The way of Jesus, when properly understood is dangerous, disappointing, and even disturbing.
Many in our country is reeling from the attack at the Emmanuel AME Church in South Carolina. John Stewart’s words ring true in the ears of many: this a terrorist attack, and the result of America’s lackadaisical approach to systemic problems of gun violence and racism.
We want something to fix.
“Take down that Confederate flag!”
“Pass stricter gun laws!”
Or even… “Pastors should carry guns.”
These are real problems, that as John Stewart, and even President Obama have said that we will probably continue to ignore. But even if we did solve those problems, our efforts would have very little power compared to dangerous, disappointing and disturbing hospitality of the Emmanuel Wednesday Night Bible Study.
Preaching Professor Lucy Lind Hogan imagines the audience at the Sermon on the Mount this way:
Like all good speakers, he began by capturing the good will of his listeners. Who doesn’t like to hear the good news that we are going to be comforted and inherit the earth? I would imagine nods of agreement and pleasure moved through the crowd like waves.
The following was taken from a recent sermon (jokingly) entitled “How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep” at Austin Mustard Seed.
All throughout the Psalms, you have these moments that seem a little strange. David and the other poets saying incredible terrible things, sometimes about their enemies, and sometimes about God. Here’s an example from Psalm 4.
Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
This statement is shocking for a few reasons. First off, consider from a purely philosophical point-of-view: God, by definition, is infinite, almighty creator. But the poet seems to be bossing him around, accusing him, commanding him.
It gets even more interesting when you consider from the view of the language it was written in. The words “answer me” are the words “Shema.” Now, if you’ve ever been around anyone from a Jewish background, or if you’ve ever studied the Hebrew Scriptures, this will stand out to you. “Shema” isn’t a simple “can you hear me now.” It’s much more of a command, it’s like a drill sergeant walking down the line, yelling “Listen up!” The most famous prayer in the Hebrew Tradition begins with the same command “Hear, O, Israel,” “Shema, O Israel.” As God commanded people to listen to him, now this poet dares to command God.
This may be perhaps the strangest and the most uncomfortable element of getting a good night’s sleep. It begins with learning to be totally and completely honesty about our feelings. It begins with yelling at God, shaking our fist at the heavens. It begins with accusing God.
I love how this was captured in the classic episode of The West Wing.
President Jed Bartlet after the funeral of his friend and secretary, Mrs. Landingham. What’s so great about this clip is that it is somehow simultaneously honest, angry, explosive and somehow still reverential.
Bartlett is angry, so he let’s his anger show. He’s proud of his work, which he believes he did for a good cause, and so he let’s his pride show. He’s overwhelmed, not just with the the current state of affairs, but with the seeming brokenness of the world. It seems to remain broken, no matter how much good he does. He has trouble fitting a loving, personal, benevolent God into this reality.
The clip ends, with the President of the United States lighting up like an old school greaser from The Outsiders, turning back to the altar, and telling God that they should take a “divide and conquer” approach to reelection.
It’s almost as if, having spoken his mind, he can return to his calling.
This is the strange but necessary element to getting a good night sleep:
It starts with Accusing God.
We have to learn to be honest, both with ourselves and with God. Jesus himself modeled this honest dialogue.
As a Youth Minister and Church Planter, we have to navigate technology and faith. Social media has made this more complicated than ever. Inspired by the TED talk The Innovation of Loneliness Kyle Sapp (Youth Minister) and Chris Morton (Church Planter) discuss their own struggles to connect, and what to do about it.