Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith

December 31st, 2018 by Dave Leave a reply »

Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith
Treasures Old and New

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Every disciple of the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who draws out from their storage room things both old and new. —Matthew 13:52

As we come to the end of this year, we begin a new theme for the Daily Meditations. Over the next twelve months our focus will be “Old and New: An Evolving Faith.” Today’s world faces so many challenges. Christianity is supposed to heal suffering and mend divides, yet it has often exacerbated the problem. Is such a religion even worth saving?

While there are unhelpful and even harmful parts of what has passed for Christianity that we need to move beyond, I believe there are many good, beautiful, and true gems well worth saving—and living. It is of no use to anybody if Christianity is just a museum or an antique shop where we prefer to collect old things for their own sake. Yet we can rediscover many good old things that are perennially valuable. We would be foolish to reject them.

My life and the Center for Action and Contemplation’s work are guided by eight core principles. [1] The first might surprise some of you: The teaching of Jesus is our central reference point. We all need a North Star to orient us toward meaning and purpose. As a Christian and Franciscan, for me that is Jesus, who revealed the Eternal Christ. Over the next several weeks we’ll become better acquainted with Jesus, whom Christians believe is the totally inclusive “Child of God” who includes all of us in his cosmic sweep. He is the Includer, and we are the included. We’ll then spend some time looking at Christ, the eternal, ongoing union of human and divine, present in and evolving all of Creation since the beginning of time, who moves that inclusion to everything in the Universe.

Because Christianity is the path I love and know best, I teach primarily through this lens. However, the Center’s fifth principle—We will support true authority, the ability to ‘author’ life in others, regardless of the group—points to the Perennial Tradition. If it’s true, it’s always been true; truth simply shows up in various ages and cultures through different vocabulary and images. Throughout the world’s religions and philosophies, recurring themes point to humanity’s longing for union with Divine Reality. There are many paths to union.

You may ask, why does Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)? I’ll return to this when we explore the difference between Jesus and Christ. But for now, I’ll simply say that Jesus is not talking about joining or privileging any group; he is describing the way by which all religions must allow matter and spirit to operate as one, which indeed is the universal way for all people.

As we’ll see, Jesus revealed a God who is in total solidarity with humanity, even and most especially in its suffering. Shane Claiborne writes, “Jesus came to show us what God is like in a way we can touch and follow. Jesus is the lens through which we look at the Bible and the world; everything is fulfilled in Christ. There are plenty of things I still find baffling, . . . but then I look at Christ, and I get a deep assurance that God is good, and gracious, and not so far away.” [2] Let’s be honest: that is all we need to move forward.

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Jesus: Modeling an Evolving Faith

Ever Ancient, Ever New
Monday, December 31, 2018

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace. —Augustine of Hippo (354-430) [1]

Within each of us is a deep desire for union and intimacy with God, with our truest self, and with all of Creation. Because life is hard, and we’re wired for survival, we develop coping mechanisms that separate us from each other and God. Thankfully, God is patient and has many ways to reach us. Jesus is one of the clearest, most visible images of God’s love. His teaching and example model for us what it means to be both human and divine—at the same time. He dismantles our preconceived ideas about who and where God is and is not.

Jesus—and others who followed after him like Paul and Francis and Clare of Assisi—made room for the new by letting go of the old. Jesus had the courage and clarity to sort out what was perennial wisdom from what was unreal, passing, merely cultural, or even destructive. John the Baptist described Jesus as a “winnowing fan” that separates the grain from the chaff (see Matthew 3:12). If we don’t winnow, we spend a lot of time protecting “chaff” or non-essentials.

Jesus did not let the old get in the way of the new but revealed what the old was saying all along. Contemporary poet Christian Wiman writes beautifully, “Faith itself sometimes needs to be stripped of its social and historical encrustations and returned to its first, churchless incarnation in the human heart.” [2]

Precisely because Jesus was a “conservative,” in the true sense of the term, he conserved what was worth conserving and did not let accidentals get in the way, which are the very things false conservatives usually idolize. As a result, he looked quite “progressive,” radical, and even dangerous.

It might surprise you that Jesus could be considered subversive. Christians often think of him as the founder of a new religion. But that was probably the furthest thing from Jesus’ mind. He was a Jew, through and through. While honoring and emphasizing the essential and core elements of his tradition, he just ignored and even undercut most non-essential religious norms and mandates. This is rarer than you might think and is invariably the character of any true reformer. They know they are merely following the constant thread of Spirit.

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