Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. -- 1 John 2:24
This passage always takes me back to when I first began to know Jesus. And that is always a much needed reminder to me of what is really important.
In the summer of 2008 -- not very long ago -- I began studying the Gospels in an effort to try to understand what Jesus had taught his disciples about right living. As I immersed myself in his teachings, I began to see that Jesus' teachings fall into two basic categories. In one set are the ethical precepts for living in community with one another. They could all be gathered together under the title, How To Love Your Neighbor As Yourself. In the other set are all the directions Jesus gave for forming a connection to God. These teachings could be titled, How to Love God With All Your Heart, Mind, Body, and Soul. For Jesus, these two commandments fulfilled all the teachings in the Law and the Prophets. Both commandments are equally important and essential for people of faith. Jesus not only taught people what these commandments entailed, he lived them. They were his main message for good reasons.
When Jesus began his ministry, the Jewish people were seriously divided amongst themselves. Samaritans, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, Pharisees, tax-collectors, and the rest who didn't belong to any of these groups, separated themselves from one another, to greater or lesser degree. And what did Jesus teach them? Judge not lest you be judged. Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. For if you salute your brother only, what more do you do than others? Do not even your enemies do the same? Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye but do not notice the log in your own? Instead, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. And if a brother offends you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. Not forgetting to forgive as you have been forgiven, and be merciful as God is merciful. All these teachings and more were designed to bring people together in loving community. If one could follow this way, unity in the midst of diversity would be the result.
Also, when Jesus began his ministry, nearly all Jews looked for a Messiah who would conquer the Romans and return the Jews (well, at least the righteous ones) to power so that the kingdom of David would reign forever more. But Jesus taught: The Kingdom of God is at hand. Worship the Lord your God and serve only him. God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's. Do not practice your piety before men in order to be seen by them. But, let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and give glory to God. God is spirit and truth, and must be worshiped in spirit and truth. The truth will set you free. What comes from the heart is what defiles a man. Give for alms those things which are within. Repent. Eternal life is knowing the one true God. Seek God's Kingdom and everything else will be added unto you. He who believes in me, believes not in me but in him who sent me. You will find rest for your souls. Abide in me and in the Father. All these teachings and more were given to us in order that we would share in his joy, and rest in his peace, abiding with him in God and God in us.
During his short ministry, he gathered a diverse group of people together. And after Pentacost, a growing number of disciples lived and worshiped together in community. I read in "The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity" that, "The earliest Christian communities were marked by their allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth. They believed that in his teachings and life, God had 'visited his people' and sent a prophet and more than a prophet, an example and teacher of the way of truth and righteousness surpassing John the Baptist; the 'Messiah' or anointed leader of ancient expectation." (pg. 21, Henry Chadwick, "The Early Christian Community") Jesus brought this diverse group of people together into a community dedicated to one another and to God. And they were called Followers of The Way.
However, as the number of disciples grew, there was felt the need for more organization, for more rules, for more authority, and for compromise. All of which deviated from the simplicity of Jesus' message. And so within the first century, there were many more Christian sects than there had been Jewish sects. A trend that has only grown exponentially over the millenia, until now there are over 40,000 different Christian sects or denominations!
We are fortunate. We have the Gospels to teach us about Jesus. Four Gospels from four different perspectives, yet each one illustrating a consistent core of teachings. I wonder what would happen, if we all tried to live the way Jesus taught, if each one of us tried individually to stay in community with one another and with God, despite the difficulties of doing so. Is it possible?
Perhaps a better question is: How much are we willing to try?
Dear God, thank you for never giving up on me, and for continually reminding me to rest in you. Love always, Pam