I grew up being taught and learning to be good.
A good boy.
A good son.
A good brother.
A good student.
A good person.
Which, among other things, meant…
I did as I was told and did what was expected of me.
I was respectful of others.
I did my best.
I was polite.
I followed the rules.
I didn’t make waves.
And, I grew up being taught and learning to be a good Christian which meant…
Showing up to church each week.
Sitting with my parents and my brothers in “our” pew.
Going to Sunday School and youth groups.
Learning about the Bible.
Putting my offering in the offering plate.
Being a good Christian was fundamentally about where I was and who I was with for a couple hours on a Sunday morning.
Being good, whether at church or in school or out with my friends on a Friday or on a date on Saturday night was primarily about being nice and and doing my part and not getting into trouble or causing trouble. Being good was and is a complement about who I was and who I am. Does any of this sound familiar?
But, here’s the thing….
The good I was taught to be
The polite and the respectful and the not making waves
Doesn’t always jive with the Bible which you and I claim to take seriously.
Or with who Jesus was and with what Jesus taught which we claim as the example and the foundation for how we are to live. Consider or reconsider the scripture reading for this morning. Jesus sends out the disciples to cure disease and to cast out demons. Good things, right? But to understand these verses we need to read them through their eyes and not our own. In reality, what Jesus commands the disciples to do was disruptive behavior when the cultural norm was you were not even to associate with or to include those types of people in who you were and what you did. The disciples were to raise the dead. Cleanse lepers. And in an act of repudiation and defiance shake the dust of their feet from the homes and communities which did not welcome who they were or what they were doing. Rather than being nice, Jesus tells them “to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.”
Am I misreading these verses about how disruptive this behavior and these actions were?
Before you answer, consider the next several verses.
The ones following on the heels of Jesus saying “be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves.” Again, Jesus speaking….
Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me…Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his children, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all because of my name.
(Matthew 10: 17-18 and 21-22a)
Doesn’t sound to me like being nice or being good.
All because they healed the sick and cleansed the lepers and cast out demons and proclaimed the coming of the Kingdom of God.
In his Commencement Speech to the graduates of Bates College in Maine in May, 2016, John Lewis, United States Congressman and Civil Rights leader and activist and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor, said this:
“It was Dr. King who inspired me to stand up, to speak up and speak out.
And I got in the way.
I got in trouble.
Good trouble, necessary trouble.”
Growing up, whether as a person or as a Christian, my lexicon never included or permitted the word good and the word trouble to be next to each other in a single sentence. But given the state of our country and our world…
The abusive and demeaning and dehumanizing rhetoric and behavior.
The predisposition to violence as a means to resolve problems.
The widening gap between those who have far more than they need and those who struggle for their daily bread.
The desperation of those who are uprooted and who flee from their homes and their communities.
Those alienation and segregation of those who are demonized because of the color of their skin, the country of their origin or the religion they practice.
Maybe what I learned needs to change.
Maybe I need to unlearn what I have spent a lifetime being taught.
All of which leads me to this question.
When was the last time you got into trouble because of what you believe?
Or, because of the values of your faith?
Or, because you stood up and spoke up and got in the way?
This may sound like a rhetorical question for you, but it is, in all seriousness, a question I have been wrestling with. Me who has spent a lifetime practicing being good and who works hard at keeping people happy.
We are good at being good.
We have mastered that lesson.
But, that is not what we are to be about. Not who we are called to be.
We are called to something more.
We are called to see the world like God sees the world.
We are called to work towards the world envisioned in the words “Thy Kingdom come.”
We are still called to heal the sick and to cast out demons.
We are called to stand against Death in whatever form Death takes.
We are called to shake the dust off our feet as repudiation against all that and all those who demean and defile and exclude and demonize others.
We are called to raise the dead and to practice resurrection.
All of that is disruptive behavior.
Rhetorical no longer…
When was the last time you got into trouble because of your faith?
One of my favorite quotes (I don’t know where it is from) is this.
If they get you asking the wrong questions they don’t have to worry about the answers.
I don’t have many answers…yet.
But, I think I am beginning to ask the right questions.