I was asked to write about our 2017 Annual Conference theme for this week’s newsletter. As I was considering the different tasks I had for the week, I was inclined to take the easy route and simply reuse the “About our Theme” language I’d compiled for the website (please do check it out if you haven’t already).
Unfortunately for me, the opportunity to write about Jesus is a hard one to resist.
Our simple tagline, “Do this and you will live!” is a direct quote of Jesus from Luke 10. This statement strikes people in different ways with some liking its boldness and the way it begs a question: What is the “this” one needs to do to live? Others aren’t as fond, often for the same reasons. Let me explain why I find myself among the former.
The Jesus I encountered as a young person trying to decide if this Christianity thing was worth doing was provocative. He lived with, and brought healing to, those who were poor, hungry, and lost in sorrow and he heaped condemnation upon those who did nothing when they could do much more. Jesus challenged his disciples to love, not our family or friends, but our enemies. In contrast to other religious teachers of his day, he bound grace received to one’s willingness to extend it to others. And most attractive to the young person I was, there didn’t seem to be any social convention, nicety, or prejudice that Jesus would allow to get in the way of God’s love.
All of this gained Jesus the attention of many, the affection of a few, and the condemnation of those with the most to lose.
The Church has always struggled in its proclamation of Jesus to the world. German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said it this way: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” That language hardly makes for a good bumper sticker. Instead we are tempted to sell a softer, sweeter Jesus who never cried in that manger or raised his voice in anger. Our domesticated Jesus kindly disagrees with others and patiently waits for the world to change. He might get people in the door but he can’t deliver on the promise of abundant life. This Jesus, who only asks from us what we are willing to give, can’t release us from the traps we set for ourselves. Perhaps that is why our churches sometimes feel a bit listless.
In contrast, the Jesus of the gospels offers us a life, an adventure! In answering his call to love God and neighbor with our whole heart, being, strength, and mind we find ourselves free of our comfortable burdens and endowed with purpose. Regardless of its size, the Church that hears this message lives for its community and the opportunity to share the abundant life it experiences.
And that’s why I like this particular theme formulation. It isn’t all neatly wrapped up and explained. It begs us to wonder what the “this” is, and more importantly, invites us to contemplate what it means to truly live. And “Do this…” certainly seems to suggest some sort of action on our part!
As they prepare for Annual Conference, our Worship Team has been focusing on what it means to love God with our whole hearts. What would change in our lives if we synchronized our heartbeats, our passion, with God’s? Together, I hope we’ll consider how transformed our churches would be if we did the same, embracing Jesus’ challenge to love without abandon and truly live!
Patrick Scriven serves as Director of Communications and Young People’s Ministries for the Pacific Northwest Conference.