This is why I want so much to tell the Jesus story to you Romans. I’m not bashful about the Jesus story. It’s God’s restoring power given to everyone who embodies it. It came first to the Jews, and now also to everyone else. When people embody the Jesus story God’s justice happens, and still more embody the story. The sacred writings say: “One who is just lives by embodying.”
Let’s dispense with the traditional translation that renders the Greek, pistis with this over-used word, “faith.” Faith, by now, is too bland a rendering. It’s too easily relegated to propositions, pie in the sky, and namby-pamby sentimentality. Paul believed in pie in the sky, of course, but even Paul wanted his new Christians to do something about Jesus. Faith goes beyond thinking in the abstract or working up the proper emotional adjustment.
Let’s recognize that to live by faith means, in essence, to embody the Jesus story in oneself. In other places, Paul talks about “putting on Christ.” This is what he means. Embody it. Live it. Do it in the way those who spoke the truth did it when they said, “Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with God.”
In this sense, Jesus (and maybe even Paul) isn’t really a religion. Jesus is a way of living well. It’s a way of living that demands justice be done, not just in theory, or on paper, or eventually, but in reality, here and now. Live and do like Jesus, bring his story to life in your own life, and you may soon find the religious people are all against you. Live and do like Jesus, and even if you don’t believe in God, you’ll be closer to living the life you know deep down is yours alone to live.
Don’t let faith be just an idea or a belief. Make it a life. Embody the Jesus story. Do it.
God’s relief has shown up, rescuing everyone, coaching us to give up godlessness and temporal concerns so that while we’re waiting for the wondrous hope of God and Jesus’ return we may live moderate, ethical, and religious lives. Jesus gave himself to us to rescue us from our propensity for evil, and to create a community dedicated to doing pure good.
The irony of this passage is that it’s about making sure everyone fits into the temporal expectations that Christians lead moderate, ethical, and religious lives. Which is the very thing Jesus came to call into question.
Jesus himself was never so concerned with purity as the Pharisees and the Pharisaical folks who co-opted the Jesus movement a couple generations later (and still claim to speak for Christians in much of the press).
Still, the community is not so far gone by the time Titus was written to have lost the collective memory that it was founded on the principle of doing good and renouncing what’s not.
But the relief Jesus showed up coaching his community to enact wasn’t according to any commonly accepted ethical convention. Nor was it moderate. Nor was it necessarily religious. You don’t get crucified for being a moderate and keeping your head down. In fact, moderates are very seldom even remembered. It’s the radicals and the reactionaries who end up in the news and on the crosses.
Incarnation, if you’re reading this just before Christmas, is as much about our living as it is about Jesus’ having lived. God’s relief has shown up. But, as it turns out, this time around that relief is you and me.
Then he said, “You don’t get the koan either, do you? And if you don’t get this one, you won’t get any of them.
“The gardener plants the idea. When the idea comes to someone who’s as dense as asphalt, they hear it but the Resistance takes it away before it has any chance of sinking in. When the idea lands in gravel it falls between the cracks, as if it’s been readily absorbed, but nothing takes root. As soon as trouble comes or the idea meets opposition, it’s abandoned. When the idea is planted in the weeds, it takes root. But because of so many other worries, concerns for making money, and always wanting first this, then that, the idea never comes to anything. But when the idea finds good soil, it is heard and lived, and that’s when it bears fruit, increasing the opportunity to spread it, thirty, sixty, or even a hundred times.”
As Seth Godin says, an idea can be a terrific idea, but if it can’t spread, it’s like no one ever had it.
And there are lots of factors that keep great ideas from spreading. Jesus names three:
Starting with your own resistance. You have a great idea. You’re in love with the idea. It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. So why don’t you do anything about it? Sure, you run it by a couple people. But that’s it. A year later, you can hardly remember what it was. Because as much as you’re in love with the idea, somewhere in the back of your mind is the fear that if you try it, it won’t work. You’ll be a failure. People might laugh at you. Did that friend really think it was a great idea, or was she just saying that the way people nod in agreement to move on? You start second-guessing. In the end you just never do anything about it.
The next obstacle is other people’s resistance. A friend really does laugh at you and tell you it’s a dumb idea. A spouse tells you you’re overreacting, or worse, crazy. So you believe them and just drop it. Like hitting the first bump in the road or catching your first snag.
Then there are all the other things vying for your attention. And how are you going to make a living and support your family until your idea starts to pay off? Or will it ever pay the bills? And then there’s a great new sit-com on TV starting this week, and you want to see who’s going to win America’s Got Talent, and your friend calls and invites you to play a round of golf (or whatever game it is you play that takes all day). And before you know it, that lovely idea is buried in the back of a file cabinet and your grandkids will fish it out after your funeral and wonder why you never did anything with such a great idea.
Turns out, the only way for an idea to survive is for you to live it. (The ten-dollar theological word for it is incarnation but you don’t have to use that unless you want to.) If you’re good soil for an idea, you’ll make time for it. If you really love it as much as you say you do, you’ll keep at it, work it around your other jobs, do it in spite of your old buddies making fun of you for it, put in the effort it needs, and stick with it in spite of all the other things that keep cropping up.
If it’s really a great idea, the effort will be worth it. Jesus thought the goal, the realization of the person you were born to be, was worth it. Jesus thought the idea that would make the world a better, more humane, more peaceful place for everyone was worth it.
Jesus thought you were a great idea. But do you? Really? Are you living it?
If you are, great! Tell us about it (in the comments). If not, what’s holding you back?