Are You Odd and Interesting?

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I have been preaching through Matthew chapter 5 since the beginning of the year.  We have been looking at the content of the “righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees” (5:20) using the antithetical categories that Jesus lined out between the “you have heard that it was said of old” and His new “but I say to you.” There are six of these contrasts in Matthew 5 – murder/hatred (5:21-26), adultery/lust (5:27-30, divorce/faithfulness (5:31-32), vows/integrity (5:33-37), justice/mercy (5:38-42), and love of neighbor/“perfect” love (5:43-48).  In each case, I believe that Jesus was taking His disciples deeper than just outward conformity to an external standard of what was right to the behavior that issues from a heart that has been transformed by His empowering presence.  The key to my understanding of what Jesus was talking about at the beginning of His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 is what Jesus said about fruit and trees at the end of His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 7 –

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. (7:16-20)

We live different kinds of lives because Jesus Christ has made us a different kind of person.  When by faith Jesus Christ becomes our Lord and Savior we are changed fundamentally and irrevocably.  We become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we start to live new lives, lives that are “odd” and “interesting” by the standards of the world.  And this is the key to the core assignment that we have been given as the followers of Jesus Christ, namely to preach the Gospel to the whole creation (Mark 16:15).

The “secret” to evangelism is the “question-posing lives” that Christians live according to the Mennonite theologian Alan Kreider.  He has researched and written extensively about evangelism in the early church.  And it is his conclusion that the early church gathered in worship to shape Christians with Christ-like virtues and values so that when they scattered back into the world they would live “question-posing lives.”  Here is the gist of his argument –

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If our lives are to speak, they must somehow be question-posing…

How distinctive are we? Does God want us to live differently? Is God calling us to live more oddly, more interestingly? Does God want us to live in such a way that others can see that we are odd, individually odd, corporately odd?

I have learned a lot from Anna Geyer, a student of mine at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary’s Iowa extension. Anna is a 30-year-old mother who lives with her husband and children north of the Black Diamond road, in an area where few Mennonites live. Anna tends a large garden, “The Cutting Garden,” to which people can come and cut flowers. They may pay if they wish. A wide variety of women gather at her kitchen table. Anna reports that people look at her and ask questions: “Anna, you’re living in a way that I’m not used to. Why are you and your husband so kind to each other? Why do your kids talk politely? …Why do you live like you do?” And at the right moment, which may take years in coming, Anna will say, “Because of Jesus.” Anna is a radical, who lives simply, who is committed to a peacemaking lifestyle, who is a good friend and an excellent listener. She has built up a remarkable network of women who don’t go to church but who want to talk about life — and about God. Anna is odd and interesting.

The New Testament writers don’t tell their readers to “evangelize” others. They tell them to live   with hope. And if we have hope, and express that hope in deviant behavior (“odd” and “interesting”), people will ask questions that lead to testimony. Peters puts this in classic form in his first letter: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). It is hopeful incarnation of the way of Christ that leads people to ask questions and demand explanation. If we are hopeful, people will want to know why. [www.mennonitemission.net]

The ministry of evangelism is part of the “overflow” of our personal experience of salvation.  When we are drawn into the love of God by our encounter with Jesus Christ we are “born again” (John 3:3).  Something changes in our very core (Ezekiel 36:25-27).  What’s in our past gets forgiven, and our future gets filled with new and wonderful possibilities.  In Christ we are “raised to walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).  And it’s that “newness of life” – illustrated by the antitheses that Jesus drew in His Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 5 – that makes us “odd” and “interesting” as Christians.  Our best witness as a Christian is the “question-posing life” that we lead.  And this means that evangelism is not about memorizing formulaic scripts and forcing uncomfortable confrontations with people.  Evangelism is instead the “overflow” of a life that has been changed by an encounter with God in Jesus Christ.  When people see and are surprised by the way we behave, and then ask about it, the door is open for us to tell our own story about how we have personally found meaning and purpose in Jesus Christ.  As Alan Kreider puts it, first there is “incarnation” and then there is “explanation.”

If we are living hopefully and interestingly, then we can talk. Verbal articulacy will then point to God and will be our testimony to God’s saving grace and life-transforming vision that God has shared with us in Jesus Christ… Our hope as Christians is question-begging. People will ask: “Why do you have hope?” …And we must learn to answer: “Because God has given us forgiveness, joy, and that most countercultural commodity — hope.  And hope, as Paul says, “does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). [www.mennonitemission.net]

The love that the Holy Spirit pours into our hearts overflows, and that’s how and where evangelism begins.   DBS+

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