Connections 07.07.2024: Relationship Agreements

Ezekiel 2:3-5; Mark 6:1-13

The separation between church and state is in the news again (spoiler: some people believe there should be no separation). Every time this issue comes up, I remember a saying that was popular in the Baptist circles I was raised in: “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” That statement seems ironic when some people believe our nation should be “Christian”—can a nation have relationships? Relationships don’t require hanging 11×14 posters declaring your relationship agreement. Relationships grow from mutual caring and respect, not on demand but by choice.

If Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, then people have a choice: what kind of relationship do they want? A wrestling partner? A back-fence neighbor? A friend? A lover? A kindred spirit? Bottom line, if Christianity is a relationship, not a religion, then people have a choice: do they want to be in it at all?

This month in Connections we will look at a variety of Scriptures that show different ways people respond to God—ways they choose to be in relationship with God. Or not. Throughout the Bible, some people respond to God’s call and God’s instructions willingly, while others refuse or rebel. Some are faithful, while others are stubborn or skeptical. Most of us are all these things at different times in our lives!

Part of humanity’s relationship agreement with God is that we choose to be willing or stubborn, faithful or rebellious. And when we choose refusal or rebellion or stubbornness or skepticism, God’s messengers are not to thump us over the head with Bibles or require recitations of Commandments. To Ezekiel, God says, if the people won’t listen, at least “they shall know there has been a prophet among them” (Ezek 2:5). And to the disciples, Jesus says, if people don’t welcome you, “shake off the dust that is on your feet” (Mk 6:11). Prophets and disciples have a job to do: to be faithful to God themselves. They proclaim God’s messages and invite people into relationship, but they cannot—and should not—try to force the people into relationship with God. After all, a relationship that is a command performance is not a relationship at all. It is at best a farce and at worst an abuse, and whoever commands it is a sham and/or a bully.

Discussion

  • How are the prophet Ezekiel and Jesus’s disciples supposed to act when people choose not to receive their message? How is “shaking off the dust” a faithful response? What would it look like for Christians to practice this in modern life?
  • What is the difference between religion and relationship? What aspects of Christianity fall under each category? What aspects of religious practice help support your relationship with God and others? Are there religious practices that get in the way of those relationships?
  • Throughout the Scriptures, God’s (and Jesus’s) harshest anger is directed not at the people who opt out of relationship, but at those who make a big show of religion but then are unfaithful in the relationship. How can we be cautious about substituting shows of religion for faithfulness to our relationship with God?
  • What Bible stories can you think of where God waits to be in relationship with people, or redeems and welcomes them after they have been rebellious or have refused God?
  • If you wrote up a draft of your own “relationship agreement” with God, what would it include? What do you choose to do (or not)? What does God choose to do? What would be in a “relationship agreement” between God and all humanity? What Scriptures would you include?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in St Louis, Missouri. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for d365.org and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at amovingyarn.com.

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