“Don’t worry when the world hates you, when society rejects you, when the woke people cancel you, because they cancelled me first.”
The irony of preaching this to Nashotah House is not lost on me — you all are well-practiced, and indeed, I suspect, by turns even proud (!) to be viewed with suspicion by the world, if not at times, with outright disdain! And that’s just by other Episcopalians.
But speaking more broadly, I’ve been struck recently at how much about Jesus is processed into palatability in our day and age, facets and bits of Jesus Christ are refracted and highlighted, spun into gauzy visions of “peace,” “hope,” “justice” … in our time. I saw a meme last week that said, “Jesus always chose loving the neighbor over loving theology. Jesus always chose sitting with the vulnerable over standing with the powerful. Jesus always chose healing the broken over correcting their brokenness. Jesus always chose empowering the poor over defending the rich.”
Of course the insidious thing here is that some of that is absolutely true, from a certain angle. On the other hand, some of the problems — which are myriad — are that it’s picking and choosing pieces of God incarnate, that it’s obscuring the true nature of God by highlighting snapshots of action, that it’s playing on so many modern assumptions to lead the viewer to a particular funhouse mirror image of who the Son of God is.
I saw a commercial for Amber alerts that opened with a 30-something woman walking along the sidewalk, holding hands with an 8 year old girl. They were maybe skipping, without a care in the world. They saw at the next intersection a white man in black motorcycle leathers, standing tall and looking stern. They turned away and walked a different direction. Soon, they came upon a black man in sweatpants standing by a street lamp, who narrowed his gaze at them, and they picked up their pace as they hurried away.
They are shown coming to a park entrance, with at least those two characters following them, maybe more, and the woman picks up the child and holds her close as she starts to run. In a field in the park, they’re absolutely surrounded. All sorts of forbidding people, frowning ladies with dogs, the big scary looking men, numbers and numbers of them, forming a circle on this innocent little family. Finally a police officer is led to the center of the group by the white man in leathers, who is holding his cell phone, and the view is cut to the screen of the phone, which reads, “AMBER ALERT: Woman with brown hair, 30s, abducted girl 8 years old, long brown hair, pink dress.”
Our assumptions are visceral, they are strong, they seem unassailable. And our assumptions are not just about who is safe and who is not, but our assumptions are shaped by our culture and society, by our education and our families, and there are assumptions in our water in the United States — and of course throughout Western Civilization and the world — about Jesus Christ and about his followers.
Sound bites like the meme I narrated, play on those assumptions, seeking to re-introduce a more palatable Jesus: the true, loving, subversive but peaceable, harmonious, and it-doesn’t-really-matter-if-he’s-divine-or-even-rose-from-the-dead Jesus.
Have you ever betrayed a friend or loved one? Have you ever had to face the person you’ve wronged? We’ve surely all betrayed our beloveds at one time or another, we’ve all struggled with integrity and honesty, with standing firm and graciously in our convictions, with both maintaining community and being faithful to the God revealed in Jesus Christ.
Today we celebrate the feast of Saints Simon and Jude.
All martyrs are our friends, our siblings in Christ. They died because they believed so much and so strongly that Jesus is God and that Jesus actually died and actually was raised to life again. To preach less than God incarnate, to chew Jesus up and package him into a sausage casing for easy digestion by the modern masses is not only to put heart-health at risk, but also to betray the witness of our courageous brother and sister martyrs who comprise the communion of saints.
There have been thousands of revolutionaries, both in the first century and today — throughout all time! — who have been put to death by the state. Jesus could have been just one more failed coup attempt. But none other has ever been raised again from the dead.
The ease of our lives today can lull us into imagining a spiritual resurrection, or a figurative raising. Many, as you’re well aware, seek to make palatable the shock of bodily resurrection by chewing it up into a philosophical stance about the abiding power of love.
But this risks forgetting the realities of life in ancient times, it discounts the record and witness, it denies the testimony of our forebears the prophets and martyrs. Life was — and I would argue, is still! — nasty, brutish, and short; death prowls, always. Do we believe that our brothers and sisters in Christ were lying to us? Do we suspect that we know better than those who knew Christ himself in the flesh? Do we deign to put ourselves in a place of authority over the testimony and blood of those who have come before us in faith?
If Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then he was just another revolutionary, and who would have continued to follow him? No one. No one would have bothered with him, he would have been forgotten before his body was cold. It wasn’t that his preaching or actions were particularly out of bounds, he wasn’t that radical. There were all kinds of kooks spouting all sorts of strange gospels — not unlike today, really! Something set him apart.
He wasn’t put to death by the state because he broke the social customs and sat with the woman at the well. He wasn’t arrested and tried because he was healing peoples’ brokenness rather than correcting it. He wasn’t spit on and despised and crowned in thorns because he was empowering the poor. Jesus was not sentenced to the most shameful death imaginable — a torture device — because he loved his neighbor more than theology.
Do not forget, beloved brothers and sisters, that our Lord Jesus Christ suffered death, faced the greatest evil known to man and God, passed through it, and came to life again. This is the testimony we have been given, and it is the only word we have to share. Through our adoption and kinship, we are offered the same new life. The risen Christ is the firstborn of the new creation, the Lord and ruler of the kingdom of God. We are members of that kingdom, we are made heirs of eternal life, we belong to an authority and kinship and communion which is not this world. Our kin are the saints, our Lord is Jesus, and that is what will get us killed. Thanks be to God. Amen.