Tuesday, July 30, 2013


Luke 10:1-11, 16[1]
  Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at what the Gospel of Luke has to teach us about faith.  It should come as no surprise to us that any study of faith leads inevitably to the call to discipleship.  That’s what Jesus did--he called people to faith by calling them to follow him in discipleship.  And we should also not be surprised that any study of Jesus’ call to discipleship also leads us to the Kingdom of God.  The heart of Jesus’ message was that God’s Kingdom, which is defined by justice, grace, and compassion, was a present reality for those who responded in faith to his call.[2]  Ironically, although none of this surprises us, most of us are surprised when we follow Jesus and we find ourselves faced with opposition, contradiction, and even hostility from the culture in which we live.
  Unfortunately, our culture has given its allegiance to other kingdoms than the Kingdom of God.[3]  Some give their allegiance to the kingdom of Wall Street.  It tells us that we have to make as much money as we can in order to have the lives we want.  Others have sworn allegiance to the kingdom of Hollywood.  It tells us that only those who are young, thin, beautiful, and rich have any value in this world.  Others have given their loyalty to the kingdom of Madison Avenue. It tells us that if you drive the right car you’ll be sophisticated and your life will be complete.  It tells us that if you wear the right cologne or drink the right adult beverage or buy your clothes from the right store then others will think you’ve arrived and will be drawn to you.  Unfortunately, more money doesn’t translate into fulfillment in life.   Spending hours in the gym or spending thousands of dollars to make yourself look like a celebrity won’t give you the happiness you long for.  And at the end of the day, a car is just a car, cologne is just cologne, and having the latest in fashion doesn’t make your life complete.
  So perhaps we should ask ourselves what to expect when we go out into a world like that carrying our commitment to following Jesus in seeking the Kingdom of God. Our gospel lesson for today addresses that, I think.  Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) disciples to do what he had been doing--spreading compassion and mercy and telling people who respond in faith that “God’s kingdom is right on your doorstep!” (Lk. 10:9, The Message).  But there were competing kingdoms and contradictory loyalties in Jesus’ day as well, and he knew that some would not be willing to give that up.  And so what were they to say in that case?  Essentially the same thing: that the Kingdom of God was right on their doorstep (Lk. 10:11)![4]
  And so it is for us.  We are called to follow Jesus in discipleship, practicing the values of the Kingdom of God among a people who have given their loyalty to a lot of other kingdoms.  And we are called to proclaim the message to one and all: the Kingdom of God is right here.  Like Jesus’ original disciples, we should not be surprised that some will respond with faith and some will not be willing to give up their allegiance to other kingdoms.  And we should not even be surprised when some respond to us with opposition and even hostility.  After all, we are contradicting the principles that they believe define their worth as human beings.[5]  People can get pretty hostile when you start messing around with that!
  Of course, let’s be honest: I’m saying that we shouldn’t be surprised when that happens to us, but I think tend to be surprised when we face the contradiction of our world.  After all, most of us were raised to believe that we live in a “Christian” nation.  But if we look closely, it’s not hard to see that there’s not much “Christian” about our culture.  Yes, a lot of people go to church on Sunday morning, but as some have said, going to church on Sunday doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger![6]  And so the reality is that we shouldn’t be surprised when we experience the contradictions of living the Christian life in a world captivated by competing loyalties.
  It can be discouraging to face the continual contradiction between our faith and the way the majority of people in our society live.  It can be exhausting to swim upstream continually, day after day.  I think we can get weary from going against the grain all the time.  And exhaustion leads to discouragement.  I think one of the most significant temptations for Christians in this culture is to just give up and go with the majority.  It’s hard maintaining the effort of marching to a different tune while everyone around you looks at you like you’re crazy. 
  But I don’t think Jesus called us to follow him in pursuing God’s reign of truth and grace in order to simply make martyrs of us all.  He called us to this task because he knew that his call was about what’s really true in this world.  The Kingdom of God, which is defined by justice and compassion and peace and freedom, is the only true reality.[7]  It is the testimony of the Scriptures from the very beginning--especially in the Psalms--that God’s reign of compassion and justice is the truth that defines our lives.  All the other “kingdoms” may promise to make us happy, but only following Jesus in living out the values of the Kingdom of God can bring true fulfillment to life.  God’s reign of grace and truth and love and peace is the ultimate reality before which all other competing loyalties will eventually fade.

[1] © 2013 Alan Brehm.  A sermon preached by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 7/7/2013 at First Presbyterian Church of Dickinson, TX.
[2] Cf. Paul D. Hanson, “The Identity and Purpose of the Church,” Theology Today 42 (Oct 1985), 345:  “Though in the popular eschatology of his day the new era of blessing was to come through a dazzling display of divine power in which the cosmos would be thrown into disarray, Jesus pointed out that in everyday human acts of reconciling and healing, the Kingdom of God was ‘in the midst of you’ (Luke 17:21).”  Contrast Joseph A. Fitzmyer, Luke X-XXIV, Fitzmyer, 848-49, where he agrees with W. G. Kummel that the verb form ἤγγικεν is to be understood as “has approached, has drawn near.” He adds, “The implication is that the day of the kingdom’s full arrival is still in the future.”  But cf. also Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 3.2.459-60, where he agrees that until the final day “the restrained ἤγγικεν [has come near] must be used” but he insists also that “all the time there is a secretly implied ἐλήλυθεν [has come].”
[3] Cf. Walter Wink, The Powers that Be, 39.  He calls our culture with its competing claims for our allegiance “The Domination System.” He describes this system as one that is characterized by “unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, hierarchical power relations, and the use of violence to maintain them all.”
[4] Cf. Fred Craddock, Luke, 145: “the message to those who accept and to those who reject is the same: ‘The Kingdom of God has come near’ (vv. 9, 11).”
[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope, 21: "Faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience.  It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in man. Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it."
[6] The quote originates with Keith Green. See http://www.wordoflifechristian ministries.net/index.php?p=1_45  The logic of the statement in this form is imprecise.  It should say something like, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonald’s means you know how to cook a hamburger.” This sentiment originated with (in)famous evangelist Billy Sunday, who said, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a car.”
[7] Cf. Hanson, “Identity and Purpose of the Church,” 358: “By keeping alive an alternative to the ideologies and systems of our Modern, materialistic, power-loving world, and by preserving reminders derived from its sacred tradition that much of what we moderns call real is an illusion whereas much that we had dismissed as illusory is in a deep sense the most real, in other words, by being faithful to a heritage which is both ancient and radically new, the church has kept alive hope for an otherwise very troubled World.”

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