Diagrams, charts, ideas, and prayers that help me follow Jesus with some integrity (I hope) without checking my brain at the door – A 3 part series.
Part 1: Franciscans, Methodists, and Mennonites, Oh My!
As you can see in, this morning is the first in a 3 part series, in which I am going to share and draw a whole bunch of ideas and thoughts and diagrams and prayers that I have found helpful in trying to follow Jesus. And it might not all wrap up nice and neat and tidy at the end. So you really can pick and choose what you want. But I’m still hopeful it’ll be helpful.
And as usual, you are 100% free to agree or disagree with me. Here a
t Grace, we allow for disagreement. Unity is not uniformity.
And, in an effort to allow for communication to be a 2-way street, not only will I be available in the side room after worship to continue to conversation, but, in your bulletin you’ll see Q & R. You are free to text me any questions or thoughts that spring up, and we’ll take a few minutes to engage with them.
Okay. Off we go.
(And if you’re reading this online, I’m just attaching the completed diagrams I drew during the sermon. So you’ll have to just use your imagination to make sense of them all. But this meme might help imagine how things went on Sunday… 😉
We start off with Samuel hearing God’s voice in the night. He hears God calling him, and he responds “Here I am!”
About 15 years ago, I was here at Grace one morning, getting ready to spend a year in Zimbabwe with MCC. And Grace Mennonite sent me with love and prayers and blessing and the sang, “Here I am Lord. Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night!”
Fond, beautiful, life shaping memories for a 19 year old.
I sometimes like to rephrase “God’s calling” with the question, “If God is calling me, how then should I live?” Or “How should we live.” Or “What do we take into consideration when we make decisions into how we should live?”
So, the answer most of us here in church would say: The Bible. Scripture. Which, I’d say, yes. Scripture should shape how we live.
It’s what the Reformers said 500 years ago during the Reformation. They were upset at the church for a whole list of things, and so they came up with a phrase, Sola Scriptura, which is Latin for Scripture Alone. The Bible tells us how to live!
If we imagine a building. We could name the foundation of the building as Scripture, and the rest of the building as our lives.
And so we hear God calling Samuel in today’s scripture. Here I am Lord! I’ve heard you call!
And then Samuel opens his theoretical Bible (because they didn’t really exist as Bibles back then) and he turns to the books in Bible named after him, Samuel, and he reads his own story about God calling him in the night, and then a mere 12 chapters later he reads the following:
This what the LORD Almighty says… Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ – 1 Samuel 15:2-3
Here I am Lord… I have you heard you calling in the night to go and commit genocide. And kill the camels and donkeys too. Oh boy.
(We’ll come around a bit to the “Kill all the people and animals” thing in a bit.)
But when we read our Bibles, like actually read, them, wow… It’s quite the read, isn’t it? Weird rules and contradictions and outdated practices and so much God ordained violence. Women can’t speak, men can’t shave, God killed those people, God told those people to kill other people, we can’t wear a shirt made of cotton and polyester (let alone spandex), can’t eat shrimp, and it has a whole set of instructions on how to treat our slaves.
There’s a book that’s about a decade old now… AJ Jacobs tried following every rule in the Bible for 1 year. It’s a hilarious read, but he literally ended up in a park wearing a tunic looking like Moses and throwing pebbles at a stranger because he was supposed to stone anyone who committed adultery.
And when I was at Conrad Grebel University College, our cooks were primarily Old Order Mennonite women. They wore head coverings, and one day I asked them why… They looked at my quite puzzled. “Doesn’t it say so in the Bible?”
So, back to our image of Scripture as our foundation and our lives being the building… It doesn’t take much to start chipping away at that foundation, does it. Strange rules. Violence. Contradictions. Or that the authors of the Bible thought that the world was flat. And let alone that very few of us read Greek. A few years ago, we have professor from CMU come and help us learn how to read Scripture. He showed us one greek work found in 1 Corinthians and then showed us 32 different ways we could translate that word. And I remember thinking: “I know nothing.”
Brick by brick, this simple foundation starts to crumble.
Or, we’re afraid that if we pull one brick out, the whole thing will collapse. So some of us put our fingers in our ears and say “la-la-la I’m not listening”. Or we walk away from the Bible entirely. Or church. Or faith. If God tells people to kill children, I’m out.
Sola Scriptura was a helpful correction in history, but, if we say we only follow the Bible in deciding how to live, we are lying to ourselves. If we call the Bible God’s little rule book, we’re lying to ourselves, (not the least because it’s not little). If we say the Bible is clear, we’re lying to ourselves.
Because we can follow our Bibles and own a slave. And we can follow our Bibles and commit genocide.
So, here are three ideas that I have found immensely helpful over the years.
#1 is from the Franciscans.
When trying to figure out how to live, they take into account three things.
Scripture, tradition, and experience.
Scripture, because they’re Christian.
Tradition, because they are part of something that has been around for hundreds of years, and they don’t have to reinvent the wheel for everything. It’s kind of naïve of us to not acknowledge the good parts of our tradition, or fail to acknowledge the bad. To do so is to almost to walk blindly.
And experience, because our world is constantly changing, and how we see the world is constantly changing, and God is constantly moving in our world. Experience will tell us that committing killing an entire village is bad, or maybe it’s okay if we eat shrimp, and that women are just as capable of leading in church as men. Experience will tell us that if we go up into the heavens, we won’t find God sitting on a throne, but rather the International Space Station, where Americans and Russians are getting along (maybe there IS a God!)
And it’s a bit of balance between these 3 things. Scripture, Tradition, and Experience. If we miss any of them, how we live our lives is going to be a bit out of balance.
But the Franciscans don’t just name these 3 things. They actually put one in the front of the other two. It’s kind of like a tricycle. Which one do you think they put in front as the most important one? That drives the trike?
The answer? We might think it’s Scripture, because that’s what we think we’re supposed to say. But actually, they let experience lead the way. That sounds blasphemous, but if we read our Bibles and understand the history of the Bible and learn the history of both the church (and humanity in general), we learn that “adjusting theology in view of cultural shifts is the very history of Judaism and Christianity, and it’s our sacred responsibility to continue that.” – Peter Enns
And that’s why we can say that Christians killing Muslims in the Crusades is something that we no longer should be doing. Or burning witches. Or defending slavery. Or sending kids to residential schools to make them Christian.
Here’s maybe one of the best examples. Before World War II, most of Christianity was anti-Semetic. We did not think kindly of the Jewish people, even blaming them for the death of Jesus.
And then after the Holocaust, we saw what that theology did, and we said “Oh. We were wrong.” And we did a 180, and worked to address our anti-Semitism (and we still have work to do!).
Experience has taught us this. Experience leads. I think we deceive ourselves if think otherwise.
That’s the Franciscans. But then, if we fast forward a few hundred years from St. Francis of Assisi, we learn about the Methodist Quadrilateral.
(So exciting, I know.)
Instead of a tricycle, they suggest that our lives are like a boat moored in the harbor with four anchor points.
Those four anchor points are… Scripture. Tradition. Experience. And they add a fourth… Community.
And these four are constantly in tension with each other. Sometimes the boat is closer to this anchor point, and other times this anchor point. But if we’re anchored, the boat is able to withstand all the waves that we encounter.
I was at a gathering of Mennonite pastors a while ago, and the speaker suggested the Methodist Quadrilateral is actually quite Anabaptist because it takes into effect the role of the community.
Community has always played a strong role in our history, from secret meetings in houses 500 years ago to moving entire villages from Russia to Canada.
The idea behind community is that if someone asks: “Are you a Christian?” We answer: “I don’t know. Ask my neighbours.”
The idea behind community is that we’re all responsible to give and receive counsel.
The idea behind community is that we don’t wake up in the night and decide that God is calling us to go and kill the the Amalekites and off we go. Rather, we take that perceived calling to the community. We share it, we bounce it off each other, we discern it, we pray about it, and then we have a thanksgiving casserole potluck together.
I have found the Methodist Quadrilateral to be ridiculously helpful in trying to figure out how to follow Jesus.
And speaking of following Jesus, there’s one more diagram that I have found helpful.
It’s like a hill.
This is the Old Testament. This is the letters of the New Testament. And this, here, on the top, is what we read in the gospels of Jesus.
We’re Christians, Christ followers, not Biblians, or Bible followers. Yes, the Bible is the cradle that holds Jesus, the Bible points us to Jesus, but we do not worship the Bible. We worship Jesus. The Bible is just the map.
It’s a little thing, but it’s actually a huge thing.
It means that when we have to pick which Bible stories to read our children, we lean towards Jesus.
It means when we find two different views on something in Bible, we let Jesus be the referee.
It means that the golden rule of treating others how we want to be treated is really, really important. (I always thought that the Golden rule was something my elementary school teacher, Mr. John Bestvater, made up. Turns out it was Jesus.)
It means that when Jesus’ summarizes the Law as loving God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and loving our neighbours as ourselves, we filter everything through that.
It means that we pay attention to Jesus going to the marginalized and outsiders first, we pay attention to how Jesus treats women and children, we pay attention to the teachings of Jesus on wealth and forgiveness and enemy love.
It means we read the Old Testament as something leading up to Jesus. And it means that we read the rest of the New Testament as something that happened because of Jesus.
Jesus himself says that he’s the top of the hill. In the parable of the house built on sand or built on rock, Jesus tells his listeners to build their houses on his words, not Scripture as a whole.
Jesus also says “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” He’s not the way TO something. He IS the way.
We’ll be starting the gospel of John in January, but in the very first chapter we read that the word became flesh. The word of God became Jesus.
It means that if want to understand God’s character, we look to Jesus.
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. Hebrews 1:3
It means we can’t really commit genocide, because Jesus says to love our enemies.
It means that we probably can eat shrimp, because Jesus says it’s not what goes into our body that matters, but what comes out of our hearts that matter.
It means that we can’t own slaves anymore, because we’re supposed to treat others how we want to be treated.
As Palmer Becker writes in his new book, Anabaptist Essentials, “Jesus is the fullest revelation of God and God’s will, he is the key to interpreting Scriptures. The entire Bible needs to be interpreted through the eyes and nature of Jesus.”
A quick note about what we do with verses where God kills people, or God tells people to go and kill all the people. I think, what the tricycles and quadrilaterals and pointy mountain thingy means is that… God didn’t command the Israelites to commit genocide. Israel probably thought this is what God wanted of them, so they wrote that down, but they were wrong. They had an image of God that they thought they knew, but when we remember that Jesus is the exact representation of God, we can say they were wrong. Now, throughout all this, God didn’t change. But our understandings of God have changed. And our portrayals of God have changed. And we have to always be open to them changing again.
And, I know that there are all sorts of alarm bells about me saying God didn’t say those things. They’re going off in me too.
So first of all, none of us can actually prove what God said or didn’t say, to Samuel in the night, or when we read that God commanded genocide. The best we can do is say “God probably, or probably did not” say that.
Secondly, I didn’t say the Bible is wrong. I said the Bible records the Israelites probably getting God’s calling wrong. Slight difference, but an important one.
Thirdly, why is the onus to prove that God probably didn’t say that these things? I rather think the onus should be on the one who thinks God probably did command a genocide. Because that God’s a monster.
You worship a God who kills people? Tell me more about that.
And personally, I think it is kind of nice to know that we worship someone who dies for their enemies rather than killing them, isn’t it?
Now, even with all these three things to help us figure out how to live, how to figure out what God is calling us to, believe it not, we can still disagree. There are even multiple ways that we interpret the words of Jesus.
So even with all these ideas and frameworks, even with Jesus as the center, people still sometimes seem called to live their lives in opposite directions. Heck, there are less than 2 million Mennonites around the world, and we are one of the most divided denominations in the world. Let alone that there are something like 42 churches in Steinbach, and if we all stood on our roofs we could probably see each other.
In the next two weeks, we’ll dive deeper as we talk about spiritual growth and spiritual maturity and spiritual transformation, which might help.
But to try to bring this to some sort of conclusion, even when we disagree… I’ll refer to back to Jesus.
Here I am Lord, says Samuel. And we say, Here we are, Lord.
What are you calling us to do? How is God calling us to live?
At the very least, may we try to love God, may we treat others as we want to be treated, and may be love our neighbours as ourselves.
And may that desire to love be what unites us.
Here I am Lord… Here we are. We have heard you, calling in the night.
Grace and Peace.
PS – After my sermon, someone for church suggested I forgot the 3 legged Anglican stool of Scripture, Tradition, and Reason. I agreed that analogy could have made it in here too. Franciscans, Methodists, Anglicans, and Mennonites – It’s like the Reformation in reverse! Love it!