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Arrested by the gospel (a sermon)

August 25, 2011

Matthew 16: 21-28

When you’re deciding what text to preach on, sometimes you have a choice… and sometimes you don’t. This week the text jumped up and bit me on the bum.

It started when my daughter Chrissy, who most of you know is in the US on her gap year and now traveling around before returning to NZ, posted on facebook

“to get arrested in Washington DC, or not get arrested in Washington DC? that is a question i am pondering”

As you can imagine I rapidly began to freak out… and quickly checked out the link she posted on the reason she might choose to get arrested. It concerned the arrest of Bill McKibben and 322 others (so far) protesting against a new oil pipe line being built to transport Canadian oil sands all the way to the gulf of Mexico.

It’s a big one. According to one commentator “This [pipeline] will make the Great Wall of China look like Tom Sawyer’s picket fence.”

More importantly if it goes ahead ‘greenhouse gas emissions from the oil and gas sector as a whole will rise by nearly one-third from 2005 to 2020.’ This at a time when increasing oil production will only fuel climate change and when there are considerable risks to the sometimes fragile environments that the pipeline will transgress. It seemed to me that Chrissy had found a very important line in the sand to be drawn. I couldn’t help but admire her passionate conviction about the matter but I was really beginning to worry about what getting arrested might mean for her… would it effect her future visa’s, future job applications, would she get to visit PNG on the way home?

So Facebook came alive that day (I think it was Tuesday) with friends encouraging her to “Go for it!” and me cautioning her about the consequences. And Chrissy listening carefully to all and being quite open about her feelings on the matter.

And then I remembered the Text for Sunday and posted this contribution to the discussion

 “As you can see I’m being a nervous dad who wants to make sure that you get info on the difference it would make you being a ‘foreigner’ etc… but I must say the cause looks like a good one when I checked out the blog and I fully appreciate your interest in being involved… the text for sunday is about ‘taking up your cross’ from Matthew 16:24-26 so I can hardly counsel you against it without some embarrassment … just don’t do it for the romance of a night in jail… I’ll do some praying in Dunedin”

You see when you’re supposed to be the disciple of a criminal, it’s hard to rule out criminal non-violent direct action. After all Jesus modeled it. He may not have broken any laws he just represented in his body and his life a way of life which threatened the very foundation of the empire and its religion. He was an outlaw whether or not he had committed any explicit crimes… he lived outside and in implicit (and sometimes explicit) critique of both Jewish and Roman life, he was subversive. Like the protestors in Washington he created a public disturbance in the centre of Jewish life, in the temple. He kicked the money changers out. And he refused to back down. For him it was the will of the Father, as difficult as it was, the more he understood it the less he could back down.

It strikes me that challenging the so-called ‘right’ of the oil industry to extract oil and release it into the atmosphere is just that, a challenge to the very foundations of the empire in which we live. We have built our world and our lifestyle on fossil fuels… and Bill McKibben and the protesters in Washington have found an opportunity to speak to that world (that empire). And in doing so they might suffer the consequences.

24Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

You see how hard it is for me to counsel my daughter to look out for her own safety… the only questions that seem to remain have to do with whether this is really driven by a sense of calling or more by the romantic idea of a night in jail, and on the other hand whether her own gifts would be better used for example in talking to kids in schools in Papua New Guinea about deforestation, on the way home from the US after Bill McKibben and his long queue of friends have spoken the truth to power.

I still don’t know what her decision has been… and I’m still anxious to hear. Like every parent I am tempted to want safety and success for my children. It seems to be a parental instinct… the product of millions of years of evolution. But then I’m not just a parent… I’m also a Christian… so the really good thing that I can want for myself or for my daughter (or for anyone I love) is not merely to survive and succeed, but to follow in the way of Christ.

For those who have their life ahead of them… or even a small part of their life ahead of them, the question is not whether to give their life away, but how…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2011 10:34 pm

    Great stuff Bruce..

  2. Mary permalink
    August 25, 2011 11:35 pm

    excellent….looking forward to my first Sunday back to hear this 🙂

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