Let’s get something straight about discipleship today.
There’s a cost to following Jesus.
The gospel life declares that we will be last.
We will lose the preferred life.
We will die into Christ.
And this is political because politics is defined as “the collective work of the people for the sake of common good”. Jesus did not come for ideas or rules or systems. He came for our breath and our heartbeats and our complicated relationships as creatures of God. He came because God's people have been enslaved time and again to earthly masters who do not do justice, love kindness, or walk humbly with God. He came to break our chains.
Discipleship is inconvenient and counter-intuitive at every turn. By design, it afflicts the Empire’s agenda, every self-serving urge, every tantalizing law disguised as the answer to justice or salvation or smug satisfaction.
I say YES to the separation of Church and State because Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are not meant to sync with the Empire, our earthly compromises, our faliable forms of power. But this does not mean that faith is apolitical, that when the gospel calls attention to the disparity between our will and God's will we should turn the volume down because it's uncomfortable.
The gospel’s politics are made for agitation. The ministry of Jesus was enough to pit religious leaders and elders against his call for mercy and justice that is rooted in the scripture they know well:
Welcome the stranger.
Care for the widow.
Let the little children come.
See and feed the ones who overwhelm or inconvenience you.
Give up your seat at the table for the ones waiting outside.
These aren’t suggestions or fables. They are a lifestyle that breeds discomfort with the status quo and builds resistance to the Empire and its worldly excuses. It was enough to silence him with crucifixion.
Jesus reminds us that we can only serve one Master.
We and our ancestors have a recorded habit of choosing
being in control
being comfortable every time.
For this hot mess, Jesus came.
Friends, if you feel torn apart by this political season, this test of patriotism, this paranoid shouting match between alt-right and reality, between left and right, between America and the world, it’s because you are, not just neighbor from neighbor, but within your own self.
You have ears for the Empire and ears for the gospel
and it tears you apart.
You have an allegiance to saving yourself and redemption in Christ
and it tears you apart.
You have faith in fear and faith in the one who says, “Do not fear”
and it tears you apart.
So let’s get something straight about discipleship today.
There’s a cost. Our relationship between Empire and Heaven is messy and political and exhausting and it’s supposed to be.
Do not be confused about the task at hand. The Empire will tempt you to believe that discipleship requires your piety, your perfection, your resolute strength all day long. But the gospel needs your vulnerability, your honesty, your weakness, your compassion, and your trust in the Holy Spirit to hold us together as the body of Christ as it has for thousands of years. Where to begin?
· Acknowledge the many comforts the Empire gives you, always in exchange for your quiet compliance with the world.
· Confess the ways you receive these gifts, convinced that you need them and deserve them and earned them, no matter how they pit you against the neighbor and stranger.
· Craft a way to use these privileged gifts beyond yourself for the sake of the gospel, for the sake of the world turned upside down by Jesus, who wakes you up and tears you from chains, offering something more beautiful and courageous to do with your life.
There is nothing convenient or tranquil about the Beatitudes. It is a radical secret told to a few who gathered on the mountain, high above the Empire to hear the truth: God’s justice will not be trampled by fake news, fear mongering, noisy politicians, or the test of time. Christ has come to invert blessing and joy and power for the sake of those forgotten, refused, belittled, threatened, and destroyed by the powers of this world.
We cannot set this necessary and risky goodness apart from politics, the collective work of the people for the sake of common good, for the gospel does not bow at lines set by the Empire. No, it has come and will come until we have been torn apart from everything that separates us from the love and justice of God.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is how fiercely we are loved. We have been saved and we are still being saved and we will forever be saved by news that is costly and death that is broken and work that agitates the cozy, sanitized illusions of our faith.
You see, the gospel is political because it is what the people need.
It is everything the Empire is unwilling to risk.
So take the secret down the mountain, friends.
Tell the world what it means to be torn apart for the sake of God's love and justice.