They come, fast and furious, full of conviction and commitment, rushing onto my screen and into my ears with more speed and intensity than my soul can manage.
Repent, these writers and preachers tell me, repent from where you have gone wrong. Turn away from the error of your ways.
It’s a lot to take in, and I’m sure I don’t understand it all. But this much is clear – they are here to save my soul.
Not to lift me out of the depths of a life without God or to free me from the pain of sin that has long bound me. No, they are here to offer me the salvation that comes from seeing the wisdom in their point of view and the rightness of their side.
Our fundamental problem isn’t the pervasiveness of sin within the human condition or the perpetual brokenness in all of us. No, the problem is with those other people – those people.
There is a looming apocalypse coming, they warn me. It can be avoided, they want me to know, but only if we will choose the way of light. That light, of course, just happens to shine through their way of thinking. Listen to me, and more importantly vote with me, and we all just might make it out alive.
The frequency of these sermons has only increased in the cauldron of national Presidential politics and more locally by the looming meeting of our denomination’s every-four-year policy making event that sometimes morphs into Church Death Match: Methodist Edition.
The increased regularity of these sermons hasn’t made them any more effective, because they rarely get around to something that is essential to a Christian conversation – Jesus.
Their monologues don’t have the power to compel because they are always about the downfalls of someone else – what someone else should do, how someone else has missed the point, and why someone else has been doing it all wrong. They are missing humanity and vulnerability – the hallmarks of the life-changing and soul-shaping conversations that Jesus had.
But Jesus, if we can trouble ourselves to listen to him, has some good advice for those of us with strong opinions and passionate convictions, advice he shared a long time ago with someone who was known to be passionate if not always wise.
It comes near the end of John’s Gospel, in the scene where Jesus famously restores Peter to leadership by reminding him that love for God is about caring for and providing for God’s people. It’s the same moment when he previews for Peter the awful and painful death that awaits him.
Upon hearing this news, Peter discovers another disciple walking behind them, and can’t help himself. He wants to know about his future, and whether this disciple will face the same kind of death that awaits him.
It is a question ripe with jealousy and a question that Jesus knows how to swat away.
“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”
What is that to you? You must follow me.
Jesus reminds Peter and me that our most important task is to devote ourselves to becoming and growing as a disciple of Jesus. The most important thing in our lives isn’t telling other people what to do. No, it is to grow in the love and knowledge of God so that his way becomes our way.
It isn’t hard, Jesus might say, to look at someone else and find the places where they fail to live up to the standard. Anyone can do that. It is much more difficult, and much more important, to worry about your faith, to analyze your own standing with God, to confess your own sins, and to respond to God’s generous grace by working out your own faith with holy fear and trembling.
This shouldn’t surprise us – this is the same guy who long ago drove the image of a log sticking out of someone’s eye into our imaginations and taught us that the best way to pray was Thy will be done.
You must follow me.
We also pray Thy kingdom come. At their best, these passionate attempts to shape debate and change opinions come from a holy place of trying to follow Jesus – a place of deep longing to see the church become more faithful and a real desire to live a holy life of justice and mercy that flows from a commitment to loving God.
But we might have better conversations and we might be able to find that elusive third way that seems harder to find than the eye of the needle if we took a season to worry less about changing someone else’s mind and more about allowing God to change us.
Justice and holiness are part of Resurrection faith, but so too is a humility that expresses itself in worrying first about ourselves.
What is that to you? You must follow me.