3 Pentecost 2022: Little prophets

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Don’t you just love euphemisms?
Check out that first line of Luke’s Gospel:
”When the days drew near
for him to be received up…”

By “received up” he must have meant
stripped naked,
and nailed to a cross.
”Received up” does sound better.

So this little series of dark sayings
is positioned at the hinge of Luke’s gospel
in which Jesus turns away from the rural areas
where he is well known and popular,
toward Jerusalem
where messiahs like him
were a dime a dozen
and ended up as goo on the bottom of a Roman sandal.

Both Matthew and Luke have the sayings
we heard today,
while Mark and John do not.
The theory is
that Matthew and Luke
had a common source of Jesus sayings and stories
that Mark, being the earliest gospel, didn’t have.
Who knows,
but these sayings sure are hard to contend with.

9:59 To another (Jesus) said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”

9:60 But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

9:61 Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”

9:62 Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

So this strikes me as warrior talk.
That is, the Jesus
who knew there was a target
on his back
and was dodging Roman patrols.
Jesus the warrior
who found himself up against it
and needed to know
that whoever was with him
had his back.
”Forget about those
who have already been killed
and forget about your mom and dad,
because you probably won’t see them again anyway.”

That said, I am not certain
there ever was a Jesus warrior,
but the kind of rhetoric
Luke has coming out of Jesus’ mouth
is not an every day kind of banter.

Let me just say, that I realize I talk about Jesus a lot
from week to week.
I don’t know Jesus any more than you do.
I know you know that
but I just need to say it once in awhile.

I probably read more about Jesus
and Gospel commentary than most of you do,
but talking about what Jesus said
and thought
and did
is an educated guessing game,
and anyone who pretends otherwise
is a delusional lout.
Not to put too fine a point on it.

That said, I’m going to talk about Jesus.

Okay, here is my take on today’s gospel.
The Jewish primal narrative
almost from day one,
was torn apart by dueling traditions:
the purists
and the prophets.
Jesus was a prophet.

Purists — represented by the priestly class —
saw the world
as a set of god-given rules.
Keep those rules and all is well.
Break the rules and all is lost.
When the rules were broken
then there were more rules
for repairing the fracture.
Every offense had a prescription
and every prescription
had a secondary solution.
It was a tightly constructed world,
built like interlocking Lego’s with a hierarchy of rules.

The prophetic tradition
saw the world differently.
The prophetic vision was of a human landscape
that operates within a standard of equality,
where goods and services should be
distributed evenly,
and the good guys lead
while the bad guys get punished
and then reformed.

The prophetic
can be infected with a purity virus also,
but often the very rigidity of the purity faction
acts as its own corrective.

Jesus the prophet, was a peasant.
He was impoverished by circumstance not by choice.
That makes a huge difference.

We are told by the Gospel of Mark that
Jesus lived in Capernaum.
He had a house there,
and he likely had some kind of business
in his house,
at least before he became a preacher.
Jesus also had some friends with more means
than he had, friends
who funded his public ministry.

Lazarus, Martha and Mary,
and perhaps others
must have provided capital
to supplement whatever collections
were taken at sermons.
We don’t often think about
how Jesus was funded
but it is worth thinking about.

As you may remember,
I spent a little over a decade
as a regular visitor to El Salvador.
On one of my visits
I went to a Church with over 150,000 members.

The pastor and his son, who was a co-pastor,
held ten services each weekend,
each service with about 10,000 people in attendance.
All along the streets
on every side of the compound
are vendors selling food,
beverages, and clothing
from carts and booths.
The market is not there during the week
as it is a shaded residential neighborhood.
But on the weekend
it becomes a crammed and jammed
mishmash of commercial enterprise.

The pastors showed us the church’s spreadsheet
for the month of June,
and each week
the collection was $70-100,000 dollars.
That is roughly five million dollars a year
collected from extremely poor people.
Attending one of their services,
I witnessed people putting quarters in the baskets.

Five million dollars…
a few quarters and dollars at a time!
When Jesus drew a crowd
his disciples also probably passed the hat.
I wish we could get a quarter every time
someone visits our website,
Facebook page, or YouTube channel!

Jesus is so often depicted
as a sweet, lamb-holding
who wandered through this world
healing, and making nice
to everyone he met.
A kind of haphazard ministry
that ended up with him mistakenly crucified.
Not likely.

He was an organizer.
He was strategic.
He was a reformer with an agenda
and probably had some lofty goals.
He was also notorious
for breaking purity rules.

It is hard to imagine Jesus dining
with a Roman collaborator one day –
a tax collector who made his money
demanding imperial taxes,
and extorting extra for himself –
and the next day
rebuking a would-be follower
for wanting to say good bye to his parents.
I am betting that was Luke’s editorial bias —
but I could be wrong.

But herein lies the problem for us.
Jesus becomes a purity figure
even though he was a prophet.

Jesus is a huge canvass
upon which we project
our own desires
and hopes.
Whether it is Luke’s projection
of a militant-healer
or my projection
of a reform-minded organizer,
or Paul’s projection
of an eternal Christ-figure
or someone else’s standard bearer
for moral purity,
we do not get to know
the original Jesus.

When it comes to Jesus
there is no purity.
Within Christianity
the purity parties have captured Jesus
and imprisoned him under glass,
so that he is now
the litmus test of purity
and divine acceptance.

Meanwhile, Jesus’ prophetic vision
languishes in domesticated Christian churches
that have become the pillars of class and culture,
or purveyors of American Nationalism.

Too often when America looks at Jesus
in the 21st Century, it sees itself
and its own aspirations.
It does not see the prophet,
and instead sees the silhouette
of it own standard for purity.

It does not hear a vision of equitable distribution,
it hears a justification for individuality
and a prosecutor for private property
and gun ownership.
If I were to tell you that Jesus
was in fact, an evangelist of basketball
and a passionate partisan of the Boston Celtics,
you would rightly dismiss it as bunk.
And yet, the Jesus we hear
in the public square these days
is as ridiculous
and a lot more dangerous.

Whatever Jesus we want to espouse,
needs to be reconciled
with the soil within in which Jesus is rooted.
Standing alongside Jesus
is an ancient vision
born on Mt. Sinai,
handed down from Moses and Joshua,
to Elijah and Elisha,
to Ruth and Naomi,
to Elizabeth and Mary,
to Peter and Paul…
and all the way down
to Dietrich Bonhoeffer
and from Bonhoeffer to Martin Luther King, Jr.

It is a vision
to be debated, interpreted,
argued and shaped over time,
in every time.
It is not a vision to be prescribed
or force-fitted
or purified.

So where does that leave us?

Obviously, if you asked someone else
you would get a different response
than the one I have.
My take is this:
While I wouldn’t go so far as to say
the concerns of the purity gang
are irrelevant and retrograde…
I will say
that we are not
a purity institution.
Not if we hold Jesus
as the central teacher
of our movement.

Rather, we are meant to be
a prophetic movement.
But that is a pretty big umbrella
and doesn’t narrow it down too much.

One of the questions
we face as a spiritual community
is what kind of spiritual community are we?
I am guessing,
based on my experience with you,
that we do not have a lot of difficulty
choosing between
the purity faction
and the prophetic tradition.
But it is the next step we need to take.

And we will be taking that step this summer
for those of you who are part of the Geneva community.
The vestry is gearing up
for a mission development retreat
and inviting the whole congregation
to take part.
Date to be announced.

What kind of prophetic community are we?

We have been using three separate tag lines
the past seven years, none of which
were voiced by the whole community.

One is, “open, inclusive, and challenging.”
Another has been to say,
”We are a spiritual community in the tradition
of the Episcopal Church.”
And finally, on our windows, we declare
that Trinity Place is “an open space for growth, healing, wellness, and the arts.”

Clearly we are a hybrid of some kind,
a new creature on the evolutionary tree
of the Jesus movement.
But what kind?
What are our core values?
What do we name
as the most important things we do
or aim to do?
What would diminish us
beyond recognition
if we could not do it?

These are questions
every community, and certainly
every spiritual community,
must ask itself
in every new generation.
We are that new generation
in the life of Trinity Church Geneva.

Unlike Luke, I believe we are allowed
to turn our faces back
and remember
even as we move forward with the plough —
digging up and planting the future.

I also believe we can bury our dead
and grieve them too,
while still being faithful
to our newness.

And I do believe we can go home
and say good bye to whoever
or whatever it is
we are leaving behind,
while still being fully engaged
as a new kind of community
in the Jesus movement.

But if we hover too long
or too much
on the past
or on our grief,
Jesus will challenge us to stop it
and keep moving forward.

If you ask me,
and I realize you didn’t,
I would say that every single one of us
was commissioned as a little prophet
when we were baptized.
Our task now, as a community,
is to nurture and challenge each other
in that ministry.
As individuals, our task
is to engage with a community
and nurture and challenge
the community forward,
because being prophetic is a movement.

While we were baptized
to become little prophets,
Christian spiritual practice
is not something individuals do
it is what a community does.
The individuals within the community
are its gifts
and its charisms
that shape what and how
the community practices.
That is why we are a movement
rather than something that was.