Sunday, July 01, 2007

Pentecost 5 - Year C

“Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus says.

Anthony Pratkanis and Elliot Aronson, in their book Age of Propaganda offer this advice for those aspiring to become cult leaders.

Number One: Create your own social reality, usually meaning to cut all ties with family and friends, making the cult your immediate family.

Number Two: Create a granfalloon, by which they mean to create an “in-group” and an “out-group,” constantly reminding the “in-group” that if they want to be part of the chosen group then they must think and act like a chosen group.

Number Three: Establish the leader’s credibility and attractiveness by creating myths or legends concerning the life and times of the leader. The more fantastic the better.

Number Four: Send members out to proselytize and fundraise.

Sound familiar?

“Follow me. Let the dead bury their own dead,” Jesus tells an earnest God seeker. “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

To the naked eye, Jesus sounds like the cult leader that the book describes. And maybe he sounded that way to this man and his family as well.

All the guy wanted to do was bury his dad. He wanted to say good bye to those at home. Jesus had him hooked and dangling on the line. This guy was willing to follow Jesus.

But Jesus cuts him down and throws him back. Not good enough. Too committed to family. Didn’t have full devotion to this wandering guru who came out of nowhere.

That’s pretty harsh, don’t you think? Is that what Jesus REALLY expects of us? What would happen if people followed Jesus that way now?

“What kind of horse manure are putting in my kid’s head?” a very angry dad roared as he burst into Dean Willimon’s office at Duke University Chapel.
“What are you talking about?” Willimon asked, innocently.

“She’s changed her major from business to social work. And now she’s signed up to squat in some third-world jungle for two years, digging ditches, teaching kids how to read, and helping start churches. And she says that it was at YOUR bible study that she realized that this is what God wants her to do! I didn’t pay her Duke University tuition to have her throw her life away in some bug infested swamp! I’ll thank you for not sticking your big nose in my kid’s life. That’s MY job!”

“Wait just a second,” Willimon protested. “Why are you blaming me? You’re the one who took her to be baptized, right?”


“You’re the one who told her bible stories growing up, didn’t you?”


“You’re the one who drove her to Sunday school and church youth group, correct?”


“Then why are you surprised when she wants to live like a Christian?”

“I just wanted her to get a little religion, some moral guidance,” the dad shouted. “I just didn’t want her going out and getting drunk or sleeping with her boyfriend. I didn’t want her life turned inside out!”

In other words, he wanted the dead bury their own dead; and not proclaim the kingdom of God.

This is what happens when peoples’ expectations and God’s call collide.

A preacher was asked whether he, as a Christian could support the war in Iraq.

“No, I can not,” the preacher said. “I could never support bombing, particularly bombing civilians, as an ethical act.”

“That’s what I expected you to say,” the man said. “That’s so typical of you Christians. Always on the moral high ground, aren’t you? You get so upset when a suicide bomber kills innocent children in a crowded marketplace, but you get your knickers in a knot when someone tries to do something about it.”

“You know, you’re right,” the preacher said, “It isn’t a particularly Christian reaction, is it? It isn’t only Christians that have qualms about the war. What would be a distinctly CHRISTIAN response to the Iraq situation? Maybe a Christian response would be for our denomination to send 1000 missionaries to Iraq. After all, we’ve discovered that Iraq a fertile field for the gospel. We know how to send missionaries. That’s at least a CHRISTIAN response.”

“You can’t do that,” the man said.

“Why not?” the preacher replied.

“Because the government issued a travel alert for anyone going to Iraq. You won’t be able to get a visa.”

“No, that’s not why,” the preacher said, “I’ll admit that we can’t go to Iraq but not because the government won’t let us. We can’t go because we no longer have a church that produces people who can do something this bold, like we once did.”

In other words, we’re forgotten that the dead are to bury their own dead; so we can go proclaim the kingdom of God.

I don’t know about you, but to me it seems that North American Christianity has devolved into nice-ianity, where people watch their language, don’t get too passionate, don’t become some religious nut.

But I think Jesus is asking us to re-kindle the fire of our faith. Maybe even shaking in fear as follow the poor man from Nazareth.

CS Lewis was an atheist who taught at Oxford and Cambridge Universities in England who came to faith in Jesus through his friendship with JRR Tolkien. Lewis then wrote the well-know and widely read Chronicles of Narnia where Lewis tries to explain what it would look like if God entered the world. In his story, Jesus is a lion named Aslan.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, four children magically enter Narnia, and they first hear about Aslan from Mr. and Mrs. Beaver. They were frightened to learn that he was a lion and asked if he was tame.

“I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion,” said Susan, one of the children.

“That you will, dearie, and make no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver, “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” asked Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you...? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king.”

Mr. Beaver is right. Jesus isn’t safe. That’s what that grieving son learned. Also the angry dad and preacher’s interrogator.

Jesus can’t be pinned down. He may ask us to do crazy things in his name, all for the kingdom of God.

But may not be safe. But he is good. He may have looked like a cult leader, but if you concentrate, he never draws attention to himself. He always points beyond himself to the kingdom God. The kingdom life and peace, mercy and forgiveness.

So pray for courage. Pray for boldness. So when Jesus asks you to put your hand to the plow, your eyes may be fixed over to the horizon where the kingdom of God is beginning to peak.

May this be so among us. Amen.


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