Archbishop Michael Curry of the Episcopal Church said that Jesus came to begin a movement not an institution. “God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the Way. He came to show us the Way to life, the Way to love. He came to show us the Way beyond what often can be the nightmares of our own devisings and into the dream of God’s intending. That’s why Jesus called his first followers with the simple words ‘Follow me.’ Follow me and love will show you how to become more than you ever dreamed you could be. Follow me and I will help you change the world from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends.”
Jesus’ movement is about a radical transformation of the world, from the World as it Is into the World as it Should Be. We’re asked to view the present world from the perspective of God’s future renewal of creation, and to work with God to transform the unjust structures and systems that exist today. Living today as if that future world governed by justice, mercy and peace: where the rule of love is supreme, was complete. Seeking and serving Christ in all people, respecting the dignity of every human being, where there is no more war, violence, or tears.
Following him means making difficult choices, it means drinking the cup he drank and following him on the way to the foot of the cross. But sometimes that doesn’t seem to work for us as we have become a comfortable institution instead of an active movement. We’ve allowed ourselves to be relegated to certain certain times and places, as a personal and private religion instead of an active public faith of transformation. We also covet the things of the world, like power, prestige and objects. Since Adam and Eve ate that apple in the garden, we’ve wanted things we don’t have, things we’re not supposed to have, things other people have, we have turned away from the Way Jesus laid out for us. Henri Nouwen comments “The long painful history of the church is the history of people ever and again tempted to choose power over love, control over the cross, being a leader over being led.”
Enter James and John Zebedee. We aren’t really that different from John and James, these sons of Zebedee, are we? We might not make the same request to sit on Jesus’ left and right, but in our hearts we often covet the best, seek the top spot, the place of recognition, we fall back into the power systems of the world. As the Rev. Dr. Jana L. Childers says we “have Zebedee DNA in our genes.” This is the way we are, we cry what can you do for me Jesus instead of what you can I do for you Jesus.
But what is really up with the brothers Zebedee? Before we start disparaging the Zebedees too much, I want to wonder what might be going on with them. Are they really so clueless? Did they really not hear or see? After living through almost two years of Covid I look at this narrative from a slightly different perspective than I would have 3 years ago. I see James and John exhibiting common human characteristics, and I don’t believe they are ill-informed or clueless. They have heard the 3 passion predictions, they have witnessed miracles and healings, they do know that the Realm of God that Jesus is ushering in is different than what they expected.
Yet they are reacting to stressors in a manner we all do. They are hoping, praying and pretending that the world hasn’t changed, and that it will somehow go back to the way it was before. They are imaging if they continue like they used to that the changes that have occurred aren’t really as much as they really are. But in the words of the Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis, “there is no return to what once was after the heavens were ripped apart. There is no going back to life before the storm.”
However they still try to seek comfort in the familiar structures of the world that they knew even though it was a power domination system of glory, power and prestige. So does the Church today, as we deny the truth and try to reclaim even more privilege than should have existed in the Church in the first place.
But it won’t work. What once was, is no longer and what once worked does not work any longer. In our heart of hearts we know this but we don’t know how to fix it. We cannot have gone through the past few years of political populism, climate devastation, seen the terrible consequences of colonialism including the uncovering of the unmarked graves of children from residential schools, the rampant anti-Asian hate in our community (we have been called the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America), transitions, and the pandemic..isolation, and death without being changed. We can’t turn back the clock. But we can follow Jesus forward.
How we respond moving forward is what matters. Instead of being demoralized and trying to go back to what worked before, looking for the comfort and safety of the familiar old systems we need to realize that we are living in a time of rapid changes in our culture and in our fabric of existence and to adapt, innovate, transform as we seek to follow Jesus into the dream of the new reality. It is this kind of moment for James and John—for all the disciples, for us. Once Jesus enters Jerusalem, the world as we have known it will change forever. There is no going back to the life before the empty tomb.
There is no shame in acknowledging that our human nature pulls us in the direction of perceived safety of power, prestige and possessions. On the contrary, it’s in admitting to and facing these tendencies that we are freed to live the life of the discipleship of Jesus. Henri Nouwen said “only those who face their wounded condition can be available for healing and so enter a new way of living.” That new way of living, that way of wholeness that is modelled by Jesus.
Lutheran pastor and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his book The Cost of Discipleship, intimates that when we accept the call to discipleship, we are accepting a call to relieve ourselves of earthly possessions including a desire for status and power in order to find true life.
It’s true life that Jesus calls us into. A journey that we face with an Advocate, the Spirit which descended into the world to create it, descended on Jesus to mark him, a Spirit who stirred the hearts of the women to return to the grave and witness that death had no ultimate dominion over us. The Spirit who is actively recreating this world and continues to do so with and beside us. This Spirit transforms us, changing our perspectives to allow us to see the fullness of what we can be and to trust that the kingdom of God is near and it is here.
The journey take us to the cross where we encounter the rest of God’s children. It is the great equalizer. Healing occurs at the foot of the cross, where all of God’s children are gathered. “… they all stood beneath the cross, enemies and believers, doubters and cowards, revilers and devoted followers. His prayer, in that hour, and his forgiveness, was meant for them all, and for all their sins. The mercy and love of God are at work even in the midst of his enemies. It is the same Jesus Christ, who of his grace calls us to follow him, and whose grace saves the murderer who mocks him on the cross in his last hour,” said Bonhoeffer who continues…
“…If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us? What decisions and partings will it demand? To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer. Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows the journey’s end. But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy.”
And that brings us back to Archbishop Curry’s words. “God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the Way. He came to show us the Way to life, the Way to love. The way beyond the nightmares of our own devising. Love will show us how to become more than we ever dreamed we could be. Follow me and I will help you change the world
Now more than ever, we need to believe in those words.