I’m fresh off the intoxicating high of Simply Jesus, a gathering of people fixed on Jesus, his words and his ways. This year we came together around the stories that Jesus told. We pondered those small, enigmatic and disruptive parables that ever push us to think afresh about life in God’s Kingdom.
Idelette McVicker, Leah Kostamo, and I got to share in the work of parabling (yes, I made a verb!) and conversing in the spirit of Jesus. (You can download the entire Simply Jesus video package here.) What we rediscovered is that talking about Jesus—and even like Jesus—continues to be energizing. The ideas we find on the tip of his tongue keep our imaginations firing and our hearts burning all these generations later.
So let’s keep the conversation around Jesus going!
Alongside the parables. Jesus had another conversational habit—talking about the Kingdom of God or then, Kingdom of Heaven. The people surrounding Jesus knew something about kingdoms, as they lived under the thumb of the Roman Empire. Jesus captured their attention when he spoke of God’s own kingdom in contrast to Caesar’s. He pulled from the deep well of Judaism with its long tradition of waiting for, hoping for a savior to restore David’s Kingdom of old. This metaphor of God’s Kingdom permeates the four gospels because it saturates the words of Jesus.
I began to understand the Kingdom of God as a driving metaphor of the gospels when I first read The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything by Brian McLaren. In this book, he describes how Jesus talked about the Kingdom in real terms and in real time. He helps us see how Jesus understood the Kingdom to work in the world. And McLaren does this with a gentle but engaging voice, as if welcoming you to the front porch to share in some great story-telling over tall glasses of iced tea.
As a seminary graduate the thoughts on God’s Kingdom weren’t all new to me, I’d read around the library a bit and knew the general elements of Kingdom thinking. But what compelled me most about this book was how McLaren himself talks about Jesus and the Kingdom. As a student of both literature and theology, McLaren spoke about Jesus in fresh language that lit my own imagination.
I found myself considering the ecosystem of God or God’s dream for the world. I let myself play with the idea of a peaceable kingdom, a city with open borders, a garden lush with God’s goodness. Somehow McLaren helped me to catch a glimpse of Jesus and his work through new metaphors that unlocked fresh possibilities for me.
The Secret Message of Jesus invites us to listen to Jesus, to consider his thoughts on the Kingdom and the world, to engage his way of secrecy and story-telling. But this book also offers new language to open unseen vistas as we talk about the way Jesus is at work in our neighborhood, our families an our own life.
I wonder what will light up your imagination as you join us this month. How might you see Jesus more clearly or with greater verve than before? This book is good soil for such exploration.
Leaning into the words and ways of Jesus keeps our eyes fixed on the Center that holds us together. Too often we can be distracted by denominational differences, political implications to the left or right, strategies to grow a church or shape a social movement. Reading this book together will allow us to remember the One we follow, to dig deep into the content of his conversations and allow his message to recalibrate all our Kingdom efforts. I think this kind of reorientation is a good thing!
Let’s lean into Jesus this month … I know that I, for one, can’t get enough of lessons from the life of our Master Teacher!
Come back Wednesday, May 27 for our discussion post with Idelette McVicker. Join the Facebook group to share quotes and discuss the book throughout the month. Keep an eye out on May 20 for our Third Quarter Books announcement!
NOTE: While at the Simply Jesus Gathering I met a new friend and New Testament scholar, Conrad Gempf. He’s written a winsome and thoughtful book called Jesus Asked. You can get this on Kindle—but even better you can download the audiobook for free from his website and listen to Conrad read in his own colorful voice. I’ve started to listen and learn—and am already hooked! Long commute to work? Lots of laundry to fold? Need to close your eyes and sit a spell? Sounds like a perfect time to listen to Jesus Asked.
- Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters – NT Wright
- Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings, and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary – Marcus Borg
- Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism – Carl Medearis
- Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth – Reza Aslan
- Mealtime Habits of the Messiah: 40 Encounters with Jesus – Conrad Gempf
- Just Jesus – Monica Napoli Warren and Jodie Warren Wallace
*Recommended by Idelette McVicker and Kelley Nikondeha
Are you reading The Secret Message of Jesus with us? Share your thoughts so far in the comments.