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Mary received from God a vocation; a special assignment from God. She was to nurture and teach God’s son.

After a discussion on vocation citing Parker Palmer, McKnight concludes: “What Palmer is asking us to learn is this: God will not ask us, ‘Were you (like) Mother Theresa or the prophet Daniel or Peter or your father or mother?’ Instead, God will ask us, ‘Were you the “you” I made you to be?'”

What is your vocation? What is your special assignment from God that you and only you were meant to do? Are you living into what God intended you to be?

McKnight writes, “Spiritual formation begins when we untangle (who we really are). Spiritual formation begins when we untangle reputation and identity, and when what God thinks of us is more important than what we think of ourselves or what others think of us.”

Enter into this story: Joseph. Matthew tells us Joseph is tsadiq (tsaDEEK), righteous. “In Joseph’s world there are no reputations more desirable than tsadiq–unless you are a priest (unusual), a prophet (rare), and the Messiah (very rare).” His reputation is in danger with his relationship with Mary. Mary is pregnant before their marriage. Joseph prepares to put her away quietly. Until. Until an angel appears to him and reveals God’s plan to him.

McKnight concludes, “Sometimes the implication of listening to the voice of God is that we ruin our reputation in the public square. Loving God, as the Jesus Creed teaches, involves surrendering ourselves to God in heart, soul, mind, and strength–and reputation. The minute we turn exclusively to the Lord to find our true identity is the day reputation dies.”

Joseph gave up who he was, gave up his reputation by marrying Mary and becoming Jesus’ (legal) father. What are we willing to do to follow Jesus?

In Part Two of the Jesus Creed, McKnight turns to stories about individuals and how the “Jesus Creed” plays out in their lives. His first chapter is about John the Baptist. John the Baptist is an odd duck. McKnight observes, “The first word out of John’s mouth is ‘Repent!’ This is repentance with an edge–a sharp one. As Frederick Buechner puts it so memorably: ‘No one ever invited a prophet home for dinner more than once.’ John maybe not even once.”

John the Baptist calls for repentance. In repentance, John tells his audience they must confess their sins. “To confess means that we tell God the truth.” Telling the truth to God means recognizing who we really are at our deepest level, our most inner self.

This radical truthtelling awakens forgiveness. “Sometimes one gets the impression from misguided experts that God is holding a club over our heads, and the moment we tell the truth he cracks us a good one and then says, ‘You ugly little sinner!'”

But this is not the way of God. Instead, once we tell the truth, it stops us from hiding from God. Our sin alienates us from God. In repentance and confession we begin to make our way back to relationship. McKnight writes, “The promise of the Jesus Creed is that Abba loves us. He creates us to love him; he desires our fellowship. So, truthtelling is not an opportunity for head bashing, but an opportunity for the heart of Abba to be thrilled by reconciling forgiveness.”

McKnight writes, “Jesus tells parables that catch his readers in the web of a moral dilemma so they can learn.” He uses the parable of the Good Samaritan as an example.

McKnight describes, “On a trip from Jerusalem to Jericho a man is attacked by a gang of robbers, leaving him nearly dead. A priest and a temple assistant (a Levite) come upon him separately, but fearing impurity from contact with a corpse, they skirt to the other side of the road. They are following the Torah, mind you.”

Quite an interesting observation. Typically we hear the parable presented as the good Samaritan and the bad Jews. However, “This is not heartlessness so much as it is obedience. Therein lies the learning.”

What do we do when obedience comes in conflict with love? What do we do when our own purity is challenged? “If we are to love God and love others, Jesus is asking his audience, what happens when love-of-God-as-obeying-Torah (the Shema of Judaism) comes into conflict with love-of-God-as-following-Jesus (the Shema of Jesus)?”

McKnight concludes, “Loving God properly always means that we will tend to those in need.”

As McKnight describes the Jesus creed, love God and love others, the love we experience and share is sacred. “Love is sacred because genuine love is total in its commitment.” This love is transformative. McKnight examines three areas.

1. Sacred love transforms our speech.
“Jews at the time of Jesus speak of God with reserve.” In contrast, Jesus teaches his disciples to pray to God, “Our Father.” There is intimacy in the relationship to which Jesus calls us.

2. Sacred love transforms our acts.
McKnight describes, “Sin is any action that violates that love. Repentance is what happens when we realize in our deepest selves that we have violated the sacred trust of love with Abba and seek to renew our commitment.”

3. Sacred love inspires our worship.
“Worship happens when I comprehend (1) who I really am before God–a love-violating sinner, (2) how faithful and gracious God is to his sacred commitment of love for me, and (3) how incredibly good God is to open the floodgates of that love to me.”

Tomorrow we look at our love for others.

In the next chapter of the Jesus Creed, McKnight write about Table fellowship. In the world of the Bible, to eat with someone communicated more than it does today. To eat with someone communicated acceptance and approval.

McKnight writes, “For Jesus the table was to be a place of fellowship and inclusion and acceptance. For Jesus the table was to embody the Jesus Creed. To love God and to love others means to invite all to the table.”

As a result of Jesus’ inclusive behavior, he was called a friend of sinners and tax collectors. He was called a “glutton and drunkard.” McKnight makes an interesting observation about this accusation.

“This expression points to a legal charge against Jesus. The accusers of Jesus use the specific language from a passage regulating how parents are to make legal charges against a rebellious son. Parents are to take the son to the elders and say, ‘This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then they are to stone the rebellious son to death in order to purge the evil from the community.” [Deut. 21:18-21]

Instead, Jesus offers a different approach. McKnight outlines the difference between an observant Jew (maintaining purity by keeping the law) and Jesus.

“The observant person’s table story: You can eat with me if you are clean. If you are unclean, take a bath and come back tomorrow evening. Jesus’ table story: clean or unclean, you can eat with me, and I will make you clean. Instead of his table requiring purity, his table creates purity.”

Jesus invites each of us to fellowship. Because we fellowship with Jesus we are clean. We have fellowship with Jesus and with each other.

McKnight writes, “If the center of Jesus’ heart is the Jesus Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer is what the Jesus Creed looks like in prayer, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is what the Jesus Creed looks like as a story.” We know the story from Luke 15:11-32. The younger son embarrasses the father and family to waste the father’s money. But the father is watching for the son, runs to the son, and embraces the son.

McKnight offers three observations:

“Knowing God’s love begins when we open our hearts to Abba’s love. Opening here is a metaphor for vulnerability to God in the quiet of our hearts.”

“Another way to open u to Abba‘s love is to repeat throughout the day a short prayer reminder: ‘Father, thank you for loving me.'”

“Third, we can practice one faith action of God’s love a day. Most obvious is the act of faith we may call self-talk: telling ourselves that God loves us.”

The story of the Prodigal Son tells of a Father who loves tremendously. God loves us greatly. Let’s remind ourselves today.

“Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.”
— Matthew 6:9-13

McKnight compares the Lord’s Prayer to an early Jewish prayer, the Kaddish. He observes, in the Lord’s Prayer: We learn to approach God as Abba, we learn what God really wants, we learn to think of others, and we learn what everyone needs.

McKnight writes, “In the Kaddish of Judaism there is a concern for God, but in the Kaddish of Jesus there is a concern both for God and for others.” Loving God and loving others becomes the basis of Jesus’ prayer.

The first part of the Jesus Creed is called the Shema. Shema in Hebrew is the first word of the passage, “hear.” “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The Jews of Jesus’ day would have been familiar with this; it is Deuteronomy 6:4-5. But Jesus adds to this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The Jews also would have been familiar with this; it is from Leviticus 19:18. But it is unique that Jesus would put them together. Loving God and loving others is central to the formation of our spirits if we are to follow Jesus.

But how do we love God? For the Jews one loved God by following Torah, keeping the Law. But for Jesus, one loves God by following Jesus. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law. McKnight writes, “As a normal Jew, spiritual formation for Jesus begins with the Shema of Judaism. But Jesus revises the Shema in two ways: loving others is added to loving God, and loving God is understood as following Jesus.”

We are not a creedal community. We don’t have creeds that we recite weekly. In fact, we’re from a tradition which has rejected creeds. “No creed, but the Bible,” is something early leaders would say. Early leaders intentionally rejected human statements in hope that Christians might unite around the word of God. Of course, that hasn’t happened. We’ve been a divisive group as much as any other group.

Perhaps this is why I appreciate Scot McKnight’s The Jesus Creed. He too comes from a non-creedal tradition. But he has gone to Scripture, to the words of Jesus to find this emphasis. When a teacher in the law asks Jesus, “Which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answers him.

“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.

This, to me, seems a pretty good center. McKnight writes, “A spiritually formed person loves God and others.”

For the next few weeks I’ll be exploring McKnight’s thoughts from this book.