You're closer than you think...
You’re cold. Ice cold. Getting warmer… No, now colder! You’re getting warmer - hot, hot, en fuego!
I remember playing the Hot or Cold game as a kid. A step above I Spy it included a bit more mystery and intrigue for my taste. I remember hiding toys from my brother and sister then watching in delight as they tried to discover my ingenious hiding place. Sometimes, I would keep it in my pocket but let them wander just for the fun of it. Tough being the oldest…
You are not far from the Kingdom of God.
These words of Jesus to the Scribe popped into my head as I was having a conversation this morning. I had been sharing my journey leading up to the impetus undergirding Bridge City. Towards the end of our discussion around reconciliation, gentrification, and the commonality of our brokenness it dawned on me that the entire ministry of Bridge City Community, the significance of what we are doing, and the reason for my deeply satisfying tiredness at the end of every day is defined by the second half of the greatest commandment: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The first half of the commandment is the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And 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. As Christians passionate about reconciliation in Chattanooga we were sharing how agenda-less conversations and the breaking down of cultural barriers was satisfying, fulfilling, and nourishing to our souls. Furthermore, that we found our sustenance in these mundane activities more than ecstatic spiritual experiences on Sunday morning. Not to say that isn’t necessary or important - it is. The first part of the Greatest Commandment is pretty clear after all.
Heres my beef: being “fed” on Sunday mornings in a comfortable auditorium isn’t the telos of our faith. Love of God and the love of neighbor is. Together. The love of neighbor is a sacrificial endeavor stemming from the acknowledgement of God as one and loving him with your entirety. No where, that I know of, does Jesus say, “Getting warmer, hot, hot!” to “being fed” in lieu of sacrificial love of neighbor.
And the scribe said to him, “You are right Teacher. You have definitely said he is one, and there is no other besides him. 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 oneself is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
Warmer. Getting warmer, hot, hot! Not en fuego though. Why? What was the scribe missing? Why was he acknowledged as close but not entirely there? Scripture doesn’t say. Here’s my guess, so take it for what its worth. The scribes are infamous for knowing Scripture inside and out, but lacking in love. As a matter of fact, a few verses later Jesus puts all the scribes on blast, calling them out before the crowds he was teaching in the Temple. The scribe had all the right answers but did he allow his understanding of God to inform his love? Did he love his neighbors as himself? My guess is no. Why? Because after that no one dared to ask [Jesus] any more questions. It was as if Jesus not only implied the scribe was cold but dumped a whole bucket of ice cold water on the dude.
You’re not far from the kingdom of God. Getting warmer...
Jesus has the answer in his pocket. He is the answer. All the commandments incarnate in the person and work of Jesus Christ invite us, entice us, lead us through the power of the Holy Spirit on a journey toward the kingdom of God. Sometimes in our wandering we hear the echoes of our youth “Cold, colder…” but following Jesus means that we have the opportunity to hear his voice as he draws us closer to his Kingdom and says, “Warmer, warmer, you’re closer than you think.” It won’t be until the Resurrection of the Living and the Dead when we will hear the final words of Jesus, “Hot, hot, en fuego!” and it won’t be the heat of Hell but the glory of God burning away our cold, dark hearts of sin.
In the meantime, let us heed the implicit warning of Jesus in this encounter. You’re close, but not quite there. If we trust our own understanding and strength we will neglect the obedient imitation of Jesus’ sacrifice for every neighbor everywhere. We can “get fed” with all the right answers but if we fail to love our neighbors then we neglect the Greatest Commandment. It is tempting to see Christian community in worship as the endgame of discipleship. It’s seductive because it is comfortable. It’s enticing because its familiar. It should lead us to a warmer relationship with our neighbor instead of cold indifference. The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of Jesus in our lives. The Lord is One - love him with everything you got. Love your neighbor - even if it means sacrificing part or all of yourself.
You’re closer than you think.