Posts Tagged ‘ theology ’

Jesus is not safe.

Below is the homily I preached at Church of Reconciliation this past Sunday with a nod of thanks to Scott Bader-Saye.

For the sake of Stewardship themes, we switched the gospel readings with the coming Sunday, so here is the Gospel text used for this sermon.


I’ve been reading a book called Following Jesus in a Culture of Fear, written by the Ethics professor at the seminary in Austin, Scott Bader-Saye.  In the final chapter of the book, “The Risk of Generosity,” Scott writes:

we [Americans] have become habituated to an ethic of safety.  That is, we have begun to think about safety as the goal we should pursue above all others.  I was recently reading about a report by the Council of Europe, the human rights arm of the EU, on the U.S. practice  of “extraordinary rendition,” sending prisoners  to other countries  for interrogation practices that would be illegal under U.S. law.  Whether, or to what extent, the United States does this is under dispute, but what was most interesting about the article was not its actual content.  Rather, what caught my attention was a comment posted by a [reader and] visitor to the BBC website in response to this story: “Whatever it takes to keep our world safe.”

Scott shares this disturbing comment in the context of writing about how we have in many ways made safety and security our primary goals, and much of his book is spent contrasting those desires with the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God as it is described in our sacred texts.

I think we can use this lens of safety and security to interpret the odd discussion between the Zebedee boys, James and John, and Jesus in this morning’s verses from Mark’s Gospel.  Jesus has shared with his closest students and friends now, at least three times, that they are headed toward Jerusalem and that there he will be handed over to the authorities and that they will kill him. Now maybe for James and John, like the rest of the disciples, this hasn’t sunk in, they don’t get what Jesus is really saying, but I think they do.  I think the brothers have realized that Jesus is serious about this being killed stuff and I think it scares them. I think this news unnerves them and makes them concerned about their own safety.  Like toddlers testing the limits with a parent, they even try to trick Jesus into answering their question before they’ve asked:

“So, Jesus…um…John and I would like to ask you something.  Would you promise to do what we ask of you?  We’d, uh….well, um….when you come into the glorious kingdom, can we, you know…can you promise us that we will be the ones sitting closest to you…what I mean is, from that point on and forever thereafter, James wants to be at your left side and I want to be at your right.”

In other words, “can you promise us that in the end, not matter what, the two of us will be safe, dialed in, right next to you so that we are secure from any harm?”  Now you’ve got to give them credit for having great trust, great belief, that Jesus has the power to keep them safe if they simply stay beside him. On the other hand, pun intended, in making safety and security their desire, their primary goal for themselves, they’ve completely missed the mark on what the coming of the kingdom – Jesus’ glory – really brings.
And I’m afraid it’s mistake that you and I too often make: that being with Jesus means no harm will come to us.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite parts of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.  (And I’m paraphrasing here…)Lucy has arrived in Narnia and has begun making friends with the Beavers.  She’s heard already of the Great Aslan but for the first time she’s realized that he’s not a person, but a lion. A bit startled at this revelation, she asks, “But he’s quite safe, isn’t he?”

And Mrs. Beaver answers with a litany of Aslans attributes and what he’s done in the realm of Narnia, which Lucy thinks has not answered her question. “Yes, but is he quite safe?” she asks again, a bit desperate.

“Dear Girl,” shouts Mr. Beaver, “Haven’t you been listening to anything Mrs. Beaver has been saying? No, Aslan isn’t safe.  He’s a lion!  He isn’t safe at all! But he is good…”

Following Jesus isn’t safe.
It never has been.  Just ask those first disciples.  Ask James and John.
Jesus pretty much rebukes, even more harshly than Mr. Beaver rebukes Lucy.
“Jesus, Grant us to sit, one at your right and one at your left.”
And his answer is, “You don’t know what you’re asking me.”

And they don’t.  The only other time in the entire Gospel of Mark that the phrase “one at the right and one at the left,” is used is in describing the two criminals crucified with Jesus.  James and John’s very words are the words used a few stories later to describe the cruciform geography of Golgatha.  This is no accident.  Mark is a better writer than that, and he knows how the story ends.
The Gospel writer is showing his audience is showing us, that following Jesus isn’t safe at all.
That being a disciple means going all the way to the cross.  And not just to Jesus’ cross.
To our own crosses as well.

Take up your cross, the Savior said,
if you would my disciple be;
deny yourself, the world forsake,
and humbly follow after me.

Jesus doesn’t promise safety.  He never did.
In fact, he promises that following him will lead to your death…to many deaths…to your dying to many things.  Because his way isn’t about self preservation.

And so, his promise to James and John isn’t the one they ask for, and it’s a promise not only for the two of them, but for all his followers, even you and even me.

At the end of this morning’s gospel Jesus promises that in his realm,
masters become masters not because they lord it over others like a tyrant, but because they serve.

In his realm, those of us who have more than enough stop worrying about needing more – we cease tucking away and keeping our wealth and blessings to ourselves, and instead practice pouring out what we have, out of God’s own abundance in our lives.

In his realm, our motivations shift away from giving or sharing with our brother or sister because of the blessings we receive when we do that sacred work, until our sole motivation for giving becomes the upholding of our end of the covenant which is blessing others.

In his realm, we do things like letting go of all pretense, letting go of what we are comfortable with, so that we can get on our hands and knees to wash someone’s feet.

And so, you see, if you, with James and John are looking for security and safety, you’re looking in the wrong place.

This Jesus, he’s a lion!  He isn’t safe at all!  But he’s good.  He’s good.