To Jesus’ followers back in the day, “Follow me” was a literal statement, something akin to, “hey, I’m heading to this particular geographic location, come with.” As a rabbi, it was also an invitation to accept His teachings, which for this army of ragtag volunteers meant certain physical danger.
For them, it was hard to screw up, misinterpret, or miss Jesus’ meaning altogether because He would immediately get in their face and make an attempt at setting them straight.
We don’t have that today. We’ve got our Bibles, and our interpretations of our Bibles, and our Christian culture, and from that we try to figure out the life that Jesus wants us to live. We don’t have Jesus in our faces every time we get something wrong.
For many of us, especially us Evangelicals, we’ve distilled His invitation to “follow” into three categories:
- Think the right things about Jesus and God (theology)
- Embrace a particular list of rules and try hard not to break them (morality)
- Protect our world from moral decay (politics)
I’d add an unwritten rule to this list: no matter what the cost, be safe. Don’t get in trouble, don’t make anyone mad (unless they’re not Christian) and for God’s sake don’t get yourself killed.
As an Evangelical of 30 years I understand this list, and with the exception of being a dyed in the wool conservative, this is my list too – especially the safety part. I don’t like physical pain, or danger, or fear, and there are plenty of places I could go and get hurt telling people about Jesus.
But don’t worry, this isn’t a sermon on packing up your family and moving to the Middle East to start a church. There’s plenty of trouble to get into here – we’ve got poverty, racism, single parents and kids who are victims of both. There are mountains to be moved here, and, Biblically speaking, we’re assured over and over again, that God’s in the business of moving mountains.
This is a sermon on following Jesus, especially with regards to politics, and anyone can do it, Christian or not.
I’ll offer some examples of what I think He meant with “follow me.”
Say you’re married, or in a close relationship with someone, romantic or not, and you’ve run into some trouble. If you’re a Jesus follower, your job is to reconcile the trouble. We all get lost here because we really want to be right, to “win” the fight, come out on top. But when we sit back and remember Jesus’ emphasis on “oneness,” human intimacy, friendship and forgiveness, we quickly get un-lost.
But say that you’re super mad at this person, and having a problem following Jesus into a healed, reconciled relationship. That’s how we get when we’re really hurting. Anger and a desire to break relationship are typically a sign of emotional pain.
If we believe that Jesus is real, we can ask for help. But to do that we’ll have to admit our weakness, our hurt, and the fact that our unwillingness to move in the right direction is more a product of our own jack-assedness than the other person’s.
Here’s another example, similar to what’s above:
Say that you’ve decided that the (insert political affiliation)s are dead set on ruining our country, and it’s making you angry, so you set out on social media to rip them to shreds. I’ve done it, and I’m trying to stop, mainly because of Jesus’s statements on division and his warnings against it that read something like a mom screaming at her baby who’s just picked up a turd on the playground, getting ready to taste it.
Our political anger is rarely “righteous.” Again, we want to feel right, be on the right side. And because so many of us loathe ourselves, loathing someone else feels good. You might say, “But Mark, they’re baby killers!!! We have to stop them!!” Or, “They’re Sodomites!!! We all know what God does to homosexuals in the Bible!!!”
“This is our country – If we don’t protect it, who will?”
As our world continues to step away from what many Evangelicals deem “holy,” the fear, anger, divisiveness, name-calling, finger-pointing, lack of peace and other things that are clearly not on Jesus’ to-do list for your life get worse.
If I was the devil, I’d be loving this. Nobody does his business better, and with more passion, than scared, angry, judgmental religious people.
But because Jesus is real, and because He’s got a vested interest in things like peace, love, hope, joy, and ultimately, holiness, He can help us with our anger, as long as we’re open to listening to someone who doesn’t think like we do – and therein lies the rub.
With regards to politics, without sitting down and talking with someone on the “other side,” we’ve made up our minds. We’ve decided with firm conviction who is right, and refuse to listen to anyone who doesn’t think like we do.
As a result, there’s one prayer, one of the most popular prayers in the Bible, that never gets prayed. Goes like this:
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Let me paraphrase that as it’s picked up some cultural baggage over the years
I know there’s bad stuff floating around inside. I’ve eaten my share of turds on the playground. Will you please roam around the darkest places of my heart and show me where I’m wrong? I’ll listen. And will you teach me the right way, the way that isn’t rotten and full of death?
I don’t know anyone who’s gotten angry and divisive about politics who’s prayed that prayer with specific regard to their anger, i.e., something like this:
I’m pissed, but I’m not sure that my anger is coming from a good place. Will you show me the truth, and the way out? I’ll do whatever you tell me to do, regardless of what it costs.
Why would we pray something like that when we’re firmly convinced that we’re right? This is an area where we don’t need God’s help.
When we’re so angry that we refuse to listen to people who don’t think like we do, and when we’ve gotten divisive and judgmental, convinced that God wants us to spread our angry crap as far as we can, we’re in dire need of David’s prayer.
And I’ve got some bad news for you. Jesus will probably tell you sit down with a (insert political affiliation) over coffee or something stronger, listen, ask good questions, listen again, and go and pray that prayer one more time.
Again, I’m no angel here. Again, that’s something us Evangelicals don’t do.
Turns out that Jesus is with us, maybe more powerfully than He was with His disciples. At any time, as long as we’re willing to hear something we don’t want to hear, and/or go somewhere we don’t want to go, we can ask for help, clarity, direction, power, a willingness to risk.
We can move mountains, as long as they’re mountains He wants to move. And rest assured that He’s warming up the lightning bolts for this mountainous effigy of political anger that we’ve erected. We can follow Jesus and be part of this excavation, or go our own way and get crushed by it.