Sunday, July 12, 2020
I’m going to tell you about my dating life before I met Candy and we married and life was all about following Jesus, being a pastor, and becoming a family. Before all that, I was a single. Life was about following Jesus, most definitely. As I followed Jesus, I went out on dates, including one with an activist.
She worked for a conservative women’s organization dedicated to fighting abortion. I took her to my favorite restaurant in Arlington. We talked as we perused the menus, but the entire conversation stayed on one topic – the effort to stop abortion. After we ordered, I said, “Well, when you aren’t working, what do you like to do for fun?” She looked at me earnestly, and said with passionate energy, “I go to anti-abortion rallies all over the country.” In my head, I thought to myself, ‘Dear Jesus, she’s not for me and I’m not for her. When will this date be over?’
This beautiful woman lived within a frame – the fight against abortion. I lived within a frame too, but a different frame. I have opposed abortion and still do, but I have additional interests. My frame was following Jesus, and falling in love. I propose that every one of us sees the world through colored lenses, every one of us holds a worldview, and every one of us lives life within a framework. Without choosing, we end up in default frameworks:
· A framework dictated by someone’s idea of what American is.
· A framework imposed by our professions.
· A framework inherited from our families.
· A framework that says, “I am southern and I need to explain to others what it means to be southern.”
· Race-identity frameworks.
We will all see through lenses, hold a worldview, and live in a framework, and if we don’t think about it, our lenses, worldviews, and frames are inherited or imposed on us. But we can choose the lenses through which we will look; the worldview definition; and we can choose which frame’s boundaries will determine our limits. We can choose our framework, and Jesus insists we do so.
Chapter 10 is one of five sermons from Jesus Matthew uses to organize his Gospel. These sermons, call to mind, the foundational teaching in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. Matthew 10 is the missionary discourse. In it we see the interpretive frame in which Jesus insisted we must stay in order to follow him.
Whatever we do in life, we do it in this frame. How we interact with people, do our jobs, hold our relationships, and even how we play on days off is determined by the interpretive frame Jesus insists is absolute for his followers. A disciple of Jesus lives within this frame. We are called to be disciples of Jesus.
In the verses just prior to the interpretive frame, Jesus says,
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father,
and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law;
36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
He turns a son against his father, a daughter against her mother? To follow Jesus is to turn completely away from family? Can this be what Jesus means?
Remember, later in the New Testament we come across a letter entitled James, said to be written not by the brother of John and one of the 12. This other James, also mentioned in Acts and in Galatians, is probably the younger half-brother of Jesus, a son of Joseph and Mary. There’s the letter Jude, written by another half-brother of Jesus. His siblings became his followers after the resurrection.
Remember Jesus’ words on the cross, in John 19. As he died, he entrusted care of his mother to the beloved disciple. Jesus’ actions show how much he loved and included his family in his movement. But his words at the end of Matthew 10, shockingly, say something else. What’s he getting at?
Through the interpretive frame, we make sense of the rest of his words. In the interpretive frame, we live our lives. Verses 38-39: “Whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” We have to take up our cross and lose our lives. Another way of saying this is we deny the self. We do it from gratitude and out of love for Him. Love for Jesus and absolute devotion to Jesus creates such a magnetic pull in our lives, everything else is subsumed.
What sense does it makes for Jesus to impose the burden of taking up the cross in chapter 10? He didn’t experience the cross until the end of the story. All the listeners, including all who wanted to follow him, knew what the Roman cross was – a humiliating tool of public execution designed to drive home the subjugation of the people. See these crosses and know you live under Rome’s heel.
In taking up our daily crosses, we defy Rome and resist oppressive governmental or social powers, regardless of what they do us. In taking up our cross, we step into the frame Jesus has set around us. We love our neighbors and our enemies. We pray for and serve those who oppose us. We feed the needy, encourage the depressed, make space for the lonely and rejected, and tell the good news of life in Christ. Our frame leads us to this countercultural way of living. In approaching life this way, we tell everyone, We are His.
In our interpretive frame, we carry the cross, lose our lives, and die to self. Paul says it this way. “To live is Christ and to die is gain. For his sake, I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish” (Philippians 1:21; 3:8). When he chose to follow Jesus, He gave up the life in which he was quickly rising in the ranks of Jerusalem religious intelligentsia. He counted those accolades that Pharisees would work their entire lives to gain as rubbish. Serving Christ was everything for Paul, as it is for every true disciple.
What are willing to count as rubbish compared to living in Christ? We should love our families, but our families cannot be more important than Jesus. If someone’s family matters than the Lord, then family, a good thing, becomes an idol.
Some people aspire to be a scholarship athlete or have a career as a dancer or musician. These highly competitive ventures demand commitment from those intrepid enough to try. Even something so all-consuming cannot command more of us than Jesus, if we are to be his disciples. We are called to be his disciples.
What determines life is as it should be? Career advancement? Physical fitness? Relationships? In Christ, we die to these good things. We lose that life. We gain Christ. Marriage, career, and achievement each conforms to the frame: life in Christ; the advancement of the Kingdom. For the disciples all arenas of life are made to fit into the frame of discipleship.
We should be suspicious of any movement, protest, politics or idea where Christianity is bent or redefined to fit the ideology instead of the individual being conformed to the way of Christ. Aggressively vocal activists sometimes demand that Christianity to fit their needs.
I am talking about activists, writers and protestors who attempt remake Christianity in order to make it more palatable to their vision. Part of my understanding of Jesus and the coming of the Kingdom is the promise of justice for the oppressed, victims of structural racism and generational prejudice, so I have marched in protest. Marching, for me was an act of discipleship. In doing it, my mind was on Christ as I strove to obey and glorify him and draw others to Him. What I have had not heard enough is the leaders of movements saying, “to live is Christ and to die is vain.” How many activists, thinkers or writers understand that we must submit to our Lord, Jesus?
The mantra of our day is “be true to yourself.” How does that sound next to “those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for my sake will find it?” Be true to yourself is not a Biblical idea. Jesus is truth. In the waters of baptism, we die and are buried. Then we are made new in Christ.
Following Jesus, and sharing his entire Gospel is the frame in which we must live when we emerge from the water. So many ideologies and movements vie to define us; we must die to all of it. When we live in Christ, we can protest abortion and we can protest violence against black people. In him, we can insist that black lives matter and white supremacy must end. In him we can have love-filled, robust theological conversations about sexuality, gender and relationships. These conversations won’t always end in agreement, but we are united in him.
Imagine your life, the very core of who you are. See the interpretive frame. What does your life look like when you die and every loyalty you hold dear dies to be reborn in the framework of discipleship? Is following Jesus worth it? He presented that choice to his followers in Matthew’s gospel. He presents it to us. Imagine it. Will you go all-in with Jesus?