• Steven Marsh

Connecting–Hard Rock Traditions: a Reflection on John 15:9-17 and Acts 10:44-48

In the late 1940s, Charles Templeton was a close friend and preaching associate of BillyGraham. Over time, however, Templeton developed intellectual doubts. He questioned the authority of Scripture and other core Christian beliefs. Templeton abandoned his faith and even attempted to dissuade Billy Graham. He resigned from the ministry and became a novelist and news commentator. Templeton also wrote a critique of the Christian faith, Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith. Lee Strobel interviewed Charles Templeton for his book, The Case for Faith. Templeton was 83. In the interview, Templeton revealed some of the reasons he left the faith: “I started considering the plagues that sweep across parts of the planet and indiscriminately kill, more often than not, painfully, all kinds of people, the ordinary, the decent, and the rotten…it is not possible for an intelligent person to believe that there is a deity who loves.” Strobel then asked Templeton about Jesus. Templeton remarked: “He was the greatest human being who has ever lived. He was a moral genius. His ethical sense was unique… Everything good I know, everything decent I know, everything pure I know, I learned from Jesus. He is the most important human being who has ever existed. And if I may put it this way, I miss Him.”[1]

Do you have doubts and questions about Jesus? Relating to and not isolating ourselves from others and challenging situations creates testimony, telling God’s story, in your story, through everyday encounters. God joins us in our condition. God does not hold back. God testifies through those who are simply willing to love others, particularly the difficult and unlovable. God’s testimony in and through our brokenness is greater than our brokenness. The Holy Spirit interrupted Peter’s preaching. The message was going to break out of its singular focus on the Jews and go to the Gentile world. Noel Leo Erskine writes, “The new revelation made possible by the inbreaking of the Holy One was clear: The Gentile believers belong as much to the household of God as Jewish believers. Gentiles do not have to become Jews. God accepts them as they are.”[2]Peter was confronted with the hard rock tradition of exclusivism. That is, really wanting to reach the Jews, and if he had to, make Gentiles as much like faithful Jews as possible, by enforcing upon them specific Jewish traditions.

Some traditions are helpful. Others are not. Gathering family together for birthdays and other celebrations is important. Hazing in fraternities not so much. Tailgate parties for our favorite college football games is a favorable tradition. But deciding who is the “right kind” of person for the group not so much. The Masters. Misguided bachelor and bachelorette parties, not so much. Many of you are aware of the name, Daryl Davis. Daryl attracts attention because he is a regular at political demonstrations. Listen to this account of Daryl’s presence in Charlottesville, Virginia to meet Billy Snuffer, an Imperial Wizard of the Rebel Brigade Knights, a sect of the Ku Klux Klan:

According to CNN, in early December [2017], Davis traveled to Charlottesville, Virginia to meet with Snuffer who was there with other Klansmen attending a hearing of an associate facing a gun charge during the infamous “Unite the Right” rally from last August, where a woman was killed by a driver who rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters. Davis wasn’t exactly there to support Snuffer and his friends, but he did want to engage them in conversation in order to understand them. But his attempts to do that tended to elicit strong reactions from onlookers, because Daryl Davis is African-American. As it turns out, Davis has been at this for a while. As a bluesman dabbling in country and western music, Davis has traveled across the south, east and Midwest, playing music and meeting people. Playing at a bar in 1983, he was once complimented by a patron who compared his playing to Jerry Lee Lewis. After explaining to the man that Lewis learned his craft from black blues and boogie-woogie players, they eventually became friends—despite the fact that the man revealed his membership with the KKK. Since then, Daryl Davis has been dubbed “the Klan Whisperer” as he soldiers on in a mission to challenge the beliefs of Klansmen through friendship and conversation… Racism in America is a complex problem with a myriad of systemic, interconnected causes and consequences. Nevertheless, Davis’ example serves as a gentle reminder that the path toward progress requires a measure of humility and a willingness to listen.[3]

We need to break out of traditions which exclude and have eyes for “the other,” those who at first glance, just don’t fit in. In Peter’s case, as one biblical commentator notes, “The Holy Spirit was working a powerful transformation among the early Christians. Their perspective of who was “in” and who was “out” was being changed not by their own doing, but by the intervention of the Holy Spirit. The boundaries of the “inner circle” kept widening to the point that the assumed boundaries were no longer legitimate.”[4]

Should we not be for all people? The church is, at least on paper, to be a community “of welcome and laughter, of healing and hope, of friends and family and justice and new life.”[5]God is our teacher. We are God’s pupils. We are “wired” to love God and others. Brennan Manning in The Importance of Being Foolish: How to Think Like Jesus writes,

Compassion for others and joy over their repentance reign in the mind of Christ…Jesus’s gentleness with sinners flowed from his ability to read their hearts and to detect the sincerity and essential goodness there. Behind people’s grumpiest poses or most puzzling defense mechanisms, behind their dignified airs, coarseness, or sneers, behind their silence or their curses, Jesus saw a little child who had ceased growing because those around him had ceased believing in him.[6]

Let’s love others as God loves them. As we are being the best neighbors, evidence of God at work overflows. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.

[1]Much in this paragraph has been adapted from Lee Strobel, The Case for Faith(Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 7-23.

[2]Noel Leo Erskine in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 482.

[3]The source of this story is Mallory Simon and Sara Sidner, “What happened when a Klansman met a black man in Charlottesville” CNN (12-16-17). Jelani Greenridge posted this story on PreachingToday.com.

[4]Jeffrey D. Peterson-Davis in David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors, Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, 480.

[5]N.T. Wright, Simply Christian (New York City, New York: Harper-Collins Publishers, 2006), 123.

[6]Brennan Manning, The Importance of Being Foolish:How to Think Like Jesus(New York City, New York: HarperCollins, 2005), 100-101.

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