I haven’t found any hidden treasures in the house we’re ripping apart. No family heirlooms left behind. No stash of cash tucked in an interior wall. Not a single gem whose value went unnoticed by the previous owners. I’ve resigned myself that there’s nothing in this house that will get me on Antiques Roadshow.
But we’ve collected some items which, depending on your eye, could be considered a form of art: drawer handles, windows locks, and door knobs. Because of the accumulation of paint (lead based, I’m guessing) this hardware no longer functions the way it was intended to. Yet, when I stare at them long enough and set up a camera, I see something pleasing. That said, as soon as I get around to renting a 20-yard dumpster these paint-clogged relics will be the first to go.
I’ve been 60 years old for a week now. 34 years ago I was ordained into ministry. Something weird is happening to me. I catch myself stripping away layers and layers of paint – thick, theological, oil-based coats of orthodox paint. This de-layering started about ten years ago when I got serious about studying the life of Jesus. I turned to the gospel of Luke and read through it more times than I can count. I struggled through the Greek and relied on lots of English translations. I ended up with a manuscript I hope to publish: Jesus, a Life–365 Reflections on the Gospel of Luke.
I ended up at a place where I had no intention of going. Here’s what I learned. In matters of faith and religion, as it concerns God and Jesus, believe what you want. It doesn’t matter. How we choose to live makes all the difference.
In the 18th chapter of Luke, a seeker comes to Jesus with a heavy question: “How do I get eternal life?” Jesus’ answer is surprising and revealing. He doesn’t add layer upon layer of paint and say, “Believe in me and you’ll get what you wish for.” Or “I’m the Son of God and that should tell you something.”
Instead, Jesus points to the ethics of holy living, “Be faithful in your relationships. Protect life. Don’t steal. Speak truthfully. Honor your parents.” Without bragging, the seeker acknowledged he was already doing these things. Surely there was something he was missing. But what was it?
Jesus replies again, but not how we might expect. He doesn’t say, “OK, here’s the real deal. I’m going to die for your sins, so repent and look to me as your Lord and Savior.” Nor does he say, “Let me remind you, my mother was a virgin when she bore me.” Jesus tweaks the seeker’s life. “If you really want it all, sell all you have and equitably distribute the money to the poor.”
If this was the only occasion in Jesus’ ministry when he triumphed right living over right believing, we could easily ignore it. But it’s not. Most of Jesus’ parables say the same, so do the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Sermon on the Mount. In most churches, it’s the other way around. We promote what we believe over the ways we tend to the least and the last and care for the world. There’s just too many layers of paint on our theological handles.
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