Sunday, February 3, 2019

The Way Isn't Always What We Expect... (Part 1)

This week, we start a new journey. 

We start on a journey that looks at the Way we’re called to follow.

And I mean “the Way” with a capital W. 

Because for the next five weeks, we’re going to walk with Jesus and the disciples, thinking about how Jesus’ ministry unfolded and what that might have to do with us today.  How it might shape our following in his WAY in the world today.

Last week, I quoted a song by DC Talk, What if IStumble.  It bears repeating…because many of you have asked some important questions over the past month about how we move in the world, what we’re called to do, who we’re called to be. 
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today
Is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips
Then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle.
That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

The song goes on with these lyrics:
Father please forgive me for I can not compose
The fear that lives within me
Or the rate at which it grows
If struggle has a purpose
On the narrow road you've carved
Why do I dread my trespasses will leave a deadly scar

Do they see the fear in my eyes?
Are they so revealing?
This time I cannot disguise
All the doubt I'm feeling

What if I stumble, what if I fall?
What if I lose my step and I make fools of us all?
Will the love continue when my walk becomes a crawl?

So…the lyrics come from a Christian musician, whose paycheck is tied to producing Christian music that is real and that is vital and that shapes people and does not mislead people about who God is and what God is doing in the world today.  But that same musician knows he is “only human.”  He knows that sometimes he is imperfect.  And he’s wondering about those times he steps or falls off the path…. “the narrow road you’ve carved” and stepping off that path might misrepresent Christ in the world.

The job title “Christian” is a weighty thing.

I wonder, can you be a Christian without being a disciple?  I don’t think so.  And so then, the title disciple becomes a weighty thing.  I think the job description for a disciple reads something like this:

Follower of the Way of Jesus Christ, seeking to grow in knowledge and understanding, relationship and connection to the triune God – that is the creator, redeemer, sustainer…Father, Son, Spirit…parent, intercessor, life force.  Necessary to be a lifelong learner with humility, a heart for service, and a focus on staying on the path and inviting others along the way. Ability to be in relationship with others on the same path, at various points on the path, at all times.  Must exhibit grace – for oneself and others – because the path is long, at times treacherous, at other times overwhelmingly joyful. Must navigate among shades of grey because there is no black or white.  Must have a capacity to see their commitment to this role as their greatest identity, overriding race, nationality, job training, citizenship and cultural norms.  Over time, the path becomes familiar, the traveling companions are reliable, fruits of the spirit emerge.

Would you willingly apply?

So this is the backdrop for our exploration of what Jesus is doing in scripture over these next few weeks.  And my hope is that this series will lead us right up to the season of Lent where we are going to explore the concept of T’shuva – turning and returning when we’ve wandered off the path.

And so today we begin with the path.  The way.

The Way may not be going where we expect….In fact, the Way might take us where we do not think we want to go.  The Way may require us to do hard things. But God is with us on The Way.

I want to highlight something in our reading from Hebrew scripture this morning.  Jeremiah is describing his call story.  God declares that he knows Jeremiah and has a plan for him, and Jeremiah makes some excuses –

Woo GOD…that is a big ask, I am only a boy.

Jeremiah is pretty clear about what he can’t do.  But God’s response is faith in what Jeremiah can and will do…with God’s help.

If you are willing to squint and be light hearted here, God’s answer is kind of a take down – like, hush your mouth. IT doesn’t really matter if you are a boy or not, because I’m actually doing the thing here – I’ll give you the words you need and I’ll tell you where to go, and I’ll save you from the bad things.  You are just the vessel.

God goes on to basically say, I’m giving you what you need and with that power, you are to “pluck up and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”

I am notorious for collaborative meetings where I get somewhat frustrated and say, how about instead of talking about what we can’t do, we focus on what we can do?

Then in the Gospel reading, we pick up this week with the last verse that we read last week – Jesus has read from the scroll in the synagogue, offered some teaching.  The attentive audience is amazed….

It’s hard to read all the social cues when we are told that folks marveled, “Is not this Joseph’s son?”  Are they surprised that Joseph’s son would teach?  Are they surprised Joseph’s son would claim to fulfill prophecy they’ve been waiting on? Are they in awe of the fact this is unfolding in their little corner of the world? 

We don’t really know. 

What we do know is that his next words create quite a reaction.  Jesus gets salty. 

I like it when Jesus gets salty, especially when he’s about to drop a shocking truth bomb
…Of course no one is going to get it here in my hometown…
But both Elijah and Elisha performed miracles to save folks who were decidedly NOT Jewish.

In a time and place where land was power and the outcomes of political battles were seen as signs of God’s favor, the ancient prophets Elijah and Elisha were moving in time and space when the Israel seemed to be closed off from God’s mercy.  These were difficult political times when the Israelites desperately needed someone to show them that God still loved them best, God still was on “their side…”  And in the midst of that expectation, both Elijah and Elisha ended up helping the enemy…

So, in the midst of the oppression of Roman occupation, a new era of the Jewish people feeling threatened, Jesus shows up, proclaims he’s the Messiah…and that he’s going to work much like the ancient prophets.  God’s power is not JUST for the Jews.

This makes the hometown crowd angry, and Luke describes something like a mob driving Jesus away.

I suppose it is hard to hear that the person that you think has come to save you might actually love your enemy too.  Or at the very least, that he’s not come to save your nation so much as the poor and oppressed no matter their background.

We desperately want God to be on “our” side…which must mean that God is not on the side of those who are something other than us, right?  Other faith identities.  Other ethnic identities. Other political identities.  Other sides of the tracks.

And with that mindset, surely if we have needs, our needs will take precedent over theirs? Whoever “they” might be…

But right here at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his very actions testify to the wideness of God’s saving action in the world. 

Do you remember with whom, other than the disciples, Jesus has the longest dialogue in the gospels?

With the woman at the well.  Who was… not a Jew.  She was a Samaritan. 

In Jesus, God enters into the world in human flesh not to condemn or destroy the other…but to erase the idea that anyone is “other…”
That anyone is beyond the reach of God’s saving action.  
That anyone is not our neighbor, whom we are commanded to love.

Our gospel lesson ends with the angry mob chasing Jesus toward a cliff.

“…but he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.”

A way that is not the way they would have him go.

As we set out to understand this way, this seems a fundamental thing – to know that this is not a way to condemn those with whom we disagree…  This is not a way to elevate myself over and against another. 

It is a way that invites all. 
It is a way that has room for all.
It is a way that I am called to walk, loving my neighbor at every step.


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