What If God Were One of Us?

sunrise with halo effect
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/h-k-d/3421452549/">Hartwig HKD</a>

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

Even if our story about Jesus is covered up, it’s only hidden from those who are doomed. For them, the unbelievers, the god of earthly preoccupations has closed their minds off from the wonderful light of Jesus’ story – indeed from God. We’re not telling our story. We’re telling the story of Jesus, our leader, and we are just slaves in his service. The same God who said, “Let light shine in the darkness,” is the same God who enlightens our hearts, so that we can enlighten others with the knowledge of God we have because of Jesus.

These verses are part of Paul’s ongoing defense against accusations that he’s not really concerned so much with the gospel as with his own reputation. Accusations that were probably laced with a grain of truth. Or, perhaps it was the fallout of his failed attempt to be all things to all people.

In any case, Paul’s story hangs on his being able to make the case that his ideas of what the church should be are synonymous with Jesus’ idea about what the movement should be. And, like any case where a movement has become an institution, there are some resemblances, but also some significant dissociations.

Paul’s problem is essentially the same as our problem. There is Jesus, and there is the church. All these centuries later, Jesus is still a popular figure. Even sneering atheists like Bill Mahar quote Jesus with admiration. Not so much the church, though. To be fair, Jesus is probably much more popular now than he was when he was alive. Jesus made a lot of “good churchgoing people” angry enough to crucify him. It’s easier to idolize someone who’s dead and gone. And that’s exactly what we’ve done: we’ve idolized him, cast him each in our own image.

Maybe we’d be better off to let Jesus be Jesus rather than try to make him be the imperial or institutional ego. What if he was really just an ordinary guy trying to fix a hopelessly broken system and help as many people as he could along the way? Wouldn’t that be enlightening?

Have the Attitude of Gratitude

woman smiling
Photo credit: Sukanto Debnath

2 Corinthians 9:6-15

Here’s the point. If you’re a stingy investor, you’ll never get much of a return. But if you invest a lot, you’ll get a lot back. So each of you needs to contribute what’s genuinely you, not what someone else tells you to. God’s looking for unfettered generosity. God will provide more than enough of what you need. And, since you have everything you need, you’re free to share it freely to do great work.

Like it says in the psalm:

God invests everywhere, even in the poor.
God’s justice is eternal.

God supplies food to eat with enough extra to invest in the future. And God will give you plenty to invest, so you can be increasingly magnanimous, too. The best way to become rich is to be generous – and we will be sure to thank God for you. Our ministry takes care of many believers, and in addition, gushes with thanksgiving to God. When you invest in our ministry, you prove your loyalty to God and your commitment to Jesus by sharing with them and others. And, they also will pray and care for you because of God’s having blessed you. Thank God for this indescribable opportunity!

Paul is pitching his own ministry here, of course. But even as such, it’s a pretty good reminder that if you have what you need, it’s an occasion for gratitude.

And if you happen to have more than just what you need to get by, then it’s an occasion not just for gratitude, but for expressing your gratitude through generosity.

Unlike Paul, I’m not going to tell you how to express your gratitude or generosity. But Paul is right to say that such occasions are tremendous opportunities. Not every investment is successful in the way we hope it might be. But the general principle is still true: you can’t expect to make a profit without some putting in some effort.

And, while effort is hard, it doesn’t have to be burdensome. Working hard at something you love is another indescribable opportunity to be thankful for.

It might just be another definition of “unfettered generosity.”

[On a personal note: I’m thankful for the opportunity to work on the Scarlet Letter Bible and to share it with you. It’s hard work. And I love it. And I’m equally grateful that anyone reads it. And that you’re reading it now. To you, I say, quite simply, Thank you.]