‘Life Beyond Complacency’

Posted: January 18, 2021 in Uncategorized

‘Life Beyond Complacency’       

In the traditional teachings of the church, following Jesus or ‘discipling’ has become an important theme in church life. In fact, it could be said that it is in the very fabric or DNA of the church and this makes it hard to conceptualize any other way of being. But I want to try because I think the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth is calling us to do so.

The first place I want to start is with an assumption, and that is that we need to defend the faith so to speak. This defense has become so ingrained that we have lost sight of what the historical Jesus was on about. I don’t think he was on about saving Judaism, his faith, but rather about challenging it to move away for its assumptions and its complacency and arrogance. We might visit what is known as Apologetics (from Greek meaning, “speaking in defense”. Apologetics is the religious discipline of defending religious doctrines through systematic argumentation and discourse. Early Christian writers (c. 120–220) who defended their beliefs against critics and recommended their faith to outsiders were called Christian apologists. In 21st-century usage, apologetics is often identified with debates over religion and theology. Another claim is that apologetics is the spreading of the Christian gospel by public preaching or personal witness.

One might say ‘Through zealous advocacy or support of a particular cause. I arrived in a state of high evangelism” In Christianity, evangelism is the commitment to or an act of publicly preaching the gospel with the intention to propound the message and teachings of Jesus Christ. … In addition, Christian groups who encourage evangelism can be referred to as evangelistic. Just look at the recent debacle in the USA as the credibility of the Christian Gospel has been the servant of political power.

And the irony of it all is that no one is unreachable when it comes to seeking Jesus’ love, grace and hope. Having a God or a Jesus-confidence doesn’t mean we need to have everything figured out. Just like being a Christian doesn’t mean we won’t struggle, in life. it means we won’t struggle alone. Because we are human and we should not deny that or seek to escape from it. The Gospel is surely to enable us to live it more abundantly or as Jack Spong puts it, ‘Love wastefully”.

This morning’s story by the storyteller we call Mark, is one such story.
The calling of Simon and Andrew, James and John is an evangelism event. A calling event. And by implication, the commencement of a movement which centred on the character and teachings of the wandering sage we call Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus certainly had followers.  Both men and women. It was one of the most common ways in which teaching and learning took place. The call was not as we have intensely made it about converting others to believe as we do but rather as calling people to walk the way, to live life free from complacency, free from the prisons of institutionalisation, free from culture assumptions. Not to deny their existence or banish them from one’s mind like some magic exorcism but to creatively live them differently.

And one of those assumptions we note is that while we can learn something of the roles men took in this process, from the various stories in our biblical tradition, the role women took goes almost unnoticed until we read the Gospel of Mary – which didn’t make it into the biblical collection. Is another assumption that only a male approach to spreading the good news is appropriate? Is there a feminine approach to spreading the good news?

What we do seem to admit is that we doubt whether Jesus actually took the initiative and carried out a recruitment drive, with the intention of organising a movement. I tend to agree with those who claim Jesus was a wandering or itinerant sage without organisational intentions, and who never intended to found a movement much less a church.

He was I think a Jesus who was thoroughly consumed in the religious/political concerns of his own time and place. He knew his Judaism, he knew his culture and its place in the world. He knew the power points in his society and he saw an alternative way of being in this world.

I think he was a Jesus whose focus was not on some mystified realm beyond time,
nor on some present or future world which we simply appreciate or accept. Rather, he was a man whose focus was on a new realm of God here and now, and ready to emerge.  (Coverston 2005)

So, what we have in this particular story this morning, is more the hand of the storyteller Mark or a particular community, rather than a record of one of the actual deeds of Jesus.

Either way, storyteller Mark seems to have a collection of stories and sayings and theological reflections, some probably written fragments, but most retold and remembered from oral telling, and is weaving all of them together.  Adapting and weaving them together with a particular purpose in mind. That purpose being for that small community he was speaking to could honour Jesus in the tradition of the Hebrew prophets… That they could hear a link between “Jesus’ ministry and John’s preceding one” (Cairns 2004:16) and that they could hear and understand, remember and be empowered as people of the Way.

Not an alternative religion because that would lead to defense of it but rather a new Way.

In the traditional teachings of the church, following Jesus or ‘discipling’ has also been associated with the evangelical missionary endeavour of ‘saving souls’. Certainly, that is how many preachers have understood the metaphor, spoken exclusively it would seem to Simon and Andrew: ‘make you fishers of men’ or the more inclusive, ‘…people’. But this metaphor is not only very tired and outdated,
it is also, I suggest, a misrepresentation of Jesus’ life and teachings.

I wonder if you might consider a few suggestions on all this?

Scholar Ched Myers, in his comments on this story, offers an important and different interpretation, which suggests phrases like ‘fishers of men’ and ‘hooking of fish’ are (Hebrew prophets) euphemisms for judgement upon the rich.

Myers says initially: “Taking this mandate for his own, Jesus is inviting common folk to join him in his struggle to overturn the existing order of power and privilege”.

And again: “…following Jesus requires not just assent of the heart, but a fundamental reordering of socio-economic relationships. The first step in dismantling the dominant social order is to overturn the ‘world’ of the disciple… This is not a call ‘out’ of the world, but into an alternative social practice.” (Myers 2008: 132-133)

Not a call ‘out’ of the world, but into an alternative social practice. Those words by Myers resonate with me. Because they suggest to me that being a disciple in the 21st century requires us to engage in both social analysis as well as theological reflection. And in so doing, to be reminded that the biblical and extra-biblical stories we hear and study and speculate about, are not just earthly stories with heavenly meanings, but earthy stories with heavy meanings!

Last week I spoke a little about the American celebration called Martin Luther King Day, a celebration more at home in America.

Some years back, journalist James Carroll, wrote an article called ‘The Dream and its Enemies’. In it he suggested that while the outright racism of white supremacists was one of King’s enemies, “almost equally infuriating to King was the complacency of the vast majority of Americans that allowed inequality to thrive.” (Carroll. ‘Globe’, a New York Times Co. 2008)

Carroll went on: “This nation honours Martin Luther King Jr today because of what he forced on it.  Recognitions that followed his challenge have taken on the character of rock-solid truth.  Segregation by race is deeply wrong, and the institutions of government that supported it were indefensible.  King’s work freed whites as well as blacks from the prison of an inhuman perception, but, in fact, few white people ever came to see things as he did.” (Carroll)

Not a call ‘out’ of the world, but ‘into’ an alternative social practice… One wonders if New Zealand’s approach to equality and justice can also become a call into an alternative social practice? The numbers of Maori in prisons and in gangs suggests we are not doing all that well. We have either become trapped in the world of complacency or blinded to any alternatives by lack of faith.

Discipling, as the storyteller we call Mark suggests, is about accepting the urgent invitation to ‘break with business as usual’.  To re-imagine the world, both personal and communal. In our time might it not also suggest that complacency, in all its forms, is the last thing we should fall into.

Cairns, I. J. Mark of a Non-realist. A Contemporary Reading of the Second Gospel. New Zealand: Masterton. Fraser Books, 2004.
Coverston, H. S. “Ears to Hear? Who is my Neighbour? Preaching with Integrity and Moral Reasoning”. Seminar Papers, Westar Institute, Fall. Santa Rosa, 2005.
Myers, C. Binding the Strong Man. A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus. Special edition. Maryknoll. Orbis Books, 2008.


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