JEsus

Living Your Best

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

What matters to me anymore is living the best life possible with the days I am given.  At the age of 53, I don’t yet have one foot in the grave but I know it is likely that I have more days behind me than I have ahead of me.  That actually doesn’t frighten me in any way at all.  What it does is motivate me to live each day to its fullest.  I want to be the best parent I can be to my adult children.  I want to be the best friend possible to those with whom I have such a relationship.  I want to be the best pastor and preacher I can be to the congregation I serve.  I want to laugh hard.  I want to serve faithfully.  I want to listen intently to those who need an ear.  I want to speak passionately for those who have no voice.  I want to use wisely the gifts, talents and resources that I have been entrusted with to help make this world a better place.  A place where the way of God, the way of peace and justice, are made known.  I want to live my life the best that I possibly can.

It is easy in the Christian faith for us to become lazy with the theology of sin and redemption and beat people up with that way of thinking.  It is to think that the only goal of our faith is to get to heaven and we can only do that by admitting what terrible sinners we are and accepting Jesus’ cross as the price paid for our sins and the only path of reconciliation to God.  Though sin and redemption play an indispensable role in Christianity, they are not the only lens through which we should look upon Jesus. It is not only Jesus’ sacrificial death that should be the focus of Christian thought and understanding.  It should also be the life that he lived and which he calls us to.  A life which we live to our best ability by working toward a world where loving concern for others reigns supreme. 

In the gospels, salvation is not primarily about a heaven beyond this world, it is about life being more complete and whole in the here and now – the blind receiving sight, the lame walking, the deaf hearing, the prisoner set free, about lives changing for the better in the present moment.  I believe the work of the church is to be found in working for the salvation of the world that is to be known in making broken and battered lives better in the here and now.  We move toward creating such a world when all of us work on being the best people we can be in Christ.  Allowing his teachings to define what we consider good and just and his example of care for others being the one that we follow with our lives.  In other words, allowing the humanity of Christ to be the humanity toward which we strive to live.   

For some, believing that “Jesus died for your sins” practically sums up the entire Christian faith.  I have come to believe the life that Jesus lived needs to be rediscovered.  It is that life, lived in faithful beauty, which shows us how to live as his followers. 

 

Don't Take the Bait

By Rev. Joe Pusateri

“Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away. 

(Matt 22:17-22, NIV)

About 4 years ago, my wife and I decided that to get rid of the television.  For me, the final straw was watching my 5 and 3 year old daughters held totally captive by the onslaught of commercials while I sat at the dinner table working on a paper in the pursuit of my Master of Divinity degree.  I called their names again and again, trying to get their attention to no avail.  It was then that I realized that even a parent with the benefit of close interaction with and deep love for his own flesh and blood children was no match for the multi-billion dollar resources of toy manufacturers to impart values, so long as we were competing for their limited attention.  So I exercised my trump card and pulled the plug on the cable.  As it turns out, the transition was much harder for the adults in the home; the kids adjusted quickly and began to use their imaginations again through play and reading. 

I could go on and on about the various ways a television-free family has preserved the sacred space of the home.  But as we approach the election on November 4, what I want to say here is that I treasure such a lifestyle most during campaign season.  It is nice to be removed from the constant barrage of political ads.  What is disturbing, however, is to see what happens to people who are still plugged in.  I watch friendships disintegrate, families divide, neighbors hammer wedges between each other.  It is absurd.  With the deep problems in this country, how in the world is it sane to respond with such vitriol towards fellow citizens?  It is as though we are all on a ship that has struck an iceberg and instead of uniting together, we are arguing vigorously over the color of the dinner napkins in the dining hall.  And what makes me most indignant about the toxic partisanship and lack of civility in our political discourse is that it is 100% intentional.  Our incivility and division is actually the point of all this bad political theater.  

You see, in a democracy those who hold power have a fundamental dilemma, which is that, theoretically, power rests in the people.  And there are a whole lot more of “We the People” than those who seek to rule us.  So in order to get people to abdicate our power, our rulers use the oldest trick in the book: divide and conquer.  In other words, so long as we are fighting amongst ourselves, we will never recognize that we have more in common with one another and more shared interests than we will ever have with the interests of those who pull the strings of government.  This has been used for centuries.  In this nation, it has been used with enormous success to keep poor and working class whites, for example, from uniting with poor and working class blacks who are both getting the brunt of failed policies.  But the whites are told blacks are the problem and blacks are told whites are the problem.  Across the board, you can see the artificial lines drawn everywhere between us.  Urban is pitted against rural, conservative is pitted against liberal, church denominations are encouraged to fight with one another over doctrine, rather than unite under the mandate of Christ to preach the good news to the ends of the earth.  And because these appeals to hate your sister or brother are so persuasive, because the media, the government and the marketplace are so skilled at exploiting our anxieties, we often take the bait.  We fail to look across the railroad tracks and see that I have infinitely more in common with the folks that live on the other side than I will ever have with the principalities and powers that manipulate us both.

In Matthew 22, Jesus doesn’t take the bait.  You’ve heard the story: the Democrats and Republicans... I mean the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to trap Jesus by coming at him with the question of the Roman head-tax, the kēnsos (census) tax.  Is it lawful to pay the emperor’s tax or not?  They ask him.  Yes or no?  But it’s a trap.  If Jesus says yes, then he sides with the Herodians, who are in bed with political power.  But in so doing, Jesus will alienate the crowds who have been following him looking for a savior from Roman oppression.  If Jesus says no, then he will be cast with the zealots and be crushed by the Empire.

So Jesus says, give me a denarius.  Tell me whose image and inscription is on it.  (By the way, I love that Jesus doesn’t even have a denarius on him; that’s a whole sermon in itself.)  The coin has the image of Caesar and the words, Tiberius Caesar Divi Augusti Filius Augustus Pontifex Maximus (“Tiberius Caesar, august son of the divine Augustus, high priest”).  Jesus exposes his challengers by getting them to pull out an idolatrous coin in the holy Temple, bearing the image of the emperor, who claims to be the Son of God.  Jesus resists being roped into conventions of power and money worship.  Jesus resists playing into the game of “whose side are you on?”  The coin belongs to Caesar, Jesus says, it has his image on it.  So give it to him.  But if the coin has Caesar’s image on it and therefore belongs to him, then what has God’s image on it and therefore belongs to God?  That, of course, would be you.  You belong to God.  But so does your neighbor, black, brown or white, male or female, gay or straight, old or young, abled or disabled, urban or rural, immigrant or native born, Jewish, Muslim or Buddhist, incarcerated or free, poor or wealthy, conservative or liberal, republican or democrat.  We bear God’s image.  So give your allegiance to God.  And don’t take the bait.  

Rev. Joey Pusateri, Pastor

Simpsonville Christian Church

simpsonvillecc@gmail.com