Sunday, June 7, 2020
Am I a follower of Jesus? Ask yourself that question. Sit with it.
Jesus doesn’t want believers or admirers. He’s looking for disciples. He assumes belief and has no interest in flattery or admiration. He wants followers. Do I believe Jesus is Lord? Yes? An I submitting all my plans, ideas, words, thoughts, and actions to Him? With these questions, examine your own life.
Now, ask this. What brings glory to the Heavenly Father? In Matthew 5, Jesus is giving his most well-known message, the Sermon on the Mount. In this message he says “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:16). What brings glory to God?
In historic moments, like our current times, Biblical truth gets hijacked by partisanship and identity politics. What brings glory to God? Christians rattle off things they think don’t bring glory to God.
Antifa and violent protests and looting don’t bring glory to God.
Police officers using deadly chokeholds against unarmed, subdued suspects, doesn’t bring glory to God.
Abortion doesn’t bring glory to God. Liberals don’t bring glory to God.
Using the Bible for a photo op doesn’t bring glory to God.
Shutting down the economy to prevent the spread of COVID-19 doesn’t bring glory to God.
Re-opening too quickly and risking everyone’s health doesn’t bring glory to God.
I am pleading with you – don’t do that. When we shine the light and see what’s going on, look for what does glorify God? Please, don’t, with the efficiency of an auctioneer, list your personal political bugaboos, things you think don’t bring glory to God.
We avoid opening our hearts to God and being convicted by His Gospel when we blame others are for failing to live up to Jesus’ teaching. When our response to a question about God’s will or God’s glory is to immediately critique those with different politics than ourselves, we don’t allow the red letters – Jesus’ actual teaching – to be a mirror that exposes the ugly truth about ourselves.
Let Jesus’ words be a mirror in which you examine your own soul. He said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Father in heaven” (5:16). Where in the world today, in the public square, in our personal lives is God glorified?
Look for God in every news story you see. Set aside the instinct to defend your identity and your national pride. Chances are, the person you’re arguing against also believes in country, freedom and good. Confronted by God’s word from the mouth of Jesus, allow yourself to be taken to uncomfortable places. We squirm under God’s glare, but not because God isn’t loving. God is love. We squirm because in His light, we see ourselves, we see the world, and we don’t like everything we see. And we know God doesn’t like those parts we don’t like.
Stanley Hauerwas calls the Sermon on the Mount a description of the life of a people gathered around Jesus.[i] Are you among the people gathered Jesus? Before we talk about the devastation of 100,000 COVID-19 deaths, before we talk about the George Floyd choked in a humiliating, undignified, deadly way, before we talk about Breonna Taylor shot by police in her home, before we rush to defend the good police officers we know, before we condemn the bad actors who turn peaceful protests into violent riots – before all that; examine your heart. When you imagine the life you’re living, are you a part of those gathered around Jesus?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German pastor and a giant among Christian theologians in the 20th century. He opposed Hitler and was executed in a concentration camp. He could have fled to England or America. But he stayed to confront evil and shine the light of Jesus in dark days. God was glorified on the cross as his son took the sins of the world on himself and defeated them in his death. God is glorified as a German disciple of Jesus hangs from a Nazi rope.
In his remarks on the Sermon on the Mount, Bonhoeffer said “disciples are summoned to follow the crucified in the life of grace.”[ii] The words we live by at Hillside are, “We follow Jesus, love others, and share hope.” Considering that Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others that they may see … and give glory to [God]”, and considering that Jesus is the supreme example of glory in his death on the cross, we accept Bonhoeffer’s vision of discipleship. When we pledge to follow Jesus, we put ourselves in eternal debt to the crucified one, and we commit to spend our lives walking the path he trod. God was glorified when Bonhoeffer followed Jesus to the noose. God is glorified when we do the same.
We won’t all be executed, unjustly. But hopefully, we all see where Jesus is. Jesus was weeping with George Floyd, gasping with him, sustaining him for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. As his followers, that’s where we have to be. We confront racism, maybe by protesting (peacefully and forcefully), speaking out against racism, using our platforms to dismantle white privilege and empower others; maybe we do all these things; always, we show that in Christ, black, white, and brown are united as a family.
From our church family, Tim Pressley, a former member, is committed to Jesus, and served honorably in his law enforcement career. Carlin Jordan, husband of our former youth pastor, is a black man and a proud, committed police officer. He honors God in the way he approaches policing. While he may be known as Father, Husband, black man, officer, the way Carlin to be known is as a disciple submitted to the rule of His Lord, Jesus Christ.
When I insist that following Jesus means following the crucified one and following the crucified means we stand with George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, with Eric Garner and Michael Brown, I am not damning the police. Soldiers were among the people gathered around Jesus. Pharisees, people with disabilities, and prostitutes were among the people gathered around Jesus. From every corner of society, many ignored Jesus and mocked his followers, but a few turned to Him, gave themselves to him, and became disciples.
We are among the disciples. We obey him and thus shine our light. Following the crucified one, we find ourselves embracing the downtrodden, and holding the hand of the executed. One of the ways we announce the new age in the coming Kingdom is we fight injustice. Because Jesus has come, a new reality is actually breaking in, invading our current fallen, dying world.
Attending rallies and writing a letter to a congressman are good works, social actions anyone of any faith could take. We follow Jesus, and therefore love others, and in our love of others and in the promise of salvation, we share hope. Our solidarity with the poor and the persecuted is Gospel work when we draw people to Jesus.
Within our community, we tell a story that’s better than the violent one news outlets constantly repeat. Ours is a story of love, told in the ways we love each other, welcome others in, and help the world around us. In this kind of story, we give extra love and attention to those who hurt the most.
My family gave me sympathy and space and extra doses of kindness in the days right after my ankle surgery. They didn’t do that because I matter more than other family members. They did it because I was hurting. Their love told a beautiful story.
Over the course of this past week, I reached out to my friends who might be especially hurt by what happened to Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. I called, texted, or emailed friends who understand the pain more deeply than me. I contacted a dozen of my black friends. Some got back to me, happy that I reached out. Great! Some didn’t need to hear from or talk to a white guy at that moment. They ignored me. That’s OK too. I was pretty sure I’d find Jesus in the tears of my black friends. All tears matter, but Jesus sits in the tears of broken people. I wanted to be near him so that’s where I went.
Look around the world. Look at our community. Look at your life.
Are you summoned to follow the crucified one?
When the light shines, is God glorified in you?
Where do you see Jesus? Will you join him there?
[i] S. Hauerwas (2006), Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible: Matthew, Brazos Press (Grand Rapids), p.61.
[ii] D. Bonhoeffer (1963), The Cost of Discipleship, MacMillan Publishing Company (New York), p.129.