(Church cancelled on September 8, 2019 due to Hurricane Dorian)
Luke 14:25-33 Why Jesus Matters Rev. Betsy Hogan
Do you ever feel like lining people up and giving them a good talking-to? For their own good and the good of humanity in general? I wished I could do this about eight days ago. When thanks to a fellow citizen’s furious post on Twitter, I with countless others learned that not only is there a live webcam at Peggy’s Cove (which I, at least, did not know), and not only were there people who’d decided to “greet” the arrival of Hurricane Dorian out on Peggy’s Cove, where it was pretty much making a direct hit…
But also that these people were quite clearly and apparently intentionally also doing so on the black rocks. Those very same black rocks down close to the water at Peggy’s Cove that approximately one million signs – in words and pictographs -- warn people to stay off. Because of the serious, rogue-wave, drowning-in-the-depths-of-the-sea dangers of being ON them, when it’s a lovely peaceful summer’s day.
And eight days ago it was very much NOT a lovely peaceful summer’s day. But there they were, these people. On the black rocks. With a hurricane crashing in.
It honestly made me furious. And sure, these were adults and all of them as adults had made a choice to ignore the risk, and that's "their right" or whatever --
Except that if anyone exercising "their right" to go on the black rocks anytime makes it possible that others are going to have to see them get swept out to sea and drowned, completely unnecessarily -- doing so with a hurricane already starting is just stunningly self-centred. Putting first responders at huge risk. Completely unnecessarily.
Which IF we find that infuriating, like we – say -- find ourselves wishing we could line all those black rocks in a hurricane people up and give them a good talking to? For their own good and the good of humanity in general? Or IF we’ve ever felt that way in any other situation?
Then we know exactly how Jesus is feeling at the beginning of the delightful passage from the gospel of Luke that Elaine read for us just now.
I’ve always thought it rather funny that whenever anyone wants to talk about how Jesus got frustrated and angry and kind of hit the wall with how the people around him continually failed to hear what he was saying and really follow his teachings, they always point to the moment when he’s in the temple and flies into a fury.
Which, okay, admittedly that episode involves throwing a lot of furniture around and also a great big whip – but the truth of the matter is that Jesus got frustrated and angry and kind of hit the wall with people ALL THE TIME. Or at least, a bunch of other times.
Including… on the day this passage from Luke describes. Because that’s what this passage is. It's not regular Jesus -- it’s Jesus frustrated, it’s Jesus hitting the wall.
It’s Jesus weary and annoyed and fed up, and turning on the crowd of people who SAY they want to follow him, and they're there -- and in theory they're paying attention to him -
But somehow, even though they KNOW that he's telling them over and over and over again in effect to "keep off the black rocks" -- here's the path of discipleship --
They keep pushing back, making excuses, even ignoring him -- "But I'll be really careful," or "I’m sure it won’t be as bad as they say," or "those people are on the black rocks so how risky can it really be?"
It's just really frustrating. And he's had enough. So what he unleashes, instead of regular Jesus, it really is a rant. Here's the deal and he lays it on the line.
“You want be my disciples? You want to follow me” he says to them? "Well then listen hard and listen carefully, because I'm only going to say this once. Are you ready to put aside your family? Sell all your possessions? Because that's what I'm talking about here. Are you ready to lay down your life, carry your own cross to the place of execution? Because that's what actually following me means you have to be ready for."
“So... ya,” he says. “Amen.” And it doesn’t actually say so in the bible, but I’ve always wondered if after he had this little rant, he took himself out into the wilderness alone for one of those “quiet days of prayer” he occasionally seemed to have needed. Just to calm down a bit.
Because it really IS a rant. It isn’t Jesus teaching the way Jesus usually teaches. It’s an I’m fed up, lay it on the line, “the buck stops here!” kind of rant.
And it's crucial that we hear it that way. This is a passage that’s been taken out of that context and used by the likes of David Koresh and Jim Jones to manipulate their followers into isolation from their families, utter dependence, and even mass suicide. So it’s crucial to hear it for what it is – it’s a rant. It’s Jesus fed up. It is NOT the totality of his teaching, it's not how he usually teaches, it’s not how he usually IS -- and it can’t be taken out of the context of the whole.
But at the same time, it’s not unimportant to recognize in Jesus’ words the urgency and intensity of his desperation to get through to his followers how seriously he does want them to TAKE that totality of his teaching.
Because that’s actually his point here. He's being hyperbolic on purpose – it’s not about the details, it’s about him escalating ridiculously beyond the rational so his disciples, so we, will actually stop and pay attention. It’s like the parent who’s tired of hearing “but everybody’s doing it” and comes back with “And I suppose if everybody was jumping off a cliff, you’d want to do that too”. It’s hyperbolic on purpose. So we’ll pay attention. And really hear his message.
That discipleship, living the way he teaches, it's serious. It’s demanding, it’s not easy, it’s often profoundly in conflict with the values of the world –
It's following teachings, identifying values, adhering to principles -- about non-violence, about sharing, about forgiveness, about choosing what matters more than wealth and aligning ourselves with the most vulnerable -- that can sometimes or even often put us at odds, or in conflict, with our families or people we care about. Or with the accumulation of wealth or goods. Or with authorities. Or even with our actual life.
It’s serious. It can be challenging. That’s what Jesus is trying to communicate with all the hyperbolic extremeness in this passage. That actually living his way isn’t just about feeling inspired and being strengthened and uplifted by God’s spirit, but it's also about on purpose changing how we are to try to be more like him. Forgiving, compassionate, welcoming, non-violent, people before profit, and allies and advocates for those most in need.
And working away at that, often patently at odds with the world's values, all the time.
Which is where, thank goodness, we can thank hyperbolic Jesus for giving us all a good talking to -- and go back to regular Jesus, who understands that this is, for us, a process of learning. A path we choose and a way we prayerfully orient ourselves, but oh dear me -- we do wander sometimes down to those black rocks, no matter how clearly the signs are posted.
Which is why regular Jesus isn't a ranter, and regular Jesus is instead a teacher. Because regular Jesus knows that it's better for us to choose and to learn to stay off the black rocks than it is for him to throw up his hands in furious outrage, and build a bunch of fences or put up a guard rail.
I’ve titled this sermon Why Jesus Matters. But that really isn’t so much the title of this sermon as it is the title of the series of sermons that’ll unfold over the next six weeks. Which are NOT going to be about “why Jesus matters” in some kind of salvific way, as though ONLY if Jesus comes into your heart are you made right with God because I don’t believe that.
Instead, for those of us who find ourselves leaning into God’s presence in the church, what makes this a church – rather than a synagogue or a temple or a support group or a political party – is that here, at least in theory, there’s Jesus. Which is different. Which is specific. Which is unique. And so I think it’s meant to matter.
Not in a rigid, salvific, sign-on-the-dotted-line sort of way, but instead in a here we are, in this place, and here he is, what a gift, sort of way.
Because how I usually talk about the “meaning” of Jesus is that he’s what it looks like if all the Godness of God gets squished up into a person. So that if we want to know what God is like, what God cares about, how God loves, how God IS, we can look at Jesus, we can see what he does, we can listen to what he says, and that’s how we know. What God is like. What God cares about. And that’s why Jesus matters. Or how he matters.
But since “all the Godness of God squished up into a person” isn’t a particularly elegant turn of phrase, I want to lift up instead by way of introduction into what our sermons will be about in the next six weeks, the way American theologian Marcus Borg puts it instead.
That Jesus matters for Christians because for Christians Jesus is the decisive disclosure of God’s character and passion: in the life of Jesus we see what God is like and what God is passionate about. So for Jews the decisive disclosure of God is in the Law (the Torah) and the Prophets – God’s word in words. For Muslims, it’s in the Quran – God’s word in words. And Christians find the decisive disclosure of God in a person, in Jesus. God’s word made flesh. In what he taught AND in how he behaved toward those around him.
Not a better decisive disclosure, but a different decisive disclosure. Specific, but also a gift in a very unique kind of way. Because among other things, what it means is that for Christians – in a way that’s really challenging but also life-giving – if we look at what it says in our words, in our Bible, and then we look at what Jesus was like, how he behaved, what he cared about –
If those things seem to conflict? It’s what we see in Jesus that wins. Because in the church he’s the decisive disclosure of what God is like.
It reminds me of a staunch and lifetime Salvation Army person in my first pastoral charge who when I asked her how she was managing with having a woman minister, considering that the Bible quite clearly says that “women shall keep silent in church,” she made a quite glorious scoffing noise and said “That’s just Paul. Jesus would never have said something so foolish.”
And indeed, he never did. But he did get ranty sometimes. Or, passionate, perhaps, as is fitting as a decisive disclosure not only of God’s character – compassionate, forgiving, welcoming, embracing – but also of God’s passion – for justice, for mercy, for the most vulnerable, for the oppressed and the marginalized.
His particular life, what he said, how he was, what he cared about – it’s a gift to the world that we specifically hold in the church with intent as being meaningful. As being inspiring and strengthening, as helping us draw closer to God, as helping us be better – more loving, more compassionate, more forgiving, more challenging of the world’s destructive values. So I hope it’ll be worthwhile for us to be focused on that. On why and how he matters.
Because if there’s oe thing that shines through his life from beginning to end it’s this. Can’t seem to keep yourself of the black rocks, he says to us? Here – take my hand, I’ll pull you up here where it’s not so slippery, and you can start fresh. Amen.