Rev. Dr. Rodney Kennedy
What’s Jesus got to do with it? What’s Jesus but a gentle and mild old rabbi from yesteryear? Do we bomb, bomb, bomb North Korea? What’s Jesus got to do with it? Do we repeal Obamacare? What’s Jesus got to do with it? Do we regulate guns? What’s Jesus got to do with it? Can Jesus stop the violence in our streets? Maybe we answer, “Not much.” Or we say, “Nothing at all.” Or we think, “Everything.”
Maybe a more honest question would be, “Do we want Jesus in charge of our way of life?” If we actually knew what Jesus thought about violence, would we follow? If we knew exactly what Jesus commanded us to do about guns, would we do it? I don’t know. I ADMIT IT. I JUST DON’T KNOW FOR SURE. After all, we manage to keep Jesus out of most of our daily dealings already. And he doesn’t exactly have a successful track record. After all, the last time he tried to do something about zealous violence, the authorities convicted him of treason and hung him on a cross and left him to die. So tell me what’s Jesus got to do with it?
When was the last time you actually invited Jesus for a mental cup of coffee and sought out his opinion about what you should do in a messed-up world? Some Christians, on the left and on the right, are pretty sure they know Jesus is on their side. They are not troubled like the rest of us ordinary believers. They are “true believers” and for “true believers” there are no hypotheses, no doubts; there’s only the truth. It’s not that they expect Jesus to do anything, because if Jesus did something, they might not like what Jesus did. They expect Jesus to be on their side and protest what they protest and oppose what they oppose and support what they support. Jesus, instead of being a savior, has become a sponsor. His name is plastered on one side or the other of every social issue. Is Jesus your savior or sponsor?
Please sense my personal frustration at this point. I worry that we are so captured by the idolatries and ideologies of partisan politics that Jesus has been distorted until he is no longer recognizable. Liberal Jesus or conservative Jesus? Who knows? I saw a Jesus doll on the internet. He was dressed in Army Ranger get up and had a AK-47 strapped on his back. I heard a Baptist pastor say he would not vote for Jesus because Jesus was soft on terrorism. That’s heresy. Jesus isn’t after our votes; he wants our hearts. I heard one of Jesus’ followers tell our president that God had authorized the USA to take out North Korea. I’m not sure we believe the gospel any more. If we believed the gospel, there ought to be something that we could commit our lives to doing that has nothing to do with the idols of this world. There ought to be something Christians could do, in the name of Jesus, that didn’t include money, politics, polls, surveys, focus groups, committee meetings, budgets, or buildings. But what would it be?
The first church I ever encounter that makes decisions without worrying and fretting about money will restore my faith in the church.
Just once, just once, why not trust the gospel? Will Campbell wrote to the National Council of Churches General Board of Social Concerns: “We just can’t quite trust the power of the Gospel message. There just must be something we can add, some gimmick, some technique, some strategy. Just this once I wanted to rely only upon this [the gospel] and if it wasn’t enough then let it not be enough. I am more and more convinced that it is enough if our witness to it is faithful. I am likewise more and more convinced that it is all we have to offer as the Church.” Liberals don’t trust the gospel, they trust the government. Conservatives don’t trust the government and they worry that Jesus is a socialist. They even produced a “conservative” version of the Bible in which they deleted all the suspicious stories about rich people and all the actions that they thought might be socialist.
I want to rely on the gospel. I want to see the power of the gospel at work. I’m feeling like old man Simeon this morning. He was looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.* 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon* came into the temple; and when he saw the baby Jesus, 28Simeon* took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master“, now you are dismissing your servant* in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation.’31 32
In a world that shouts, “Show me the money,” I say, “Show me the gospel!” When the warmongers shout, “Bomb North Korea,” I say, “May the peace of the Lord be with you all.” Money will not save us. Guns will not save us. Nuclear war heads will not save. Not by power or might but by my spirit says the Lord. But I don’t think we believe it.
I think I might have a way forward for us. It’s in the opening words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. “Repent, and believe in the good news.”* The first word of the gospel is “Repent.” Skipping the repenting, we went right to believing. Oh man, we are all over the “believing” part of the gospel. Baptists have beliefs coming out of our ears, oozing out of our mouths. A certified accountant couldn’t make a list of all the Baptist beliefs, many of them contradictory, some even a bit silly. Lists and lists of beliefs because Baptists are addicted to believing. Fundamentalist Baptists believe in a literal Bible with no errors, the second coming of Jesus, the bodily resurrection, and something called the Rapture. Baptist church websites often have an entire section dedicated to beliefs.
Now, I think I have at least a clue to why it is so hard to let Jesus be Jesus. We want to make Jesus in our own image. BUILD-A-JESUS store at the mall of Christianity. Christians are always messing with Jesus. It’s like Jesus is the perennial guest on ELLEN for a makeover. Messing with Jesus is a historical reality. Herod tried to kill him as a baby. The Evil One went after him on the mount of temptation. His family came and tried to drag him home because they thought he was “out of his mind” crazy. His disciples tried to stand in his way and keep him from the cross. His tormentors shouted at him to come down from the cross and save himself. No one lets Jesus be Jesus. It didn’t take the church but one generation to fall into vicious fights over the nature of Jesus. Was he divine? Was he human? Heresies sprouted up around Jesus like weeds. The Gnostics, who are with us still, almost completely wrecked the image of Jesus as Son of God, Son of Man. We don’t really want Jesus because the only thing we gain is a cross and the peace that comes from knowing that we have been his good servants. If we are honest, we admit that St. Paul makes us nervous. Fanatics always make us nervous. We are not comfortable around people with that much passion for Jesus, that relentless determination to know Jesus, to know Jesus, and to only know Jesus.
We want to be admirers but not disciples. We want credit but without the sacrifice. Here’s an analogy. During the Civil Rights movement, that was a protest in Albany, Georgia. A group of Northern clergy had flown in to Atlanta to be bused the 180 miles to Albany. They came to get arrested by Sheriff Pritchett and add that arrest to their Civil Rights movement vita. Will Campbell and Andrew Young decided that having gone to all that trouble, the preachers shouldn’t be bailed out so quickly, so they didn’t pay the bail until the next day. Some of them were really mad the next day. “Now look. We agreed to come and be arrested. We didn’t agree to come down here and stay overnight in this nasty rotten jail with no air conditioning, no cigarettes, no beer, nothing but this Georgia heat.” That’s how we operate. We want the credit but we want to skip the gut-wrenching hard work of actually repenting.
Well, the time has come for repentance. We have been too proud, too self-righteous about God being on our side and too infatuated with being right. Repentance, it turns out, is not one and done work. It’s not something we did at age twelve and said, “Thank God that’s over.” That’s why the church makes it possible for people to confess and repent often.
Once again we must turn to Jesus, not in some pious, sentimental way, but in a serious, intelligent, and passionate embrace. It’s Jesus, Christian, so there has to be a church where offenders are forgiven. There has to be a church where suffering in the face of violence is embraced. There has to be a church where wealth is shared with generosity. There has to be a church that offers a new order for the corrupt one in which we exist. There has to be a church where enemies are loved and forgiven. There has to be a church where peace is the alternative to our sickening violence. There has to be a church that lives out the good news of Jesus Christ in service and sacrifice. What’s Jesus got to do with it? Absolutely everything. He is the maker and sustainer of the universe and in him all things cohere and stick together. So in a nation coming apart at the seams, I say Jesus, brothers and sisters. It’s Jesus and nothing else.