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Three Offensive Texts

April 21, 2013

Growing Ears by Following                     John 10:22-30

Jesus be open with us… tell us who you really are… tell us if you really think you are the divine agent… the messiah… come on man, be open with us.

Does that sound like a loaded question to you?

 

Jesus says I have told you but you don’t believe… look at what I do and see for yourself… And in fact the reason you don’t believe is you’re not one of my followers…

 

And we think, ‘Huh? Aren’t you supposed to believe first then follow? How can it be that you need to follow first in order to believe?

 

We don’t want that, we want evidence first, we want to maintain our critical distance, we want to observe church and Jesus according to our own criteria about what’s good and what’s not and then, on that basis make a decision and follow.

 

And Jesus says sorry… you’ll never hear my voice unless you jump in the water, unless you taste and see, unless you try it on, unless you follow first and think (or at least reach conclusions) later.

 

Does that sound scarey? Maybe it is.

 

Of course no one’s completely neutral on Jesus. Everybody’s heard something and has some opinion. It’s unavoidable… But following Jesus is like what we call a “paradigm shift”… it’s so radical, you don’t know what it’s about until you’re part of it.

 

Jesus says… it’s only in following me you get it … you can see what I do… as you follow me you’ll begin to understand… you’ll start to grow ears that can hear the shepherd’s voice from among all the other voices around. Only my sheep hear my voice… I’m a mystery to others, or worse a problem.

 

Let the one who has ears to hear listen… And that’s not everyone. We grow new ears by following.

 

That’s the first offensive text… abandon your neutral home territory, your critical distance and jump in the water… or you’ll never get it.

Followers who do miracles         Acts 9:36-43

It’s the only Sewing Display I know of in the NT… and it’s in the room of a dead woman… a saint really. Tabitha had lived her life devoted to good works and acts of charity and now she had died. And everyone was really upset. And all her friends were around her and they send for Peter and he was in a nearby town and came over and went up to the room and sat with her amongst the clothing display. He wants silence. He sends the people out. He prays in the silence. We don’t know what he prayed, we know he wanted to be with her and he wanted to pray. And then for no reason that we know of he just turns to her and says Tabitha, get up. She does.

Second offensive text … followers of Jesus do miracles. I can hear some of you thinking even now. Don’t tell me you think Christians can do miracles and raise people from death. We’ve never seen it. If you start saying things like that everyone will expect it, everyone will feel guilty if they are not healed. If everyone is raised, no one will die. And if only some are raised, it will just be completely unfair. What about Auschwitz? What about all the children who have died young?

I want to say… hold on… this bible text gives us no theory of miracles. It doesn’t tell us that God will heal everyone or if we pray God will raise the dead. It says nothing like that. It simply hits us in the face with a crazy story about Peter praying for a woman in a moment of compassion and for some reason known only to God, she is brought back to life. There is nothing here except for the sheer possibility of a miracle. And perhaps that’s the offence. That God might be above and beyond our understanding and able to do more than we can imagine. That God might be present in the world and not limited to some other world.

And it is the sheer possibility of a miracle that we open ourselves to when we pray. No guarantees. We pray because… we do not understand… perhaps even because we do not know what to pray for… but when we pray, we do so on the assumption that Christ is risen and alive. Who knows we might be told to turn and command a dead person to stand up. Part of the offense is that we don’t get to decide the outcome of our prayer beforehand.

Some Christians seem to think that God promises them freedom from suffering. This is not true. There is nothing about this miracle that says that… The reality is quite the opposite. And maybe that’s the offence of our final reading

 

Followers will Suffer          Revelation 7:9-17

The reading from Revelations is like a glimpse into the future – it’s a kind of symbolic representation of the outcome of things. And in it is a great multitude of all kinds of people imaginable, from every notion and all tribes and peoples and all languages. It’s like the tower of Babel gathered together again, but happily, understanding each other, in one accord. And in the centre of the vision of the future is someone called The Lamb – code word for the suffering Jesus. There are three things about these people who symbolize the future of God. Firstly, as I said, they are incredibly diverse. Secondly, their common focus and delight is Jesus, God who suffered for their liberation. Thirdly, they have gone through a great ordeal, they too have suffered, like Jesus, in fact their white clothes have been washed in his read blood. Which is a weird kind of image… but it just says that their common destiny arises in and through the fact that they have shared in Jesus death, they have taken up their cross like he did.

Not only should Christians not expect to be exempt from suffering (as I suggested earlier). Followers of Jesus should expect suffering.

I get the impression from a lot of people that somehow God owes them a good life. Why would they be Christian if it didn’t improve things for them? And if they are sick… somehow God is unfair. Why do some people get a worse deal? I don’t know. But I do know that Christian’s shouldn’t expect a better deal. Sure the vision from Revelation suggests that in the end God will heal the pain and wipe away the tears. But in this life… quite the contrary.

But there’s more… this suffering, this great ordeal, this ‘washing in the blood of Jesus’ is not just any kind of suffering. To take up our cross doesn’t mean put up with whatever tension or illness or problem that comes your way. The cross of Jesus is a very specific kind of suffering. It is the suffering that comes to people who live the way of God (and of Jesus) in the face of a violent and destructive social and political system. The cross is the price of social non-conformity. In other words the more we are like Jesus and like God, the more we represent the life of the world to come, the more we are likely to suffer at the hands of the social system we live in – and I suspect that for us that is as much psychologically and emotionally, and economically as it is the kind of physical suffering that Jesus went through. In short, in this world, every social system will have powerful dynamics of evil in it and if we are not suffering then we need to ask ourselves whether we are doing it right, whether we are really following Jesus.

Let me summarise our Three offensive texts:

There’s no understanding Christianity apart from taking the risk of following Jesus… the voice of Jesus is something you need to learn to hear (in a place of commitment). My sheep hear my voice.

What’s more those who do follow, might end up doing miracles, they will certain have their lives opened to stranger possibilities than they would otherwise imagine.

Finally, followers of Jesus expect to suffer… because Jesus is profoundly different from any social or political system.

 

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