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.
No decries. No decrees. No desires granted. No dreams fulfilled.
We need to repent because Christ died, while we were sinners. He took our punishment, our death, our sins. He took that on Him. God put our sin on His Son so that we may know Him, “the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent” (John 17:3).
And now, we must repent, have a change in our mind, if you will, and put on Christ. We must put on Christ not because He is going to fix our relationships, take care of our depression, stand for black lives, give us a great business idea, make it alright between our co-workers and managers, heal that hip or shoulder that has nagged us for years, or have someone pay for our groceries in a time when we really need that $72.88 for something else.
We need to repent and put on Christ, have the mind of Christ so that we may know Him, ” the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent,” as it is written in John 17.
For far too long, we have lived off that magic prayer at some youth meeting or holiday service and believed that if we do good here and there, we were saved.
Like the lepers, we were slowly dying without ever knowing it and thought that our separation was because only God understood us but in truth, God separated us so that we would never infect others of our unrepentant sins. “You hypocrite! First take the beam out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5).
It is time to put first things first. Make the main things the plain things and the plain things the main things. We need to learn of God’s ways and follow Christ. Put away our dreams, our visions, our plans, our clocks, our calendars, our life coach’s strategies and “…seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things [food, water, clothes, i.e. the basics to live] will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).