I remember growing up with a family Bible that had the words of Jesus printed in red. They called it “The Red Letter Edition.” Even as a child, I had a sense that there was something really important about those red words.
This Sunday, as we begin the season of Epiphany, I’m beginning a new sermon series entitled Red Letter Christians. There is something about the blank pages of a new year’s calendar that beckons us to begin a new discipline or renew one that has fallen by the wayside. Most of these disciplines involve things that lead to better health, happier relationships, better control of time and money, and so on.
So, over the next six Sundays in the Red Letter Christians series, we’ll be focusing on some of the specific things Jesus said and exploring how we can take them more seriously in our lives today.
Too often Christianity has devolved into having such great concern for a correct set of beliefs about Jesus that not enough attention is given to the teachings of Jesus and what it means to live by them today. Let’s face it: Jesus’ teachings are not easy. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we know that sometimes it’s easier to focus on what we believe about Jesus than it is to actually follow his teaching in our own lives. In other words, we focus on orthodoxy (“right belief”) and neglect orthopraxy (“right practice”). The thing is, both are important.
This Sunday we begin with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about how we should love (Matthew 5:43-48). Jesus says:
You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.
So, what does that really look like in our day-to-day reality? The default response, it seems, is to respond to rudeness with rudeness and to politeness with politeness and to respond to hate with hate and to love with love. That is the easy, automatic response. But, Jesus says this kind of relating to others is no big deal. The challenge of these red letters is to love those who don’t love us. To greet and care for those who may not even like us. This kind of love is a pretty tall order, to be sure. We’re all in the same boat here: for all of us it can be a big challenge to love those who do not love us in return.
Jesus never said following him would be easy. In fact, he says just the opposite. He calls us specifically to the more difficult, more disciplined path. Elsewhere in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Go in through the narrow gate. The gate that leads to destruction is broad and the road wide, so many people enter through it. But the gate that leads to life is narrow and the road difficult, so few people find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The way to life abundant is the more difficult, disciplined path. It is the road less traveled. It is the Red Letter way.
So as we begin this new year, I’m thinking that I want to strive to be more of a Red Letter Christian. In this new year I want to meet the challenges of the difficult teachings of Jesus and take them more seriously in the way that I live out each day.
How about you? Will you join me on this difficult path? How seriously do you take those words in red? How might we better live out these Red Letter disciplines as individuals and as a faith community?
I look forward to exploring these ideas with you starting this Sunday in the Sanctuary.
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster