Church Write-Up: Being with Jesus, Transaction, Giving

During this year’s Lent, the church that I attend will be going through Red Letter Challenge, a curriculum developed by LCMS pastor Zach Zehnder. It focuses on select words of Jesus. This week, the service focused on being with Jesus. The Sunday school class, however, was an introduction to the entire course.

A. The youth pastor talked about how we can be physically with someone, yet not actually “with” that person. We can be on our cell phone with earphones on, ignoring the person we are with. In the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42), Mary is quietly listening to Jesus, while her sister Martha is preoccupied with a million other things. Mary is actually “with” Jesus.

B. The pastor’s sermon appealed to Mark 6:31 as a starting point. Jesus invites his disciples to the desert to rest, since, up to that point, they lacked an opportunity for leisure. What if we proceeded to our tasks beginning with rest, shaped by rest, rather than doing what we ordinarily do: looking forward to the weekend and trying to cram activities into it? The pastor told some stories. He said that he took over a decade to finish his S.T.M. degree. He finished the coursework but took a while on his thesis, since his advisor was in Slovakia before the days of the Internet, so he could not work with him via e-mail, and there was no one else at the seminary with whom he wanted to work. He talked about how we sometimes fail to finish what we start due to exhaustion and a lack of interest. In the Christian life, meanwhile, we find that being good is a struggle. I identified with his story. I dropped out of the dissertation program ten months ago because I felt it was going nowhere.

C. The introduction to Zehnder’s course began by contrasting how non-believers see Christians versus how they see Jesus. They see Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, and divisive, whereas they see Jesus as friendly, caring, compassionate, and honest. Someone in class pointed out that the picture in the Gospels is more complex than that: the Pharisees regarded Jesus as a blasphemer who was stirring the pot, and they wondered how he knew what he knew. I see value in being friendly, caring, and compassionate. It is just so difficult. Some of it is social struggles, some of it is a personality that turns inward, and some of it is being burned, which makes me hardened towards people. I also recoil, somewhat, from the idea that Christians should be trying to appease non-believers. I think of Christians who say, “Evangelicals cannot support Trump. It makes them look bad to unbelievers.” So?

D. The teachers, quoting Zehnder, said that being with Jesus should make us eager to do what Jesus said. The Bible should become a fire within us that we feel compelled to share. And, when we pray, a peace should come over us that we cannot explain. Profound thoughts. But I don’t want to place those kinds of burdens and expectations on my daily times with God.

E. The term “transaction” came up more than once in Sunday school. We see forgiveness as a transaction: a person needs to come to us on his or her knees before we forgive and have anything to do with that person. God, however, does not forgive like that, for God already took care of our sin on the cross. When we forgive, that is so anger does not fester within us and has nothing to do with what the other person does. When we serve others, we are not doing so to appease God; serving others may not save us, but it could save another person. Jesus taught a lot about money, and money concerns transactions: what we can do so that people can benefit us. I guess that, in retrospect, the class had a message of grace, even though I was feeling it as harsh law when I was experiencing it. There may be something to some of what was said, but I dispute that the Bible promotes forgiveness apart from repentance. Yes, our repentance is imperfect, and I believe that God loves us even if we fail to keep the law. But repentance is an ingredient to showing concern for the damage we have done and attempting to repair the damage.

F. Zehnder said that there is no such thing as a stingy Christian. I rolled my eyes at that. Next week, I hope to work on not doing that, since I am an adult and should behave as an adult. Why did I recoil from Zehnder’s statement? If we’re saved by grace, why can there be no such thing as a stingy Christian? If a person has to give money to others to be a Christian, then that person is saved by works, not grace, pure and simple. So much for that non-transitional stuff in (E.)! Also, how much money do I have to give before God is appeased? And what exactly was Jesus saying to his audience? I read scholars who say that most people in Jesus’s day were poor. Was Jesus asking them to give more?


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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