Tales of a Midwest Lutheran on the East Coast

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

What's worth fighting for?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Not your grandma's Revolutionary War!
Before last year, Alexander Hamilton was just the dead white guy on the ten-dollar bill who did some stuff during the Revolutionary War but we really can’t remember what. He wasn’t as famous as Washington or Jefferson or Paul Revere. At least, not until Lin-Manuel Miranda read an eight-hundred-page book about Hamilton on vacation and thought to himself – this would make a great musical!

It tells the story of the young and ambitions Scottish immigrant Hamilton and his heroics in the Revolutionary war and his complicated role in setting up this country for success. Hamilton was a brilliant man, but, when he took a side, he was all in… and he made some enemies along the way.

In beginning of the musical, Hamilton is gathered at the pub with his friends in the thick of the Revolutionary war. He wants to fight so badly he can taste it, and he says this to his fellow soldiers - “I am not throwing away my shot! …I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry, and I’m not throwing away my shot!”

Hamilton’s friend Aaron Burr, however, is NOT anxious to stick his neck out, and responds - “Geniuses, lower your voices. You keep out of trouble and you double your choices. The situation is fraught…If you talk, you gonna get shot!”

I’m more of an Aaron Burr than an Alexander Hamilton. Burr is observant, checks out all his options, looks before he leaps, sees where the wind blows before deciding the best course of action. Gets all the facts. Doesn’t rock the boat unnecessarily. Burr says of himself, “I'm not falling behind or running late. I'm not standing still, I am lying in wait.”

So, I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in finding today’s quotes from Jesus very uncomfortable. After telling the disciples what NOT to pack last week, Jesus informs his followers – and us - of some bad news. Following Jesus, the Prince of Peace, does not always lead to a life of peace and harmony, ice coffee and cupcakes. In fact, most of the time, it WILL be the cause of conflict.

Following Jesus means that we don’t follow other things. Following Jesus means that we have priorities that seems strange to the world. Following Jesus means we have to be a little less Aaron Burr and a little more Alexander Hamilton. Following Jesus is going to ruffle some feathers. Following Jesus means that the world will make us pick a side. And I for one really do not like that one bit.

And I am sure that Jesus’s hearers didn’t like that at all either. After all, Jesus was putting the thumbscrews on the primary source of identity at the time – the family unit. Your family was your security, your social status, your comfort zone, your whole world. When Jesus monkeys with that system, he sends shockwaves across society that causes divisions across even families – daughter against mother, father against son, people who grew up in the same house.

But the Prince of Peace who brings a sword isn’t the oxymoron that it seems to be. Jesus doesn’t bring division for the sake of division. Jesus causes division because of OUR LACK of UNITY. Us verses them. We’ve had thousands of years to become really really, REALLY good at that.

The world makes us choose sides. Or really, the world tries its hardest makes us choose THEIR side. The world tells us daily and even hourly that some types of people are worth more than others - that some should be hated and feared because of the color of their skin, because of what part of the world they come from, because of the name they call God, because of the kind of people they love and want to marry, because their bodies don’t fit the “right” body shape or ability.

The world tells us constantly that buying more stuff will make us happy, and to blind ourselves to the high cost to creation and to people feeling the effects of climate change in third world countries. The world tells us to be busier, make more money, put ourselves first, to use people and things up and throw them away. We see this every day, and we know how this plays out in our lives.

But let me tell you about Jesus’s side, what we call the Kingdom of God. Sometimes it is harder to see, because the works of this kingdom don’t often make the news. This kingdom tells us that all people, regardless of country of origin, skin color, orientation, gender, economic status, ability or disability is a beloved child of God created beautiful and worthy of being treated with dignity and love. The kingdom of God is for righting the wrong, freeing the oppressed, healing bodies and relationships, feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, resurrecting what has become dead, and losing our lives for the sake of others.

This kind of thing doesn’t get a lot of press. But this is the side Jesus calls us to mobilize for.
Hamilton, as in-your-face and brash as he was, and as much as I don’t like him because of it, was actually right. In the musical, he confronts his friend Aaron Burr with words that still ring true: “The revolution’s imminent. What do you stall for? If you stand for nothing, Burr, what’ll you fall for?”

Jesus tells his disciples – which includes us – that if they don’t stand for the kingdom, they will fall for the lies of the world. 

We have to pick a side. And the side we’re supposed to pick leads us down a road of misunderstanding at best, and outright hostility at worst. The world rejected Jesus when he picked God’s side. They even nailed him on a cross for the audacity of his choice.  How dare he choose love over family and country?

The world has much more power, more funding, more stealthy and crafty, has more support, and is better equipped and armed than we are. The odds seem overwhelming to little old US, when even Jesus did not escape their wrath?

The odds seem overwhelming, both then and now. How can we possibly have any chance of going up against all this? Do we have any chance at all?

When the movies we watch or the books we read are at their darkest, when it seems that there is no hope at all for the characters to get out of this mess, that they are going to give up and succumb to the darkness…. In the stories that we remember, at that moment, they are given just a little bit of hope.

In the Lord of the Rings, when Frodo and his friend Sam seem on the brink of being defeated by the evil that seeks them, Frodo is about to give up. But Sam says to him, “I know. It's all wrong. By rights we shouldn't even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were…Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t. Because they were holding on to something.”

Frodo asked, “What are we holding on to?”

Sam responds, “That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.”

Yeah, not this! 
In another part of the Return of the King, Aragorn sees the signal of his people that they are in trouble, and runs to his friend the king of Rohan, shouting “Gondor calls for aid!”

To which the king of Rohan responds: “and Rohan will answer.”

The good in this world, the kingdom of God, is worth fighting for. The world… NEEDS us. The downtrodden and disenfranchised call for aid… Jesus answers…..and so WE will answer.

Someday we hope that we will get the beat our swords to plowshares. Until then, we hold onto the cross, our weapon of love and hope and new life conquering death. Until that day, we fight and persist. Seminarian Lenny Duncan, a student that the Lutheran seminary in Philly, wrote this psalm:

Free us in mind, free us in Spirit.
Resurrect these bodies, resurrect this nation….
Your voice rises in my throat
Your justice is true
Your servant is ready
I will worship you until my legs give out
My lungs rise and fall one final time
I will stand on the watchtower until your kingdom come


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