” A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed- what Gospel is that? “- Oscar Romero
I am pondering conversations I had yesterday as two different congregations grappled with discussing the Gospel reading set for the day. Matthew 10: 24-39 ( though we read to vs. 42 on both occasions) . It is a tough reading, reminding us that the call to follow Christ is neither easy nor without cost. The Jesus who often proclaims peace and even breathes peace over his disciples here tells them, and us, that he has come to bring not peace but a sword, that his ways will divide families, causing division and disagreement! He goes on to encourage those disciples to take up their cross and follow, to be willing to lay themselves aside for the sake of the work that they have been called into. The reading sits in the context of the sending out of the 12, to heal the sick, to cast out demons and to proclaim the good news!
Good news! The Gospel of peace comes in like a whirl wind stirring up questions and bringing about divisions, perhaps bringing persecution upon those who are delivering it!
The passage itself is discomforting, and the discussions that ensued from our reading of it were wide ranging, we discussed what it means to be bearers of good news, and how we live that out. Once comment was that we have forgotten what the good news is because there is so much insistence of good works and living out the social gospel that we forget our need for salvation, in other words we need to come to Jesus first, and then learn to live that out. Another suggested that we don’t need good works, which is in a sense true if we are talking about paying for our relationship with God through doing good, but not true if we are talking about being in relationship with the God who calls us into a work of healing, wholeness and reconciliation with him/her.
To say that Jesus is the answer is both enough and not enough, in this passage it is made clear that we are called to a challenging work, but we must read it in the context with which it is set, the disciples were given gifts and power to do the work, and we will be too if we walk in step with the one who calls us into it. To be utterly reductionist a one time prayer is not sufficient, especially when it stems from a tradition that concentrates upon our brokenness and calls us inherently evil rather than acknowledging that we are created good, in the image of God! To live with the baggage of personal evil and darkness can very easily place us into a position where we feel that we have something to repay so that our good works stem from a place of guilt rather than being set free to love!
I am not suggesting that we don’t need forgiveness and grace, rather that perhaps our greatest task is to lay down the lies that we and others tell ourselves about how unacceptable and unlovable we are, lies that induce us to wear masks of respectability, a brittle outer goodness that crumbles when challenged or put under pressure, so no the reductionist Jesus is not the answer, but of course that Jesus is not the true Jesus, not Jesus The Christ who has come in power to reveal the word and work of God, who filled with the Holy Spirit invites us into his “large work” to live freely and lightly, to speak into the evil systems of injustice and oppression and to set the captives free, even ourselves!
So Jesus is the answer, it we take seriously his invitation to watch what he does, to free ourselves from the demands of our culture, our nature and perhaps even our families, and to walk his way, to go to the lost and the lowly, to include the excluded and to tear down barriers and to build bridges not walls. So much of what has passed for Christianity, maybe especially if you listen to media or other caricatures is about excluding others, about being morally upright, about being right and deciding who is in and who is out! Whereas if we truly follow the pattern of Christ Jesus we will find ourselves going to the excluded, not to put them right but simply to love them, yes he challenged people about lifestyle and into holy living, but it is worth noting that his harshest words were usually for the religious elite , those who thought themselves good, and not for those who were being crushed by the system.
In Christ Jesus the unloveable were called loveable, the unwanted, wanted, the untouchable, touchable, surely this must inform how we respond to those who our society and sometimes our religion call beyond the pale! To those who would exclude others because of the colour of their skin, their religious affiliation or their sexuality this is a wake up call. To those who preach a gospel of prosperity and reject the poor, this should be a wake up call. To those who see Jesus as the answer only for a promised afterlife, this should be a wake up call.
In Matthew’s account, Jesus says:
….unless you are willing to take up your cross and come with me, you are not fit to be my disciples. If you try to save your life, you will lose it. But if you give it up for me, you will surely find it. Mtthw 10: 38-39
Our discipleship, our walk of faith should be active, and loving, taking our pattern from the one who laid down his life, we can dare to lose ourselves in order to find ourselves. This should inform all areas of life, and will probably cause us to speak up and act in ways that will bring both unexpected divisions but also perhaps form unexpected alliances. The forming of healthy and effective multi-faith partnerships for example, where we set aside differences in order to work for the good of all. The recognition of those who might have formerly been excluded, I have many friends in the LGBTQI… community who have taught me so much about grace and suffering and shown me real love when others haven’t, I cannot call them other, we are one in our humanity. I could go on listing more and more. Working among the poorest of the poor was a real challenge for me, until I had the privilege of looking into the eyes of the excluded, and found acceptance there, we are one in our humanity.
I know that my words will be discomforting for some of my Christian friends, and comforting for others; I am still on a journey, working out my salvation ( my journey to wholeness and healing, to completeness in Christ), and I hold lightly to my statements, because I am a long way from where I started my walk with Christ over 30 years ago. It has at times been a roller coaster ride of ups and downs, and I am moving from a place where I despised and hated myself, where I hid what I felt were my faults and flaws and tried oh so hard to look and be right, stumbling at every turn, to a place where I am learning to go gently, to love myself, to allow God to use my faults and flaws, to pick me up when I stumble and to turn me around when I am heading the wrong way.
I can only return to the verse that has given me so much comfort and hope as I journey on:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” Mtthw 11; 28-30
And to the encouragement from next week’s Gospel reading:
“We are intimately linked in this harvest work. Anyone who accepts what you do, accepts me, the One who sent you. Anyone who accepts what I do accepts my Father, who sent me. Accepting a messenger of God is as good as being God’s messenger. Accepting someone’s help is as good as giving someone help. This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice. You won’t lose out on a thing.” Mtthw 10: 40-42
So is Jesus the answer, I guess that depends on the question….