What are the marks that we leave behind in people's lives that give evidence that we were there? Can we identified by the marks we leave? What kinds of things might we look for?
For the past several weeks through a sermon series at our church we have been exploring an issue of identity -- what it means to be a "Remnant" people -- something that has been central to the identity of Adventism and which finds its roots in Revelation 12:17 (a text that describes "the remnant" as those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus [NIV]). I am intrigued by Julius Nam's suggestion in last week's sermon that the testimony of Jesus, and perhaps by implication the whole concept of "remnantness," is more verb than noun, a dynamic way of being rather than a static state. There is much here that resonates with me (and perhaps reflects a bit of the sense of things that I was trying to get at when trying to figure out what to say in the "about me" section on the right side of this blog page). Perhaps what actually defines us is less about a list of characteristics or qualifications, and more about the way we are and how we interact with others, with our world, or with God? Perhaps, as significant and important as they are, who we are, and perhaps the concept of "remnantness," is better defined less in terms of doctrinal statements or understandings and more in terms of "practices" (something we will explore more in future posts) and the way we are and how we live?
Other things all this gets me wondering, pondering, thinking about include . . .
- While traditionally we have often linked the Gospel and letters of John and the Book of Revelation, I wonder why we have been slower to link Jesus' definition of the commandments of God from John "Loving each other as I have loved you" with what it means to identify a group of people as those who keep God's commandments and bear testimony to Jesus? As much as I appreciate and affirm the way the ten commandments reflect the characteristics of lives lived in response to Jesus, the life that Jesus models and describes through His life, ministry and teachings, infuses this with a depth and breadth that describes much more than a list of criteria. Rather, they express a way of living and being.
- I am also intrigued about how this resonates with an earlier post which explored the ministry of John the Baptist, and the implications this might have for our understanding of the remnant. What Julius Nam suggested, using Moses interceding for his people as a model for understanding part of what lies at the heart of remnantness, is a way of thinking about the remnant that is reflected in a ministry that is not all about us, but rather focuses instead on God and others. At least part of what is so significant here is that it goes beyond the understanding of John's statement, "He must increase and I must decrease" as a powerful expression of self-forgetful humility and service (although it is certainly that) and suggests an even more fundamental shift.
- Is it possible that the tendency to be primarily concerned about whether or not we have qualified for salvation, and then living a life that faithfully reflects "being saved"-- a concern that is focused on me, my standing before God, and how well I am doing -- might actually miss, or distort, what it means to be a follower of Jesus? I still remember an Academy principle saying, "My primary goal is to get kids into heaven." But what if the real focus were less about securing personal salvation, and more about inspiring and encouraging people to embrace the life of the Kingdom -- caring for the needs of others out of a genuine love for them, and this, not in order to get into the Kingdom, but in response to God's love and grace that assures me of a place there? Does it matter if my ultimate preoccupation is focused more in the direction of wanting to be able to stand without a mediator at the end of time, or in seeking ways to serve and mediate for others in ways that reflect the values of the God's Kingdom right up to the end of time? Does being God's remnant ultimately revolve around resolving my own, and helping others resolve their own, self concerns? Might it instead be about inviting others to become a part of something that focuses on loving God and others well in a way that is self-forgetful? The example of Moses, being willing to have his own name blotted out of God's book, certainly urges us to take this dimension of things seriously!
Actually, the "good news" is that we don't have to live in the tension between the two. Both the teachings of Paul and the life and ministry of Jesus repeatedly remind us of grace -- that because God loves us, we are embraced and accepted as a part of His kingdom so that we don't have to live with, or be motivated by, the anxiety that comes from not knowing if you have made it yet or qualify, thus freeing us from the need to be preoccupied with our own standing. Then, out of gratitude for the realization of all that it means to be included by God, because we are so loved, we are able to more fully enter into the life of the Kingdom by loving and caring for others out of the overflow of grace in our lives. Still imperfect and flawed, but embraced by the love and grace of a God Who continues to love us, we learn to extend the same love and grace to others, and in doing so become changed as we come to embody more and more the life of the Kingdom. One of the insights that flows out of an appreciation for "the great controversy" theme in Adventism, is the realization that the central issue is less about us and how good we are, and much more about helping people realize how good God is. Out of this emerges a people who work and pray for God's will to be realized "on earth as it is in heaven" . . . perhaps a people who "keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus," and who may well be largely unaware of the full significance of their lives and actions, so that when Jesus is depicted as inviting them into the Kingdom in the judgment they respond with, "When did we see you hungry, thirsty, or in need?
Interestingly enough, far from what some fear might happen to those who embrace grace and thus lose the motivation of anxiety, the remnant might very well be those people who are most interested in getting involved in spiritual disciplines, pursuing spiritual practices and serving others - not in order to qualify for a place in the Kingdom, but because they are so excited about what it means to be a part of the Kingdom (and so taken with the King) that they want to sign on and live it out, working for the realization of the Kingdom in any way they can, knowing that God is with them right up to the very end.
Far from a group of uncertain or even fearful people, disengaged and perhaps even seeking to isolate themselves from their world as they wait for the end of the world, the remnant might actually turn out to be a group of people who are being transformed by grace with their sleeves rolled up and deeply invested in the lives of people around them. Might the remnant be identified as those who are living out the life of the Kingdom as they work to help others taste grace, what it means to be along side of people who reflect the thrust of the commandments of God and the testimony of Jesus, and who catch a vision of what it means to be a part of the Kingdom right now?
That would be something to be known for!