There is a guy that’s just a few years older than me named Shane Claiborne. If he were to walk in the church today, you would probably mistake him for one of the many men who sleep on the streets of this fare city. He often times wears his hair long in dreadlocks; his clothes baggy and plain. The interesting thing is…he could very easily look like many of us here today, but he chooses to live in what he would describe as simplicity. He wrote a book called ‘The Irresistible Revolution’. It’s a book that begins with his story of growing up as a very good church kid in the ‘Bible Belt’ of the southern US. He went to a great church, with a great youth program. The church had great preaching, and great music. Shane was the popular kid in town; going to several different youth groups each week; he was even voted Prom King. He was living and seeking the American dream, where he could live comfortably as a church-going Christian, make plenty of money, raise a family, and retire happily.
But deep down inside, something was pulling at Shane that left him uncomfortable. As he sat at church and listened to the great preaching and singing, he couldn’t help but think that there had to be more to this ‘church thing’. As he went from youth group to youth group, he couldn’t help but wonder if there was something more to the Christian walk. And then the Bible started speaking to him in ways that he never before experienced. He was transformed by the life of Jesus.
Only Jesus would be crazy enough to suggest that if you want to become the greatest, you should become the least. Only Jesus would declare God’s blessing on the poor rather than on the rich and would insist that it’s not enough to love just your friends. I began to wonder if anybody still believed Jesus meant those things he said. I thought if we just stopped and asked, What if he really meant it? It could turn the world upside-down. It was a shame Christians had become so normal.’ (p. 41)
From that point forward, Shane Claiborne’s life would be ruined…in a most beautiful way. He attended college near Philadelphia where he was able to minister with the homeless on a regular basis, and he would experience first-hand the plights of the poor. He would walk with one of the most famous of Saints, Mother Teresa, in the streets of Calcutta. He would later form an intentional community in Philadelphia called ‘The Simple Way’, and with it inspire thousands of others around the country and the world to re-examine their lives of faith as he helped create the ‘New monasticism’ movement. Today Claiborne continues to inspire and serve the least of these; it’s the only way he knows how to follow Jesus.
What about you? Have you ever felt a little uncomfortable with how quiet and polite we are as Christians here at church? Have you ever observed the disconnect between upper-middle class white Americans sitting comfortably in a beautiful sanctuary… reading stories of a man who spoke of the potential evils of wealth and power? Have you ever asked a similar question about Jesus? ‘What if he really meant it?’
I’m a firm believer that it is sometimes just as important to ask the right questions, as it is to have the right answers. These next four weeks I’d like for us to focus more on the questions of faith, rather than the answers, as we engage with the teachings of Jesus. And perhaps as we begin to ask more questions, our eyes will open in ways that we previously thought unlikely. Perhaps we will begin to see the world with new eyes…
We pick up in the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew. To be honest, Jesus was getting pretty heated. Previously, Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we now celebrate as ‘Palm Sunday’. It seemed that as soon as Jesus entered the city, the religious leaders were conspiring against him. In chapter 22 Jesus was challenged and accused of blasphemy by the Pharisees and scribes as they tried to entrap Jesus. And now here we are in chapter 23; Jesus has had enough. In a few sentences he basically smack talks those religious leaders akin to what we may read on local political blogs or twitter. The basic message: these guys are hypocrites. God’s word is not to blame. Go ahead and follow that. But these guys; they’ve got it all wrong.
3 therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.
Jesus then transitions further away from the leaders and Pharisees and Scribes. And just to be sure that they understand their place, Jesus continues with who exactly, is in charge…
6 They love to have the place of honor…
7 and to be greeted with respect …and to have people call them rabbi.
8 But …you have one teacher, and you are all students.
9 And…you have one [religious] Father—the one in heaven.
10And you have one instructor, the Messiah.
And if God is in charge, as Jesus is teaching, then we are not to live by the rules of this world, or this king. If God is our king, then ultimately we are citizens not of this Roman occupied territory, but of God’s kingdom. And God’s kingdom operates differently.
11 The greatest among you will be your servant.
12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.
Sometimes seeing the world with new eyes is like taking off blinders on a bright and sunny day. Yes, it may be beautiful to see, but it may be a little painful at first. Our eyes need to adjust to the light. We need to squint for a while at first; perhaps we shade our eyes. And then, little by little, the world comes into glorious focus, and we realize what we have been missing out on all of this time.
The Good News: we are to see the world with new eyes. And when we see the world with new eyes, we see the joy of what Jesus is teaching us about living in this world.
HE REALLY MEANT IT!
Thank God for the saints that have come before us! If it were not for those individuals who have journeyed in faith before us, where would we be? Where would we be if we didn’t have those we love and admire to guide us as we stumbled through this world with our obstructed view? Where would we be if we didn’t have someone to hold our hand and guide us as the blindfold was removed from our eyes? Where would we be if it weren’t for those saints who sat with us as we looked at the world with fresh eyes, and who spoke patiently with us about the truths of the journey of faith? Who are those saints for you?
What does it mean that the greatest amongst us are those who take on the posture of servants? And what does it mean that those who humble themselves will be exalted?
Thanks be to God in Christ Jesus, we can begin to regain focus on the image that is before us with such questions. If we take a step back, relax our eyes for a moment, and gaze upon the world with those we love, we will begin to see God’s Kingdom as Christ describes it. Perhaps we’ll be able to see the hypocrisy of some previously held beliefs we had embraced about what it means to be a Christian. Perhaps we’ll be able to see that while we really do try to lead good lives, maybe we don’t have all of the answers after all. Perhaps, if we are bold enough and faithful enough, we will open our eyes fully, and like the saints before us, begin to ask the tough questions of what Jesus really meant, as we together envision God’s kingdom for the world today.