Monday, June 19, 2017

Gospel Requires Action


Do you remember that scene from The Princess Bride after the rushed-through wedding ("Mahwidge...") when the king and queen escort Princess Buttercup to the honeymoon suite while Prince Humperdinck goes to investigate the growing clamor of Wesley's assault on the castle? As the older couple and the beautiful bride walk down a corridor, the Princess Bride leans over and kisses the king. Stunned, he says to her, "What was that for?" And she replies, "Because you’ve always been so kind to me, and I’ll never see you again because I’m killing myself as soon as we reach the bridal suite." And what is the king's response? "Won't that be nice?" and, turning to his wife, "She kissed me!"

I like to imagine that Jesus takes his hand and smacks his forehead when he sees and hears people who boldly identify themselves as Christians going through life as if the gospel only matters for an hour or so each week. Calling yourself a Christian does not make you one. Being a Christian means giving your life to God, following Jesus as Lord, and believing that the future that he gives you is the only true future for your life. You can call yourself a Christian and live whatever kind of life you want, but you cannot be a Christian and hear the good news of Jesus Christ and carry on with your life as if it had no effect.

In Matthew 10:24-39, Jesus lays out a hard truth for his disciples: "I did not come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace but a sword." Wait a minute! Did you mean that, Jesus? Before we take that literally, let's give Jesus a chance to back off of that hyperbolic statement. What comes next? "For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household." Hmmm. Does it get any easier if we keep reading? "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it." Well shucks!

Alright, it seems that Jesus wants to stir up trouble. In that speech, he makes an allusion to Micah 7, where the unusual family behavior is not an indication of a prophet's work but, instead, the need for a prophet. Those sons treating their fathers with contempt and daughters rising up against their mothers is the prophet's condemnation of the people's godlessness. Jesus, however, seems to suggest that his work is a sort of quickening agent--an activity that exposes such godless relationships.

I think the key to understanding what Jesus has in mind is to go back and read the beginning of Sunday's gospel lesson:
A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master...If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Jesus is on a path that is marked by conflict. It will lead to his ultimate rejection by his people and the world. If you're going to follow me, he seems to say to his disciples, then you will be the recipient of the same sort of conflict and rejection. But don't be afraid! In them, you have nothing to fear. All they can do is destroy the body. Fear only the one who can destroy your body and your soul. You are more valuable to God than many sparrows, and not one sparrow falls to the ground apart from God. So what I tell you here and now in secret, you must proclaim boldly from the housetops--even if it will get your arrested, even if it will get you shunned by family and friends, even if it causes conflict. Because I came to cause that conflict. That is my work. I came to the earth to bring a sword.

It's not a lot of fun to eat Thanksgiving dinner alone. It's not my dream to spend Christmas Eve in jail. I don't want to lose my job or the support of my family. I can't stand the thought of alienating my wife and children. But, if I allow the gospel of Christ to pass me by without stirring up in me an uncontainable desire to proclaim that threatening, transformative news to the world, Jesus is going to do more than smack his head with his palm. "Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven."

In twenty-first-century America, I don't think proclaiming the gospel of Christ necessarily involves alienating everyone you hold dear, but I do think that it requires us to make those people and the relationships we enjoy a little uncomfortable. The good news, however, is that the transformation envisioned by God in Jesus Christ is one that brings hope and life and renewal to all people, all things, all of creation. We are all a part of what God is doing in the world. It is and will be disruptive. We don't have to embrace it, but it will embrace us. You can sit back and watch it unfold, but you can't do that if you are a follower of Jesus. That transformation is exactly where Jesus is leading us. We can't follow him by sitting still and keeping quiet.

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