What would Jesus Do?
Sermon preached by The Reverend Charles Royden, 17 September 2006
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, "Who do people say I am?" They replied, "Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Peter answered, "You are the Christ." Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again. He spoke plainly about this, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. "Get behind me, Satan!" he said. "You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men." Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."
I suppose quite a few of you will have seen the letters WWJD, often used on a bracelet as a fashion thing the letters stand for
What Would Jesus Do?
The wearer indicates that they seek to live their lives and make their decisions and choices mindful of always considering what Jesus would do in the same situation. I think that the idea is both brilliant and ridiculous. Brilliant because we should consider carefully the way in which we live, but ridiculous to think that we can ever make the choices which Jesus would make in our situation.
I think of myself, can I honestly believe that Jesus would be ordained in the Church of England, it is preposterous, and we can soon end up in blasphemous territory! The idea that Jesus would ever be a vicar in a church which doesn't even yet give equality to women. Indeed would Jesus ever belong to a Christian denomination when he clearly believed that all his people should be one?
I noticed the comedy was taken even further recently by a bunch of clergy who gathered together and debated What Would Jesus Drive. The usual predictable stuff was mentioned, Jesus would drive a Toyota Prius because it is environmentally friendly (is it really - all that battery technology?), others thought he would just drive something small and economical.
Some said Jesus would drive a Honda because it says in the Bible that the disciples were 'in one Accord.'
The winning vehicle was some sort of camper van. Jesus would travel around having meals with folk in the back and giving out sandwiches. The thought of following a saviour in a camper van put me right off. I thought long and hard and decided he would have a Mitsubishi Warrior, one of those big trucks with lots of room in the back, because Jesus was a builder and he would need to take lots of building materials and tools around. The I read that the clergy had decided that Jesus would never drive anything big like an SUV or a 4x4 - there's a surprise!
I know that when Corinne and I but cars we always try to make the green choice. So now we have a light green car and a dark green Land Rover.
Enough of this - the point is that we all have set ideas about the kind of person that Jesus was and the choices which he would make and the truth of it is that we probably are well wide of the mark. Our Christian theologies and practices are influenced so much culturally and from all the stuff which we have inherited that it makes the idea of choosing the Jesus path very difficult.
If we think of the ministry and life of Jesus can we honestly say that we would find it easy to think that Jesus would allow a woman to massage his feet with really expensive perfume and wipe him with her hair? Jesus is just so full of surprises. This doesn't like the kind of boring guy who drives a camper van. Would Jesus have driven a Mercedes SLK if somebody gave him it as a present?
Its just so hard to figure what Jesus would have done, the last thing he would do is be predictable. How hard for us to live our lives convinced that we are making Jesus decisions.
Take the situation in arguably one of the most Christians countries in the world - America with a Christians President. Can we honestly believe that Jesus would make a pre-emptive strike against Iraq ? Yet that is a position supported widely by Christian leaders who seem to think that the fact that Iraq is Muslim country makes it fair game.
In case we get too comfortable casting criticism against America we also need to be reminded of our theology of the Just War. This has influenced our decisions on war over centuries. Can we honestly believe that the Jesus who gave us the beatitudes would endorse the concept of Just War?
If we were rid of our blind spots and able to hear Jesus it would perhaps be quite frightening.
This is the situation in which the disciples found themselves in the passage from Mark today. Peter realises who Jesus is, the Messiah, the Christ. From that they know what Jesus will do, sorting out the Romans would have been top of the list, and setting up his kingdom with them in the key positions of power.
Instead Jesus tells the disciples that he will suffer and die, and they
must follow in the same way. Who could blame Peter for being confused and
wanting Jesus to stop teaching in this way? Would God really let the healer
and wonder worker Jesus be a failure in his divine project? And more. How
could losing a life actually save it? Peter must have concluded that Jesus
was talking nonsense.
It is encouraging to know that Peter completely misunderstood who Jesus was and what his mission to the world was. There is hope for all of us. Fortunately Jesus didn’t give up on him and the others and go looking for better candidates. The reason we come to worship here today is to seek to try and listen to Jesus teach us what our discipleship entails so that we can try and practice it in our daily lives. We ask to be touched again and again by Jesus and we surrender our lives to the kind of discipleship he describes—dying to self and losing life for his sake. We are always in the process of getting our vision clarified.
Jesus invites us all to let go of our own ideas about who he is and what we should be and to think again.
17 September 2006