In 2017, Rob Bell released his 10th book entitled What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel about Everything. In a conversational and informative way Bell gives the reader a culturally grounded view of several biblical stories, causing the most adept bible student to re-think and see another aspect of the scripture that they had not seen before. Bell describes reading scripture in this way as “turning the gem”, stating, “In the rabbinic tradition, they talk about scripture having seventy faces. So, when you read it, you keep turning it like a gem, letting the light refract through the various faces in new and unexpected ways” (78). And hopefully in our re-reading of the text, we too become changed.
This is what happened to the author, speaker, and co-founder of Austin New Church, Jen Hatmaker when God began to reveal to her that there was a new thing on the horizon for her and her husband in regards to life and ministry. In her book, Interrupted she chronicles the journey of God piercing through her life in a Kairos moment, and everything changing. She writes that in this season God began to illuminate certain passages of scripture that spoke of God’s concern for the impoverished, the disenfranchised, and the broken. These were scriptures she either heard and glossed over, or scriptures that had never really been touched on in the churches she was a part of. She states that up until this point she used “the Word to defend my life rather than define it” (5). She talks specifically of reading John 21 where Jesus fellowships with Peter and the other disciples on the beach, post-resurrection. After Peter had betrayed Jesus, he went back to what he knew how to do best (working as a fisherman) and the last thing he thought Jesus would do is invite him once again to co-labor with him. Jesus asks Peter three times if he loves him and to feed his sheep. Jen states that when she read this passage she always thought “feeding Jesus’ sheep” referred to meeting the spiritual needs of people, but in this season of her life where God was stirring her heart for something greater, she began to realize “feeding sheep” wasn’t just about preaching and teaching the good news, but also about meeting the physical needs of millions of people who go hungry every day around the world. This revelation started Jen and her husband on a journey where their comfortable Christianity was being torn down.
Re-Turning the Gem
In the climate we are currently living in here in the United States, where there seems to be a deepening divide within the body of Christ, specifically around issues of justice, racism, classism, and our responsibility as a church in caring for the impoverished and disenfranchised, I cannot help but wonder if we need to “turn the gem” of the scriptures once again. I wonder if the words of the prophet Amos: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God, have fallen on deaf ears? Or if in this season of Lent, where many are fasting from various foods and activities, we have forgotten that the fast God requires is “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58:6-7) Although it seems as if these words have been forgotten, some examples have me convinced the good news that Jesus said He was proclaiming to the poor, the captive, and the oppressed is not only being preached but lived out.
Word Made Flesh
In response to the new lens in which Jen and her husband began to read the scriptures, they planted Austin New Church which strives to take God’s concern and preferential treatment of the “least of these” very seriously. The church’s vision is to
LOVE God and to LEARN and LIVE the ways of Jesus.
We believe there are spiritual, relational, and physical needs in every community.
Our hope is to engage those needs in our neighborhoods, our city, and our world.
Another organization that is demonstrating the good news of Jesus are non-profit organizations like Repairers of the Breach (founded by the Rev. William Barber II) whose mission is to “advance a moral agenda that uplifts our deepest constitutional and moral values of love, justice, and mercy.” In honor of the 50th Anniversary of the Poor People’s Campaign, spearheaded by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, the Repairer of the Breach organization has joined forces with other organizations to revitalize this campaign, mobilizing thousands of people throughout the United States, ” to end systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, environmental destruction, and other injustices“. The work of these faith leaders and organizations are encouraging and should challenge each of us to answer for ourselves: what part am I playing in carrying out God’s desire for justice and freedom for the oppressed? How am I using and reading the scriptures? Am I reading the scripture to defend my particular rights/beliefs/preferences or to extend God’s love, mercy, and justice to all.
I was out shopping for myself, which is a rare event. I found myself struggling to buy a much needed quality pair of sneakers, and dress shoes. I was going back and forth on how much to spend. Typically I go to Walmart and buy a $12 pair and call it a day. However they weren’t giving me the support I needed from being on my feet most of the day. I asked a friend, “why am I struggling to buy these for myself?” Her reply “ because you don’t value yourself”….I didn’t even text back. I bought 2 pairs of shoes, and a couple other things, then I took myself out to breakfast.
And I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth… Matthew 25:25
I always felt for the servant who hid the talent in the ground. I related to his fear of losing it all, of disappointing others. He valued his fear more than the gift, and what could be gained from that. If you’ve had enough lack in your life it can impact your ability to value yourself appropriately. The times when I’ve worked too hard to please those who may see me, yet don’t understand me. He had to find a safe place to bury the talent, had to dig a deep enough hole, and then stand guard for a year,,, that’s a lot of work for something that doesn’t belong to you.
But when His disciples saw it, they had indignation,saying, to what purpose is this waste. Matthew 26:8
They saw the woman for who she was, a sinner, and opined that her actions could only be considered a waste. Maybe her actions were too grand, too generous for them to be interpreted correctly by equally sinful people.. Perhaps her recognition of who Jesus is, and the comprehension of what he was about to endure, could only leave them muttering feeble excuses about the poor in response to their own lack of worship.
And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. John 1:5
Pure goodness, and the deeds that follow can easily be misinterpreted if the light hasn’t shone in our own dark places. I’m quite certain that the woman was well aware of her past, her actions, and how people viewed her. What surpassed all of that was her absolute confidence in who Jesus is, and that what He thought of her wasn’t an opinion.The challenge is to take what you have that is whole and valued and break it wide open for God’s glory. What you hold dear must be let loose, what you consider the best thing about yourself should be given to God. Stretch out in God so the light can get to those areas that we’ve buried and guarded for far too long.