“It ultimately comes down to one thing, you love God in as much as you love others.”
—Jesus (Paraphrase by Rev. Kris Tate)
A time in history we don’t discuss much is the roughly 300 years from the end of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New Testament. This time in Biblical history is called the Intertestamental Period. While we don’t have anything in our Bible from this period, there is much in Jewish and other historical writings that speak to the activities of God’s people during this time.
This was a period in the Jewish faith where the Pharisees’ influence in the Temple and Jewish society as a whole significantly increased. It was during this period that the Roman Empire began and ultimately conquered all of what we know as the Holy Land.
This meant the Jewish people were living under the occupation of a foreign empire, and their lives and destiny were not under their control. It was in this setting that the Pharisees stepped in to help address the chaos that ensued. Most of the religious leaders of the time believed the reason Jewish people were once again in a form of captivity was because as a people, they had not been faithful to the Laws of Moses, and God was punishing them.
As Dr. Reggie McNeil discusses in his book, Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church—and What We Should Do Instead, the Pharisees exponentially increased the number of religious observances and commandments to guide and control faithful Jews’ actions so they would repent from their presumed sinful ways and return to the ways of God. The end result of this process for the average Jew trying to live as the Pharisees prescribed was both extremely complicated and oppressive. These new religious observances and commandments also had another impact on Jewish society. They made the differences between the common people and the elite more pronounced and created more divisions and distance between the two groups. The reason for this was the wealthy had the ability to get the education and training to understand all of these new religious requirements along with having the money necessary to pay all of the new religious practices.
By the time Jesus came into his public ministry, he was 30 and these new practices had become firmly entrenched. In many ways, the religious leaders in the Temple in Jerusalem were ensuring their continued positions of influence in the community and their ability to create vast amounts of wealth for them and their families through tithes, Temple taxes, money-changing fees, selling sacrificial animals, and the costs for other religious rights. This was all while having little concern for the implications on everyday Jews.
As Jesus says about this in Matthew 23:4 speaking about the Pharisees, “They crush the people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” Two major emphases of Jesus’ ministry were addressing this inequality and reorienting their focus to what was truly important to God. A prime example of this comes from the following interaction Jesus had with a scribe in Mark 10:28-34a:
“28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other;; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as one-self,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.'”
On Sunday, September 27 at 2:00pm, we will be having our Church Council meeting where we will begin visioning together about how we can best and most successfully move forward into God’s future. As with any time of upheaval, there is the temptation to become inwardly focused and operate out of a defensive and scarcity mindset. In this scenario, our focus becomes more about ourselves and our survival and less about being engaged in and with the community. This is a path that many churches choose, but unfortunately this road leads to death.
Another option for us will be to use this time of transition to reorient ourselves, our mission, and our ministry to be evermore focused on being engaged with those beyond the church doors, helping them to have the fullness of life God desires for all of God’s children. This option takes significantly more time and energy and is fraught with adversity and conflict. However I believe this is exactly what Jesus calls us to do when he says, “You love God to the same degree that you love others.” (This is my own interpretation). This path will inherently be much more challenging, but I believe it is the only one which leads to life.
I look forward to seeing you at the Church Council meeting on Sunday, September 27, at 2:00. I am asking everyone participating to read the book Renovate or Die by Bob Farr, and we still have a few copies in the church office.
As always, I look forward to seeing what God, through the work of the Holy Spirit, will do through our faithfulness.
Rev. Kris Tate
McNeal, R. (2015). Kingdom Come: Why We Must Give up Our Obsession with Fixing the Church—and What We Should Do In-stead. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers