Following Jesus: Transforming the World 10/28/12

         Today is the last sermon in our series on Following Jesus: Christ and Culture. The first sermon I talked about living separate from the culture, immersed in Christ, through monastery living of some kind. The second week we looked at living immersed in the culture and trying to make Christ conform to the culture around us, which, of course, we don’t recommend. Last week, we finally started to talk about how we Christians try to live in the modern world – trying to live in the culture while being loyal to our faith, in the world but not of the world. Today, we conclude by thinking how Jesus calls us to that kind of life, a life which would actually transform the world.

Mark 10:46-52 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” 50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” 52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Oct. 28, 2012

Following Jesus: Transforming the World

A.J. Muste was a pacifist and peace activist, a leader of Fellowship for Reconciliation, a consultant to Martin Luther King and many others. During the Vietnam War Muste stood in front of the White House night after night with a candle. It was a lonely, but persistent vigil. Some people thought he was a little loony. A reporter interviewing Muste one rainy night asked him, “Mr. Muste, do you really think you are going to change the policies of this country by standing out here alone at night with a candle?” Muste replied, “Oh, I don’t do it to change the country, I do it so the country won’t change me.”

I sometimes feel like the United Methodist motto: “Making Disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” is a bit arrogant, or encourages us to feel a bit self-righteous – or that the church is likely to be a major force in transforming the world. I want to be a strong disciple of Jesus Christ. I want to transform the world. But I know the world is better at transforming me than I am at transforming the world.

With the holidays coming up, I can feel the culture acting on me already. Though I think Halloween is the goofiest holiday we could think up, I go out and buy lots of cavity–producing candy that nobody needs for the hoards of children who will come down my block on Wednesday. And don’t get me started on the travesty we have made of Christmas! I’m going to be talking extensively about that in December!

All month we’ve been talking about what kind of relationship is best between Christ and culture. How much should the church take its cues from society? How strict should we be in following Jesus and not the culture? In all humility, we might say, a la AJ Muste, that we come to church and talk about transforming the world just so that the world does not totally co-opt and transform us. In all humility, that might be about all we can hope for. Not transforming the world, but keeping the world from totally transforming us!

We all make our own decisions about how we are conformed to the world, and how much we are converted by our relationship with the Living God in Christ. The way to know that you are on track to is to follow Christ’s lead in everything you do – to listen for God’s voice in every decision you make.

This is the safest way to go because it acknowledges our individual blindness – that we are way too easily swayed to follow the way of the world instead of the way of God. Even with a personal commitment to always follow the way of the Living God, we can get confused and lost, so it’s easy to see how lost folks are when they don’t even know that they are blind.

This analogy of blindness and the healing of blindness is one of the most powerful in the gospels and the story of Bartimaeus is the best of them all. Notice that Jesus asks him the very same question he asked the disciples last week. “What do you want me todo for you?” And you remember what the disciples answered.  We think they ought to be the model of people who dropped everything to follow Jesus, but these top disciples of Jesus said, “let us sit one at your right hand and one at your left.”

So even the disciples (as we discussed last week) get caught up in the way of the world, lost in wanting to be the best, lost in trying to be accepted instead of knowing they are accepted, lost in trying to be popular or loved or cool or “the best.” Bartimaeus on the other hand was actually blind. He’s not trying to be anything great. He could ask for a handout, a quarter or a dollar. But something in him yearns for a deeper relationship with this stranger walking by.  Something in him pushed or pulled him to say “Master, let me receive my sight.”

Jesus tells him “Go. Your faith has made you well.” He says, “Go.” It’s almost like he’s giving him permission to go back into the culture, to go back to what he needs to do. But the passage says he followed Jesus on the way. And in the Gospel of Mark that means that Bartimaeus becomes one of the first disciples beyond the 12 as he follows Jesus into Jerusalem, where one of the first things he takes in with his new-found sight is the crucifixion of the One who healed him.

Karl Barth and Karl Marx were the two most influential theologians of the 20th century. Neither held out hope for the church or for human institutions for transforming the world. They both felt like something beyond humanity was the only hope for humanity. Barth places his hope in Jesus Christ, in a God so other from humanity that God could not be corrupted by human institutions and would transform humanity and all of creation. Marx placed his hope in the forces of history – in dialectical forces beyond humanity that would bring inevitable changes that people would get behind. As I say, neither of these Karls held out hope for the church, but followers of them both have tried to make their thinking work for movements in the church to convert people one person at a time and/or to help the church side with the poor all around the world and to empathize with their struggles.

When we live in the world but not of the world, having been transformed by the love of Christ, we do not avoid the pain of the world. We live in the pain and the mess of the world, but with part of our life always conscious of the hope and redeeming power of the life of Christ, the power of the Living God in the world. Christ gives us the strength and hope to live in the middle of a broken world, and the ability to see, to look forward to the world the way God wants it to be, to see how God is working through Christ to make the world whole. May God indeed give us the vision, the insight, the perception to see and live toward that reality.


Responsive Hymn: 2214 Lead Me, Guide Me