Malcontents for Jesus

The news this morning heralded a new high in lows. A lone gunman had broken the U.S. record for a single killing spree: 58 dead, more than 500 wounded. As if I am watching some distorted, despicable, dystopian game, I wonder how long it will be before the record is broken again. There is something deeply wrong with the world.

We are more divided than ever along lines drawn by race, gender, sexuality, political party. Hate and vitriol control even the most mundane conversations. Social media, which was to bring people together, instead tears us apart. There is something deeply wrong with the world.

processional cross

The normal response to something being broken is to “fix it.” So, most discussions about the problems of the world jump to fixing this or that problem, then it will all be well. A little more data, some innovative thinking and we’ll be good to go. Like a car with a bad starter, it just needs a new part. Unfortunately, we are one part of the whole system known as “the world.” We are so enmeshed with what is causing the suffering we can’t just “fix it,” because fixing “it” means fixing us, and we can’t even see the problem clearly.

There is an old Hasidic saying that says, “To a worm in a jar of horseradish, the whole world is horseradish.” The worm doesn’t know anything but horseradish, so what is to change? Our world is shaped by violence, hate, judgment, competition, a sense of scarcity, greed and a hundred other things that are not just around us, but in us. The cross of Christ is the ultimate unveiling of the world’s foolishness. The ways of the world murdered God! God gave love, and the world (we) hung love on a tree to die.

Eugene Peterson, in his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, says that the first step in becoming a disciple who follows Jesus Christ is to wake up and realize that “the world” that shapes us and causes us so much pain is broken. We have broken it and we are clueless as to how to fix it. He says:

“The first step toward God is a step away from the lies of the world. It is a renunciation of the lies we have been told about ourselves and our neighbors and our universe.”

Discipleship begins when we turn away from the lies of the world and toward the life-giving promises of God in Christ. This is the classic definition of repentance – to turn away from the wrong way to the right way. We need to be malcontents in this world – unsatisfied with the way things are and committed to what can be in Christ. We renounce the world to embrace Christ.

This turning can hurt, at first. It means we leave behind what we know – like the rich man to whom Jesus said “sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21) The man couldn’t do it. His wealth was too important to him. But, it was that piece of the world that kept him from God’s reign.

In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this:

“Grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

The thing is, once we make the turn, we come to see that all it really cost us is our captivity to the violent, death-dealing lies of the world. What it grants is life in Christ, the reign of God, the peaceable kingdom. As the cross reveals the deathly nature of the world, the resurrection of Jesus reveals that the way of Christ is the only way to life, in this moment and in all future moments. How do you know this for sure? God has raised only Christ from the dead. Caesar, Washington, Lincoln, Rockefeller and everyone else is still dead. So, who are you going to follow? Me? I’m a malcontent for Jesus.


copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2017

Remembering September 11

So, I was thinking that many of us are thinking about September 11th 2001 today. Our memories of that day may evoke many different feelings. When all is said and done, however, our remembering must always serve today and tomorrow and not be mired in the past. Resentments, hatred, fear, conspiracy theories must give way to honoring those lost; caring for those still struggling.

For people of faith our memories must also look into the rubble and dust of that day in September and see the sacrifice and death that took place outside Jerusalem on a cross on the day of the crucifixion of Our Lord, Jesus.  Through that memory we will find the path to hope, peace, forgiveness and love that makes some sense of the tragedies throughout history – like September 11. We need to remember, as theologian Jurgen Moltmann said, “God weeps with us so that we may one day laugh with him.”  God weeps in the tragedy and God will turn our mourning to dancing.  That is the promise and that is the memory.  Tonight, our confirmation students will, as they do each year, begin meeting people of other faiths in our area. On this September 11th, they will go to the local Islamic Center to be with other children of Abraham and learn of peace, mutual respect, and how faith and knowledge overcome fear.  In so doing, the memory and sacrifice of September 11 is honored because hate is defeated by love and terror does not win.

Let us pray:

Holy One, on this day of remembrance, we lift to you the honored dead and the ones who still bear the marks of pain and grieving made on that day.  We remember the sacrifice of police, firefighters, medical personnel, clergy, and so many others who gave life to others and who gave their lives for others.  We remember our rage and terror; we remember our fear and hopelessness and we offer it all to you. Most importantly, O God, we remember you as the one who suffers with us in the smoke and rubble of life; we remember you as the one who brings life from death; peace from violence; hope from despair and love from hatred. We pray for your healing touch and peace on this day and all those to come.  In the name of the crucified one, Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Pax Christi,  Pastor Tim