Second Sunday After Pentecost
by The Rev. Michael J. Bridge
1. Bumper Sticker Jesus
a. We live in a culture that doesn't like to do hard intellectual work. For example, if you watch Sean Hannity once a week for three straight weeks you will hear the exact same thing being talked about. He will take one or two talking points and then have guest after guest on to point-counterpoint those talking points. But if you ever do any investigating into the stuff he talks about, he often takes one quote out of a speech or an article, isolates it, and then uses it to advance his agenda at the expense of his opponents.
i. And Hannity is not alone in this. We get this kind of intellectual dishonesty from both sides of the political aisle and we get it from both the journalists and the commentators.
b. When we think about great journalism we think about people doing the hard work to get to the truth. When we think about modern journalism, we think about people working hard to shape the truth. And the reason why they get away with it is because most of us won't do the intellectual hard work to look into this stuff.
c. And that exact point is why more liberal news outlets love having people like John Spong and Bart Ehrman on their programs. These people presume to speak for Christianity yet they undermine everything Christianity has taught for 2000 years. Most people won't look into what is being said, so they will just assume that Christianity is changing and then decide whether they agree that this is a good thing or not.
i. In the case of Ehrman, he is a particularly devious sort. He is the head of Religious Studies at U of North Carolina. He isn't a believer and has an axe to grind. He is a scholar in the field of textual criticism, but he writes many books on the popular level that distort or dramatically alter the history of the transmission of the NT documents. Because of his scholarly credentials, readers trust him. But he doesn't submit his work to peer review, as scholarly work usually is. Instead, he writes popular level books that get slammed by the scholarly community- but most of the people out there won't read what the scholarly community has to say. So he is able to manipulate the understanding that people have of scripture and Jesus, even though his work has been shown to be wrong time and time again.
d. When it comes to Jesus, we often hear from our culture how Jesus loved everybody. Jesus accepted everybody. Jesus would be for gay marriage, universal healthcare, open borders, etc. We also hear how he was a pacifist who would have never condoned conflict of any kind. He especially would have never set himself up as being greater than any other religious leader.
e. All of this is because we live in a culture that likes sound bytes and bumper sticker slogans more than they like 100 page treatises and multiple hour exhortation.
f. There are two questions we need to ask. First, are the above statements adequate reflections of Jesus according to scripture? Second, are we willing to do the intellectual legwork to make sure we know who the Jesus of the bible is?
2. Divisive Faith
a. Our all loving, happy-go-lucky, hippie Jesus said in Matthew 10:34-36, Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's foes will be members of one's own household."
b. The bumper sticker, sound byte Jesus would never set people at odds with one another. He is far too loving for that. He just wants everyone to be happy.
c. The bumper sticker, sound byte Jesus usually thinks a lot more highly of us than he does of himself.
d. The biblical Jesus seems to think pretty highly of himself. Verses 32-33 of this chapter say that anyone who acknowledges Jesus before men, he will acknowledge before the Father in Heaven. Whoever denies him before men, he will deny before the Father in Heaven. He seemed to think he had a pretty special position to be our advocate before God.
e. He didn't come to get everyone to hold hands and sing We Are the World. He came to get us to repent of our sins and to submit to his authority has Lord. He came to call us from death into life. He came to bring everlasting peace. But that peace would only come in the long term through conflict and hardship in the short term.
f. He wasn't saying that families should fight and turn on one another. He wasn't saying that we are at physical war within our homes- the reference to the sword. He was challenging the idea that anything, even our closest family members should stand in the way of our relationship with God and our commitment to Christ.
i. Jesus understood that the kind of radical commitment to himself that he was demanding would be very divisive. Within a home - and particularly within a first century Jewish home - some would believe that Jesus was the Messiah and others wouldn't. When a Jewish son believed that Jesus was the Messiah and his father didn't, that would cause a pretty substantial division in the home.
ii. Paul reaffirms this for Christians by saying not to marry an unbeliever. The belief that Christ is the Messiah, the savior of mankind, is so central and important that Paul questioned whether an believer and unbeliever could have true marital fulfillment while being at odds on such an important point.
a. Jesus moved on from talking about the divisions that faith in him would cause and followed it up with, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
b. Remember how Jesus summed up all the Law and Prophets: First, love God with everything you have. Second, love people. The loving God part is first. Jesus doesn't want us to literally hate our families or anyone else who rejects him. He does want us to make him the top priority, even above the closest people to us.
c. One of the commandments is to not have any false idols. Yet we make idols out of so many things: our families, our patriotism, our jobs. What would it look like to submit all of those things, and our whole lives, to the authority of Christ?
d. We often hear parents say, "As long as my child is happy, that is all that matters. I just want him to be happy." Is happiness what Jesus came to establish for us? Happiness and holiness don't often go hand in hand. Holiness was definitely something that he wanted from us. Thus why he said that we must be willing to take up our cross and follow him.
i. Taking up their cross would not be a pleasant image. It would immediately have conjured up the idea of painful death. Jesus was challenging them to die to self in order to live for him. Submit our lives, desires, and agendas to his lordship and his call on our lives.
e. Anyone finding his life will lose it. If we seek to protect this brief moment that we get on earth it is going to come at the expense of what matters. Ultimately, we will save ourselves for a time, but lose ourselves for eternity.
f. This is the great paradox. Those who lose their lives - those who willingly risk everything for Christ- placing him even above family - will save their lives. They are the people with the kind of faith to understand that treasure on earth is meaningless if we forfeit our treasure in heaven. As has been asked, we have to consider, is it worth gaining the world if it costs our soul?
g. This is why we have to move past the bumper sticker Jesus and do the intellectual hard work of figuring out who the real Jesus, the Jesus of the bible is. No one who believes in that watered-down hippie Jesus sees him as the savior who is calling us to place him as the highest priority in our lives at all costs.
h. Yet that is exactly who Jesus demands to be. It is who the bible presents him as. And thanks to his selfless sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection that is exactly who he must be. If we believe anything less about him then we are unworthy of him.
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