Monday, June 16, 2014

I'm Back, But Do I Want to Be?

 I just got back from Alabama Cursillo #193 at Camp McDowell. It was a great and exhausting weekend. Elizabeth and I were on staff, which means that we got there on Wednesday afternoon and worked straight through until yesterday afternoon. Wireless communication is never easy at Camp, but Cursillo makes it virtually impossible, so please forgive me for dropping off the grid for most of last week. I’m back, but I’m not sure I want to be.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Thanks, Jesus. Happy Cursillo to you, too.

I wonder how many of the pilgrims from this Cursillo will return to their churches full of renewed energy and new excitement only to scratch their heads and frown a little bit when they discover next Sunday aJesus who wants them to hate their fathers, mothers, in-laws, and other membersof their households.

Now that we’re done with Easter (including Pentecost) and Trinity Sunday, we settle into the long summer of readings from Matthew. Some of these upcoming readings will be great. They’re miracles and parables and counterintuitive teachings that preachers love to climb into the pulpit to preach. But this Sunday we’ve plopped down in Proper 7 (think “we now join regularly scheduled programming already in progress”) to find angry Jesus barking about the real challenges of being a disciple. (We didn’t cover these at Cursillo.)

Let’s break this week’s gospel down a little bit:

·         Jesus starts with disciples & teachers and slaves & masters to drive home the point that if the world rejects him falsely as being from Beelzebul surely it will reject his disciples, too.

·         Then, he encourages them that even if they are killed they have nothing to fear: their heavenly father is with them.

·         But, he continues, following him requires sacrifice, and discipleship has a way of turning families against each other.

·         Finally, he concludes that love of him is more important than love of family and adds the famous bits about taking up one’s cross to follow him and losing one’s life in order to gain it.

This is supposed to be good news. The disciples are supposed to hear these words of Jesus and say, “That’s encouraging!” At its core, Jesus is saying that even when things get really, really bad they will be taken care of. But we initially hear that as such terrible news. Above, I called this “angry Jesus,” but he isn’t angry. He’s not picking a fight. He’s trying to encourage the disciples without denying the reality of the challenge before them. In other words, instead of lying to them and telling them that everything will be pleasant and delightful, Jesus gives them the hard but encouraging truth: being a disciple will cause you pain, but God will carry you through it.

Is this a chance to preach an anti-prosperity-gospel sermon? God doesn’t want you to be rich and happy. He wants you to be fulfilled even if it hurts you in this life. He wants you to place so much value on what he will give to you that the struggles of this world fade away.

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