Homily: March 1, 2015
SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR B; Rev. Theo Park
I had a very interesting conversation at lunch the other day.
I was out with some Twin-Cities colleagues
and we got to talking about new church start-up and mission planting.
In the course of the discussion, one Methodist pastor shared
that some of the 30-somethings who attend his church
will not join the church because while they enjoy the contemporary service
with its jazz combo music and played-down liturgical style
they don’t want anyone to ever associate them officially with Christianity.
They don’t want to take on the history, the institutional identity,
the prescribed dogma that they associate with joining a church.
They don’t particularly think of themselves as followers of Jesus, either.
Certainly not in any way that would require them to stand up and say so.
I wonder whether most Episcopalians are any different.
How many of you walk out of here and talk to other people—not from here—
about your faith and its implications, its impact on the choices of your life?
I’m not talking about proselytizing or trying to make converts;
I’m just saying, does Jesus make a difference in your life
and are you willing to claim him, to name that difference?
To use the language of baptismal affirmation:
“Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your savior?
“Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
“Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
Will you, through word and example, proclaim the good news of God in Christ?”
Or are you like those 30-somethings I just described?
Do you enjoy our traditionally-shaped worship,
with its hymnody and ceremonial flourishes,
but resist the history, the institutional identity, the formation
that comes with joining a church?
I know of at least one of you who fits this profile
and there are probably others as well.
But more than church membership, beyond denominational identity,
do you think of yourself as a follower of Jesus?
And are you willing to stand up and say so?
I don’t care what content you pour into Jesus.
It’s not important to me whether you are a creedal Christian
or a progressive Christian or a born-again Christian
or whatever stripe you may be.
Whether Jesus is for you the “Word of God” made mortal flesh
or a divinely inspired man who walked with God as no other before him.
These are nuances about which I really don’t care.
Don’t misunderstand me: there are a whole bunch of theological ramifications
dependent on each choice, like clauses of a sentence.
But I believe that what matters most about Jesus is the commitment we make to him
and then how we live that out in our daily life and work.
What matters is conforming ourselves ever closer to the mind of Christ.
It really is about stopping to think, “What would Jesus do?”
If we say “Yes” to those baptismal questions with our lives as well as our lips,
then people are going to see a difference in us.
We won’t just lay down our discipleship at the door,
like discarding our nametags on the way out of church.
(But who ever wears their nametag anyway?)
If we take this seriously,
we will be Jesus in the world, we will bring Jesus into the world,
and yes, we will talk about Jesus with the world.
And that conversation is probably going to come at a cost.
Jesus was crucified because the religious and political and social establishments—
Jewish and Roman alike—found him to be a threat to their way of life.
As his disciples, we can’t expect anything different, can we?
That is, if we are real disciples and not just disciples in name only?
Few of us, I expect, will get hung on crosses to die.
But many of us may find ourselves looked at strangely sometimes,
or shut out of “the coolest” company,
or made to feel disrespected and unwelcome,
simply because our values are not the ones “everybody”—the world—accepts,
because our values, our lifestyles can make others feel threatened.
Oh the names I have been called over the years because I’m willing to say
that I believe Jesus would want affordable housing
and medical treatment available to everyone;
that I believe Jesus would offer God’s blessings to all couples,
regardless of sexual orientation;
that I believe Jesus would wage peace, not war.
But I am not concerned about name-calling.
Our business as disciples of Jesus is to follow him,
to the best of our understanding and our ability, with God’s help;
it does not matter what “everybody” does,
not even “the best” or “the leaders.”
This trope the gospel writers attribute to Jesus about losing your life
doesn’t really refer to any sense of a physical death anyway.
When Scripture speaks about “the world” or “worldly things” in this way,
it means the world’s way of operating—the system, not the planet.
It’s not speaking of the created stuff of the world,
that wonderful gift of earthly beauty,
but rather the way we deal with it and with each other—
kosmos (that’s the Greek word used here) meaning “orderly arrangement” or “system.”
Jesus challenges us to consider where that kosmos came from.
God didn’t set up our political or economic or social systems; we did.
God didn’t tell us to look at other people as markets or competitors or enemies;
we did that ourselves.
What Jesus challenges us to do is to lose that way of thinking—to die to it—
and take on God’s order, God’s way, God’s justice, God’s kingdom.
This is what the kingdom of God means:
it is the operating system of heaven, not of this world.
When the divine system is the one that directs our lives,
then the planet becomes our trust from God,
then other people become not simply our equals but our brothers and sisters, blood kin,
and then our life-goal becomes fostering God’s way of operating
rather than this world’s, rather than business as usual.
As God says to Abram and Sarai, so Jesus says to us:
“Leave everything you know…abandon it all;
step out in faith, take up a new identity in me,
and trust that I promise to be with you always.”
So, when Jesus calls you, when Jesus says
you have to die to yourself in order to live for him,
when Jesus says “This is what it means to be my disciple,”
how do you answer?
Where are you setting your mind?
And what does your life—what do you—tell others?
These are big questions, important questions, appropriate for Lenten reflection.
And they are not simply directed to us as individuals.
This year you have had the opportunity, the responsibility, the challenge,
to look inward as a congregation and define yourselves for the world.
In a variety of very concrete ways, you are telling others
who you are and whom you serve.
Your answers form the way the world, and your next clergy partner,
will look at you and assess whether you have value, relevance,
and the kind of future that is life-giving to others as well as yourselves.
So consider well, Gethsemane.
What do you say when you are asked?
Why are you here, individually and as a community of faith?
What difference do you make in the world?
And in whose name?