Back to Jesus!

Charles Kiker, February 2013

          First United Methodist Church in Tulia is presenting Adam Hamilton’s videos on world religions at our Wednesday night fellowship meals.  Adam Hamilton is the senior and founding pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas—a suburb of Kansas City.

          The video series consists of presentations regarding Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Hamilton presents the backgrounds and major beliefs of the different religions. He points out common ground and differences with Christianity. He holds to Christian distinctives, but always respectfully and without rancor.

A recent video presentation was on Islam. Hamilton’s ground zero difference with Islam is that it is a religion of a book, the Koran, which Mohammed claimed was dictated to him word for word by the angel Gabriel, in the Arabic language.

But isn’t Christianity a religion of a book, the Holy Bible?

The title of a radio broadcast I often heard in the 60s was, “Back to the Bible.” That was and still is a kind of rallying cry for some Christians. Come back to the Bible. Be a people of the Book.

But ultimately, Hamilton insists, Christians are not a people of the Book, nor is Christianity a religion of the Book. Christianity is faith in a person, Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God.

I agree with Hamilton. And Hamilton agrees with John the Evangelist:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:1-5, NRSV). And John continued in verse 14:

“And the Word became flesh and lived among us. . . .”

Jesus is the Word of God. It is Jesus who shows us what God is like. We know Jesus from the book, but ultimately it is Jesus, not the book, to whom our allegiance is due.

My first Bible was a Christmas gift during World War II. It was an edition designed for members of the armed services. It had a patriotic olive drab cover to honor the men in uniform in World War II. It had the words of Jesus in red. It was a red letter Bible. We need red letter Bibles, but what we really need is red letter Christians.

Red letter Christians read the words of Jesus as having utmost authority. We read the Bible through the lens of Jesus, rather than reading Jesus through the lens of the Bible. When we read of the destruction of Jericho, or the extermination of the Canaanites, we need to think of the red letters: “Love your enemies.”

What are we to make of this command of Moses regarding a village of the Midianites? “Now therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman who has known a man by sleeping with him, but all the young girls who have not known a man by sleeping with him, keep alive for yourselves” (Numbers 31:17-18, NRSV). Remember the red letters, and ask, “Who would Jesus kill?”

What about the angry words of revenge of the poet regarding the Babylonians?

“Oh daughter of Babylon, you devastator!

Blessed are those who pay you back for what you have done to us!

Blessed are those who shall take your little ones

And dash them against the rock!” (Psalm 137; 8-9)

Remember the red letters: “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them. For the kingdom of God belongs to them” (Mark 10:14). Jesus didn’t say, “ . . . except for Muslim children, and Hindu children, and Jewish children, and the children of drug dealers, and the children of gay people, and . . .”  Jesus loves the little children, ALL the children of the world!

When we are in conversation with people of other faith traditions, we should acknowledge the dark side of our own tradition, but hold our anchor firm in Jesus.

Back to the Bible? How about back to Jesus!