focusing on Jesus (because Jesus is always the main character in the story). The initial inquiry pondered, what would happen in my own life, in the life of those I minister to, in the life of the church, if we just spent a year focused on Jesus? The year is now over, which means that it may be a good time to start examining what we’ve learned. Spiritual growth and development is always a difficult aim to measure, it’s often difficult to measure in our own lives, and especially in the moment. Still, as the year comes to a close, it’s important to reflect on the previous year, and how the Spirit has transformed our lives.
The Jesus story never gets old. Having grown up in a religious environment, and having spent years in theological education, it would be easy to assume I’ve heard the Jesus stories before. A year with Jesus? Is there really that much new to learn? Often, through the year, when I would mention to other ministers that I was spending a year with Jesus they would look at me with a strange look, and even sometimes ask a puzzling question. The thought was always why would you do that? Yet the Jesus story never gets old. Each week, even in the most familiar stories, I would be shocked to see Jesus in a new light. Stories that I always thought I knew the answer or moral, were suddenly slightly different. To see the compassion with which Jesus speaks to Martha in chapter 11, it’s not that our service isn’t helpful, but you who are involved in service need to listen to my words for renewal. Or to see how Zacchaeus is literally ignored by everyone, they won’t even let the short guy to the front so he can see. Yet Jesus sees him, and completely changes what he is doing in order to share truth with the lost. I started to realize that as soon as I thought I had Jesus figured out, he did something that completely surprised me. This is a story we have to always come back to, because the Jesus story is always a fresh revelation.
Jesus cared a lot about money, the poor, and the lowly. I have to admit, there was a week about two-thirds of the way through the year when I sat in my office and cried out to God, not another week about money. I didn’t think I could do it. I couldn’t go before the congregation I love and serve and talk about money one more time. It seemed I had spoken about money, or the poor, or the less fortunate, or possessions, or a similar theme so many times already I was going to lose the audience (or they would get tired of me and I would lose my job). Yet Jesus cared a lot about money. Perhaps in our culture of affluence; with a strong economy, low unemployment, and a higher standard of living that anything I would have imagined when I was a child, this is the message I need to hear. It’s easy to not focus on money because it hits too close to home. It challenges some of my fundamental ideas. If I focus on money I may have to change my life. However, Jesus seemed to understand that money has a way of controlling us, becoming the thing we find security in, or the place we put our trust. When it does this, it is an idol, and as Jesus said in Matthew, you cannot serve both God and money. Only one will be supreme.
Jesus is relevant to our world. It’s easy to think that Jesus had some great teachings, but how are they relevant for the world 2000 years later. Yet each week I was reminded that Jesus speaks into the very moments of our lives today. Jesus speaks to the growing economy, and the foolishness of greed and accumulating more stuff. Jesus speaks to immigration, and the welcoming into the Kingdom of the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. Jesus speaks into elections, and our mistake in putting the right person into power will somehow solve the world’s problems. Jesus speaks into the environment, reminding us of our fundamental calling to care for the creation that goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. Jesus speaks into what makes one Great, and it’s not thinking of ourselves first, but it is in giving our lives in service to others. Jesus is constantly challenging our current culture, and even more so our own lives when we have ears to hear.
Spending a year with Jesus has been a blessing and a challenge. Has it changed my life? Has it drastically changed the congregation I’m privileged to serve? I don’t know. Time will tell.
What I do know is it has challenged me to think more deeply about current issues, and more importantly my own role and embrace of our current culture. It has forced me to question how much the current culture is forming me, and not me forming culture. As time goes on, I hope I will have the strength and courage to embrace the calling of Jesus more than the calling of the world. Through the help of the Holy Spirit, I believe I will be transformed into the image of Christ through the love of the Father from one degree of glory to another.