Are You Sure That’s In the Bible? Jude
Somewhere about here, this week, I started to think that this series is a horrible idea.
We are in week three of the series about lesser-read books of the Bible. And this week, I started to think that there is good reason why nobody reads these books!
Obadiah was raging against Edom.
3 John was disappointed with his unhospitable church.
And Jude…well, I wasn’t sure what half of this was about, but it was clear that Jude was an angry elf.
If you are starting to see a pattern here, there’s good reason.
It might help at this point of the series to tell you how we got here. As I said, the worship team last month asked why we didn’t get to hear about some of these less-read books. I thought it was a fascinating idea, so – it’s 2017 – I googled “least popular books of the Bible.” And, of course – it’s 2017 – up popped a list!
This list was gathered in partnership with the folks at Bible Gateway, which is a huge internet Bible search engine. So, they would know which books are least read. And here was their list. You’ll see that all of the books from our series are on there…two from the Old Testament, two from the New. Not only that, but there is a bit of a narrative about why these books are less popular. And they suggest a couple of two reasons: one, they are short (generally) and so they are just hard to find and hard to land on as you are looking for a part of the Bible to read. Two, they don’t have any stories. And three, they are filled with God’s wrath: “God gets straight up mad in some of these books, and that doesn’t make for easy devotional reading.”
And now, here comes Jude. With phrases such as “intruders…designated for this condemnation as ungodly” and “dreamers who defile the flesh” and “Woe to them!” we definitely have a full slate of God’s wrath to talk about.
The book of Jude is hard to nail down. There isn’t really consensus about the context of the book, but several scholars suggest that it was written around the middle of the first century, by a Jewish Christian named Jude, to a community or congregation of Jewish Christians trying to follow the ways of Jesus.
But, this is not the picture of the Early Church that we get in Acts 2, where everyone is living in harmony and selling their possessions and sharing with each other. Apparently, there is dissention among the congregation. There is division. And Jude blames this dissention on a group of false teachers who have come in and started to teach a Gospel that is contrary to the message of Christ.
It seems that they have taken the idea of freedom in Christ and run with it. Their argument is: because Christ frees us from sin, and frees us from the law, we are free to do just about anything we want to! The life of Christ, they say, frees us from any kind of personal morality, or ethical behavior. They teach that now we are free to do whatever we want! Basically, because of Jesus, we are now our own authority…we are our own gods! Christ makes us free…now we are in control!
That conclusion did not end in the First Century, did it?
I think that one of the primary struggles that we deal with in the Church today is that we have this metanarrative – these grand truth narratives of exodus and exile, of incarnation and resurrection – in a day and age in which grand truth narratives are suspect. In our culture of relativity, so many slip in and out of ideological commitments like we would a set of new clothes in the dressing room in the mall.
“That truth works for you, but it’s not my truth.”
Conservative or liberal – doesn’t matter. I have seen both sides do it just as clearly. Whatever side that we think should win becomes the “right” and the other side become the “wrong.” If we like what we hear, it is Gospel truth! If we don’t, it if fake news! We talk about objective truth, but only if it is the truth that we grew up with, or feel most comfortable with. And what it comes down to is the same thing that Jude fought against – it is making God in our image, instead of the other way around. It is taking the freedom of Christ and saying that now we are in control. We are our own gods!
Perhaps you have heard of the term “gaslighting.” It is the epitome of relativity of our time. It is a term that psychologists use to describe the abusive or manipulative practice of questioning someone’s memory or perception or even their sanity. It comes from a play and a movie titled Gas Light, from the 30’s and 40’s, about a husband who tries to convince his wife that she is crazy. She is sure that the lights in the house are dimming, but he tells her that she is seeing things, even though he is clearly dimming the lights. So, if I were to tell you that this Bible is pink, you would tell me that it is black. But if I was good at gaslighting, I would not give up, insisting that the Bible is pink, and questioning and ridiculing your opinion that it is black. And we are seeing it more than ever before – if you disagree with what I said, or I regret saying it, or it is no longer a beneficial position, then I didn’t say it. Even if you have certifiable proof that I did! It is the ultimate in relativity:
“that truth works for you, but it’s not my truth.”
But how do we talk about these ideas of exodus and exile, and incarnation and resurrection, without looking like the guy on the street corner with a sign? We are stuck in between the fundamentalists and the relativists! What does it look like for us as Christians to stand for the Gospel of Christ? The message of Christ? The Kingdom of Christ? When to start talking like that gets us strange looks and suspicion? After all, as soon as we start talking about some of these ideas, we start to sound like Jude! If we took the approach that he does – talking about condemnation and perversion and punishment – we would be laughed out of the conversation.
But then I read it again. And I found something that I had missed on the first reading.
After a section like this, you would expect Jude to sound like a crusader – ready to violently reject those with whom he disagrees. To force them to his side of the aisle, by aggressive and clear and angry words. If not, perhaps, it is time to eject them from the church, remove them from the equation. Either way, we would think that he would tell us to get down in the mud with these false teachers – show them who’s boss.
But he doesn’t. Look what he does instead.
One, he names the bad behavior. He names the idolatry of making God in our image, of making ourselves and our needs and wants and lusts into gods.
But then, look at what he tells them to do. I missed this whole section of verses 17-25 the first time I read it this week:
Jesus said that these people would be coming…worldly people, devoid of the Spirit, causing divisions.
So how do we respond to them (and I am paraphrasing here…)
build yourselves up on your most holy faith
pray in the Holy Spirit
keep yourselves in the love of God
look forward to the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life
have mercy on some who are wavering
save others by snatching them out of the fire
have mercy on others with fear
Glory to Jesus.
Jude doesn’t tell them to forcibly remove the evil from their midst. Instead, he tells them to focus on the good. Focus on the gift of the faith that we have been given. Cultivate it. Grow it. Nurture it. Allow yourself to receive the gifts that Christ gives, and make that your focus.
Don’t focus on the bad behavior, the brokenness, the frustration, the division. Don’t focus on the gaslighting, on the claims of fake news. Focus on the faith. Focus on what is right about the Kingdom and the Gospel.
Which is the good news for us, today, too!
Instead of getting pulled down into the muck and the mire, of the gaslighters and the “fake news” claimer, and the truth deniers, we can make Jude’s list our way of living.
We can get really clear about what Jesus means to us, about what the Bible says to us, about what the faith is all about.
We can build instead of tear down.
We can pray harder.
We can make love the priority.
We can focus on the eternal and not the temporal.
We can show mercy.
We can make our lives and our faith and our community about salvation and not destruction.
We can focus on the gift and not on the struggle.
We can stand on the tock and not wade through the mud. Perhaps it is serendipitous that in the lectionary Gospel reading this week, Jesus told Peter, “on this rock I will build my church!” Jesus tells Peter, and Jude tells the Beloved, “be a rock.” Don’t spend all your time trying to wade through the mud. Focus on what is good. On what is right. On what is truth. Be about those things.
This week, I did a trail run on one of my favorite trails, the Sandrat Trail up in North Lawrence, along the banks of the Kaw. At the far end of the loop, the Mud Creek runs into the Kaw, and it is often pretty high and muddy. But not on Monday. It was lower than I ever remember seeing it. There is a bend in the river, where it splits around and island, and for the first time that I have seen, the front half of the river was dry…a huge sandbar. So, for the first time ever, I walked out onto it. I saw plovers, and raccoon tracks, and scared up a coyote who scampered back into the trees. It was great! I thought I would walk across to the island and check it out. But the farther I got out into the river sandbar, the gloppier it got. The sand and mud started to stick to my shoes, and it was tougher walking through the mire.
Before long, I decided that the best course of action was to turn back up toward the shore more and there the ground was more solid. I found a rock, paused for a prayer, and felt the breezes blowing on my face.
It feels like Jude, grumpy as he is, is telling us, “stay on the solid ground” “recognize the mud and don’t wade too deeply into it” “Be a rock.” Because not even the gates of Hades can overcome it.