Today, I will start a new series of reflections based upon a concept taught by Scot McKnight that he calls "The Jesus Creed". It follows a capital campaign theme for my church community and it will allow me to explore some of the missional and Kingdom themes as they are anchored in Jesus teaching in the gospels.
I still intend a few more thoughts on "American Idol" and on "Learning about learning from learning", so stay tuned.
Imagine if you will that you are standing in church and reciting the Apostles Creed in unison. Like believers have done for centuries, you are speaking aloud that great old creed that stands as the synopsis of what a person has to believe and affirm in order to be a Christian. Indeed, in many circles, this is the core essential doctrine that you must confess without your fingers crossed. It is considered an essential.
Imagine that you are in your church all standing together, the words on in a screen in front of you and in one voice you declare, I believe in God the Father Almighty. I believe in Jesus Christ his only son our Lord. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the Holy Catholic church…” there is succinct that it builds to a crescendo, “I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting!” and just when you are ready to add a hearty “Amen,” one more slide appears and says, “And that every person should tithe to the local church!” or “That every Christian will share the good news with friends and neighbors.” Or “That every Christian will go on a mission trip.”
What would you think? You may even agree wholeheartedly with these statements, but something would seem seriously wrong, right? I mean, these are good ideas, you think, but you don’t mess with the Creed. You don't just add stuff to the “essentials of belief.”
But this is exactly what Jesus does.
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment.
I believe that at this moment, the face of the religious leaders would have been beaming in smiles. The young rabbi knows his stuff, they would have been thinking. He just quoted the beginning of the Shema of Deuteronomy 6:4, the basic teaching, the core commandment, the closest thing to a “Creed” that the Jews had. And it is worth pausing here to note that if Jesus would have stopped right here all would have probably been well with those Pharisees. He would very likely have passed their test. Indeed, I believe that if he would have stopped there, he might even have avoided crucifixion.
But he didn’t stop there. With barely a breath he heads in to the rest of his answer.
And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (NRSV)
What?! The Pharisees would have been asking, shocked by what they have heard. “What did he say?” This may have been the issue that made the Pharisees turn on him. This was very likely the very words that led to his ultimate crucifixion. But why? Jesus didn’t just make up his own teaching here and. He actually quotes from Leviticus. It’s a biblical statement, a statement from the Torah. So what could possibly be the problem?
When Christians recite The Apostles’ Creed it is the same thing as when Jews recited the Shema. And you don’t take good things, even really good things, and make them essential things. Only what is essential must be essential. And this is exactly what Jesus does. He makes a really good thing, a really, really important thing, even a good and important biblical thing, an essential thing. Something that is required of everyone who would be his followers.
And that changes everything.
Jesus says to them: It is not enough to love God. It’s not enough to be spiritual. It’s not enough to be religious, to go to church, to live for a higher power…That is good but it just doesn’t cut it.
The end or goal of life, for Jesus, is to love God AND love others. And they are equal in importance. You cannot have one without the other. You must, must, must have both.
(if you'd like to hear the sermon from which this post was based go here and look up the sermon for May 5, 2007)