What does God require of us? We tend to like Jesus’ most famous answer, what Scot McKnight calls the Jesus Creed: to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
But what about the answer we find in the holiness code of Leviticus and the Sermon on the Mount? Are we really ready to sign up for a program of holiness and perfection? Sure, it’s simple and to the point. But what chance do we have of living up to these radical standards?
The prophet Isaiah lays out what God wants of the creatures made in God's own image. God does not want self-deprivation. God does not want self-flagellation. God does not want us to suffer for the sake of suffering. God created us in love and wants us to live life to the fullest, knowing joy and communion and fulfillment.
My college years resonated with Micah’s challenge to Judaean society to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.” I heard this challenge on the lips of Martin Luther King Jr. and William Sloane Coffin, heroes of my adolescence. But the pinnacle of its power for me came in Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inaugural address:
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” Everyone who has ever sat through a performance of the Messiah knows what’s next: “For unto us a child is born . . .” Handel’s exuberant chorus is probably playing in your mind right now: “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace . .
My father-in-law said that when he began ministry six decades ago, pastors were expected to visit the sick, preach and do a little teaching in the congregation. Now it takes me an entire semester just to skim the surface of “must-have competences” in an Ordained Leadership class. And the list is growing.