2018 February 25th - Following Jesus to Jerusalem: Breaking the level of resistance

The sharp-eyed among you may have noticed that the sermon title on the screen is different from the one in your printed order, and on the noticeboard outside.

I began preparing this message the way I always do, by focussing on the Gospel reading. I was drawn to the words of Jesus to the disciples and the crowds, after Peter rebukes him for his intention to take the road of suffering towards Jerusalem: "For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” Mk 8: 35. It seemed at first glance that the main issue here was the openness or otherwise to embracing a whole new set of values. As Rev Peter Walker writes in the WLTW commentary, "A disciple must unlearn the human impulse for power and learn instead the divine impulse for humanity.”

Then, as I moved to thinking about the wider context within which we live and move, it occurred to me that the deeper issue at stake was NOT whether or not we or the disciples were willing to embrace the core values in Jesus’ teaching about power and humility; about self-giving in service of others. After all, had the disciples not chosen to leave behind their old lives and means of support to be with him in offering of fullness of life to others? Were they not already committed to the way of self-giving and self-sacrifice? And would you and I not gladly give assent to Jesus’ words about loving and serving others?

I doubt that any of us here would argue against the altruistic nature and transformative power of Jesus’ teaching. Most of us, at least, have given our hearts to this way of being, this alternative ethic to the crass "greed is good” and "me first” way of the world.

No, I do not think Jesus’ teaching, challenging and confronting as it is, is the problem here. There is a deeper issue at stake. It is about the difficulty of actually enacting that teaching in a person’s life. It’s about striking and breaking through the level of resistance.

By way of illustration, some of us are familiar with the stock market reports at the end of the news. We hear people such as Alan Kohler talking about the All Ordinaries Index reaching a level of resistance through which it is very difficult for the share index to break. The index might rise to the resistance level and drop back three or four times before it finally breaks through. It can then move relatively unimpeded until it finds a new level of resistance.

In the ‘90s, when computers were coming into common use, Helen and I both hoped that we could finish our careers without having to learn how to use them. Very soon though, resistance became futile. The experience of not changing became more uncomfortable that the effort to make the change. It is like when person goes for counselling about an intractable problem in their lives. All good counsellors are ready for the client to offer resistance to change even when they know darn well what needs to happen. It is only when the discomfort or suffering involved in taking no action becomes worse than making the actual change, that people are able to break through their own level of resistance.

Meanwhile, on planet America, the National Rifle Association, and the Senators and Congressmen they keep in their pockets, are still putting up stern resistance to changes in their gun laws following the tragic gun massacre of 17 students and staff in Parkland Florida. There have been many such episodes in recent years, including multi-fatal shootings at Columbine and Sandy Hook schools. Each time, there has been an uprising of emotion, and each time the lawmakers have resisted calls for change. In this latest tragedy, a troubled under-aged teenager was able to go into a gun-shop and buy a weapon of war, the AR 15 for $130 dollars.

This time however, resistance to change is being severely tested by the school students themselves and their families, enraged as they are by grief and anger. It will take a mighty effort. The forces they are up against are rich, powerful and entrenched. The students are being accused of being the pawns of left wing anti-gun activists. They are also being patronised by the people in power, including their President. One undeniable fact is that each time a massacre happens, gun sales soar. The NRA says that to stop a bad guy with a gun takes a good guy with a gun. There is little evidence that this is true, but the fact is that, if people swallow this line, you get to sell two guns. Will the resistance be broken this time? I hope so with all my heart.

And lest we Australians take the high moral ground, based on the outstanding success of the Howard Government’s gun buyback following the Port Arthur massacre, we need to know that there are powerful influences in the corridors of power here who want to see our gun laws weakened, our markets opened up. They include Independent Senators David Leyonhjelm, a so-called "Libertarian”, and Bob Katter. Then, just days after the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas school massacre, Federal National MP George Christensen posted an image of himself on Facebook, pointing a handgun, with a caption that effectively threatened so-called ‘greenies”. He later declared it a "joke” but did not apologise, even after one of his admirers entreated Christensen to keep one bullet in reserve for Greens Senator Sarah Hansen Young. (I cannot repeat here what this idiot actually wrote)

Sometimes our society throws up situations that demand that we stop and take notice, lest the standard we walk past is the standard we accept; lest we fall asleep, or give up on the wrong side of the line of resistance.

In terms of the text of Mark 8, I don’t actually think that most people have a problem knowing right from wrong. Where we sometimes struggle is breaking our own resistance to actually acting in ways that are morally and ethically in line with the teachings of Jesus; actually walking the road of the common good.

This is the issue that Jesus faces with his disciples. On this occasion, when he first tells them of his intention to go to Jerusalem and meet his fate, Peter rebukes him. A short time later, Jesus tries again to tell them about the direction of the road ahead. Again they deny and deflect. A third time he tries, a third time they resist. It seems that, in some things, we have to approach the level of resistance more than once before we finally break through; when finally, the discomfort of not changing is greater than the discomfort of breaking new ground, of facing our fear.

The fact is that Jesus’ disciples do eventually take the road with him to Jerusalem. They do it, even though they falter more than once. They do it, even though at the end they could not stay awake and watch with him one hour in Gethsemane. They do it, even though, at the end, he is practically alone.

As is so often the case, for people of faith, the crucial issue is not so much what we believe, but what we actually do.

We might then, finally, reflect on how we sometimes get to break through, freeing us to new and deeper levels of service in the way of Christ.

Sometimes, like with the students in the USA, a breakthrough happens when we are caught up in critical incidents that bring home to us the raw material of human suffering. When we have been to that place, we can never be the same again. Something in us changes. For example, we may actually meet a refugee and learn first hand of their trials and hardships. We then test what we believe because of what the shock-jocks or politicians have told us, against what we have actually seen and heard.

Sometimes we break though the levels of our own resistance when we choose to travel a road that takes us away from the beaten track of comfort tourism. We take the risk of putting our feet on the ground where the outcome of being there is not entirely predictable.

Sometimes the breakout happens when we allow ourselves to be confronted with circumstances that challenge our conventional wisdom and our learned responses. Hopefully, going to church can do this to us from time to time. In fact, if this never happens in the sacred space of God, the holy ground of the Holy Spirit, then our being must be impervious indeed. For this is supposed to be a "thin” place, where we are really tempting the divine to break through just by having the audacity to be here.

But there is at least one more, one really crucial factor that facilitates breaking levels of resistance. It is perhaps the key reason why Jesus’ disciples, in spite of their denial, in spite of their apparent obtuseness, in spite of their abject and perfectly understandable fear, choose to accompany him to Jerusalem. It is simply this. He was their friend, and they loved and trusted him.

It reminds me of another incident, the death of Lazarus, where the disciples are trying to stop Jesus from going to Bethany, once again for fear of the religious leaders. When Jesus is adamant, it is Thomas, doubting Thomas who declares: Well we might as well go and die with him! In fact, he wasnot wanting them to go and die with him. He does not ask that much. But he did want them to walk the road with him. He wanted them to learn about themselves, and how far their faith could take them. The fact is that when people finally do break through their own levels of resistance, they are consistently surprised how much they can achieve.

Sometimes we do things for our friends; even when we think they are mad!

The call to break the level of resistance, to burst through the brick wall, is not a call to die in Jerusalem. That part has already been done for us. It is a call to walk the road. We do not have to have all the resources when we start out. Like Abraham and Sarah we do it as an act of faith, of trust in the one who befriends us and offers us a new way of life.

In the end, it is not about our high moral code, or our very fine set of values. In the end, it is about facing ourselves. In the end, it is about stopping at the point beyond which we have no intention of proceeding, then making liars of ourselves as we choose to go forward and give our lives for our friends; or even, at the extreme point of the moral continuum, for our enemies. As Jesus did.

site managed by freesites