These are dangerous times. I don’t think that is a controversial statement. The world order is being rattled severely. Nationalist politicians are winning leadership positions in many nations, especially in Europe. Let me be clear, nationalism is different from patriotism.
Merriam-Webster.com defines nationalism as “exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.”
By nationalism, I mean politicians that are anti-immigrant to the point of blaming immigrants for the problems in any given country, along with other nationalist oriented policies. And not just blaming, but implementing policies that are designed to kick immigrants out of their nation. This, by the way, is the classic definition of scapegoating – to put the sins of a community or nation on a goat and send it away, thus the community can believe that all its sins have been cast out. Except, scapegoating doesn’t actually clear a community or nation of its sins. It just covers them up with a lie.
Many of these nationalist politicians utilize fear and anger rhetorically to push their agendas. Scapegoating requires there to be an enemy that is to be feared.
And we just had the US President openly siding with a foreign government regarding interference in US elections, in spite of the fact that pretty much every one agrees that Russia interfered with our elections. On top of this, long-established international relationships are not healthy at the moment. There is a high level of anxiety racing throughout the world.
So what is a follower of Jesus to do? Are we to be anxious? Are we to fight? Are we to resist? Are we to attack? What?
Or do we look to Jesus? Is that different from the other options?
This much I know, there is not a nice easy answer to this. Difficult times call for difficult decisions. Difficult times call for solid faith. Difficult times call for prophetic voices. If following Jesus were easy in difficult times, then everyone would be doing it. Instead, difficult times are not easy. And following Jesus is certainly not easy.
The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are not easy to follow:
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
‘Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Jesus doesn’t say only follow these and be these when times are easy.
Jesus is constantly inviting people to follow him. Yet there always seems to be an excuse.
Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side. A scribe then approached and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Another of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’
Jesus certainly didn’t say follow me to this disciple when times were good – but rather in a very difficult situation – the death of his father.
But here’s the thing – following Jesus isn’t about following him in the easy times. It’s all about the difficult times.
‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling-places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way to the place where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’
Jesus says the above quote not long before he is handed over and then crucified. It wasn’t an easy situation. And Thomas asks a valid question. Discipleship often leaves us with unanswered questions and make us feel blind and lost.
Our faith isn’t there for us for the easy times when the waters are still and we can see the shore clearly. Faith is given to us for just a moment as this – when the waters are a storm and we are perishing.
On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’
“Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” That’s what the disciples and many of us are asking Jesus. And, just like in the story, we aren’t getting a verbal response that we want. Instead, Jesus asks the disciples and us an important question – “Why are you afraid? Have you still not faith?” Do we ignore Jesus’ question like the disciples, too easily distracted by the storm and the miracle to pay attention to what Jesus is saying?
How do we respond to the storm of this world that is currently building?
I don’t know the full answer to that. I can’t see the shoreline and the water is coming into the boat.
But this much I know – Jesus is asking us right now this important question: “Why are you afraid?”
Why are you afraid? Do you really believe Jesus, what he teaches, who he is, and what he commands us to do?
Then why are you afraid?
Maybe you are right there with the disciples and asking their question – “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” Jesus doesn’t answer that question and for good reason. He doesn’t promise that we get to escape death. He promises that death doesn’t have the final say. In fact – this is uncomfortable for us if we are willing to admit it – Jesus calls on us to die daily.
Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.
Jesus doesn’t promise us safety and security. He calls on us to die daily. To deny ourselves. To follow him. To step into the unknown with trust. To look at death square in the face and tell it that it can do its worst, but it doesn’t have the final say – God does.
What is a follower of Jesus to do in these stormy times? Follow Jesus. That will take different shapes and forms for different people. For some it will mean speaking up. For some it might mean protesting the powers that be. For some it might mean serving. For some it might mean prayer. We are each gifted and called in unique ways to follow Jesus.
Follow what he calls us to do. And what is it that he calls on us to do? The simple version is to participate in the unfolding of the Kingdom of God – to participate in an alternative way of living and living in community. To love, even those that are our enemies. To offer mercy, even to those who are merciless. To be a peacemaker, even when peace is not welcome. To forgive, even when it is not deserved. To offer grace, even when it is not welcome. To serve the least among us, even when service doesn’t seem to make a difference. To make disciples, even when discipleship is not appealing. To die daily to self, even when we’d rather be in charge.
I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t even know what all the questions are. I don’t judge those who would respond differently from me – at least I try not to. There are certainly good arguments for other responses. And I believe people respond in the best way they know how.
This is my path. This is the path I walk on. It is a road I am called to walk down. You are welcome to walk with me. Regardless of the path you take, I will hold you in prayer. Please do the same for me. What is your path? Maybe our paths intersect. Maybe they are on the same path. Maybe they aren’t. But let us go forward, holding each other in prayer and then carrying out the Kingdom.