The Ridiculous Journey + Part Two: “The Revolutionary”
June 10, 2018
Last week we began our summer sermon series, “The Ridiculous Journey: Following A Nobody from Nowhere.” In part one we were invited to consider what it means to follow Jesus, - to really follow Jesus. We talked about the “Jesus Strategy,”Jesus’ intentional placement of himself on the margins of society, being in solidarity with the marginalized. We were reminded that Jesus did not point to those who were experiencing poverty or persecution but rather joined with them, came up along beside them, and dwelled with them. In this way Jesus reminds us that when we exclude others, we are excluding him. In this “good news” we are comforted and challenged; comforted to know that when we are feeling dismissed by others we are not alone, that Christ is with us; and we are challenged because we know that to follow Jesus leads us to the margins of life, to the edges that are disconcerting, places that can be uncomfortable for us, yet the places where the kingdom of God is emerging. In his ministry 2000 years ago Jesus was found on the margins, and that is still where he can be found today. Following Jesus, the “ridiculous journey,” is comforting and very challenging.
Part Two of our series is entitled “The Revolutionary.” That’s a strong word, and perhaps a word with which we are not totally comfortable. Was Jesus really a revolutionary? Was he really about making drastic changes, upsetting convention, and advocating for significant social change? Maybe he could just be about helping everybody to be “nice.”
So, was Jesus a “revolutionary?” In today’s gospel Jesus himself proclaims, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (It’s also worth noting that Rome reserved crucifixion primarily for those convicted of crimes against the state.) Whether we like it or not, it seems there is a very good case to be made that many considered Jesus to be a “revolutionary.” So, what does that mean for those of us who have chosen to follow him? Are we too, by association, revolutionaries? Should we be revolutionaries? What would that mean? What would that look like?
Theologian Willian Danaher comments on today’s gospel reading from Matthew, “To be a disciple is to make a deliberate break with the world we know in order to live according to the new world that Jesus is bringing into being. This break with the old world inevitably involves conflict, even violence. Therefore, the decision to be a disciple is not something that happens organically or in the normal course of events. It is a moment in which we decide to stand with Jesus and for Jesus regardless of the outcome.”
In last week’s Gospel we saw the first disciples leave their families and their nets behind. Today’s Gospel suggests that following Jesus might even bring about conflict with our family and friends. Again, we must ask, “Why would we embark on such a ridiculous journey?”
The study guide for our series features an interview with Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. (Nadia is a Pastor, in Denver Colorado, at “All Saints and Sinners” Lutheran Church. She is known for her books, and her candid. Straight forward, sometimes “earthy,” “street-level” language and approach to faith.) In this interview she recalls a time when, as part of a panel at an event, she was asked what kinds of things, spiritual exercises, she practices, in order to deepen her relationship with God, to get closer to Jesus. She recalls that she laughed aloud, and without thinking blurted out, “Nothing! Why would I do that? I wish God would leave me alone half the time. Getting closer feels dangerous. I’m gonna end up loving someone I don’t like again. Giving away more of my money? I don’t know. It just feels like a bad idea.”
As Lutherans we don’t often talk about having a “personal relationship” with God. It’s not really part of our piety. Theologically we tend to emphasize our relationship with God in the context of community, as the body of Christ, and in our relationships with neighbor, the other, and even the stranger. And these things are all good ways to understand how God is present in our life, but let’s not forget that God is also at work within us in a very personal way. And perhaps we resist this because deep down we know that it is dangerous. Nadia goes on to say, “Sometimes Jesus hunts your “you know what” down, and there’s nothing you can do about it!” “God creates faith in us!”And when that happens, radical things happen, your perspective on life changes, your passion changes, your values are reshaped, and you find yourself willing and able to pick up a cross and follow. Suddenly you find yourself not only an advocate but an active part of the kingdom of God that is emerging into this world! And it becomes your ultimate concern, that by which you make your life choices. And all of the sudden you’re a revolutionary.
What’s going on in your personal relationship with Jesus? What kinds of things are tugging on your heart? What kinds of issues are causing you to want to make a difference? What makes you hurt? What gives you joy? What gives you that peace that passes all understanding, the peace of purpose, the sense of “life well lived?” How has Jesus been at work deep within you, calling you out, inviting you to step away from the world and more deeply into the kingdom?
When I am preparing a sermon I like to look up words in the dictionary in order to learn more about their origins, and thus more about their “fullest” meanings. This week’s word was “revolutionary.” If we’re going to follow Jesus, it seems like we should know more about this word.
Revolution is a 14thcentury French word that was originally used to speak of the course of celestial bodies. It was used to describe how the moon revolves around the earth, and the earth revolves around the sun. As we know the earth moves or revolves every 24 hours creating day and night, and the earth orbits or revolves around the sun every 365 days, creating the year, causing the seasons of the year.
In the 15thcentury the word became associated with sudden, radical, complete and fundamental change, the overthrow of an established political system or government. We speak of The French Revolution and The American Revolution. In recent decades it has also been used to describe great social changes in life such as the computer revolution.
Thus, to be revolutionary is to be an agent of change. And as people of faith, as followers of Jesus, to be revolutionary means to be a part of the love of God that is turning the world around and into a brand-new day. Jesus was God’s agent of change, come into the world to reveal the true nature of God, to reveal God’s love, and the Kingdom of God, God’s great dream of peace and love for the world. And the implications of this revelation were, and continue to be, radical.
The life and teachings of Jesus, the revealing of God, challenges us to care for each other, to be just for each other, to love each other; in a world that is obsessed with self-interest and blinded by egocentricity.
The life and teachings of Jesus, the revealing of God, challenges us to care for our planet, the place where we live, to find ways to preserve and share our resources in such a way that “all” have what they need to live, to dream, to be in relationship, to share in life abundant; in a world that values selfishness and greed exaggerated by fear.
The life and teachings of Jesus, the revealing of God, implores us to seek reconciliation and justice in peaceful ways; in a world that refuses to put down it sword, a world seemingly only able to trust in the fallen ways of violence.
The Kingdom of God and the world are on a collision course. And all this makes the follower of Jesus, revolutionaries!
To follow Jesus, to embark on the “ridiculous journey,” is to be an agent of change, to be a revolutionary who trusts that love is once again about to turn the world into a brand-new day where God will indeed reign. A new day that will be in sharp contrast to the uncompletedness of yesterday and today, a day marked by the fullness of grace, hope, peace, justice, and love extending beyond the very last margins of life and deep into each and every heart. May God continue to bless us on this “ridiculous journey.” Amen.
34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 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; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37 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; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.