How long, O Lord, will you look on? Rescue me from their ravages, my life from the lions! Then I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you. Do not let my treacherous enemies rejoice over me, or those who hate me without cause wink the eye. For they do not speak peace, but they conceive deceitful words against those who are quiet in the land. They open wide their mouths against me; they say, “Aha, Aha, our eyes have seen it.”
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. Whoever hates me hates me hates my Father also. If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. It was to fulfill the word that is written in their law, ‘They hated me without a cause.’”
It’s not altogether clear what the something is that happened, but something definitely happened.
We live in a very different world than we once did.
And I don’t just mean because of the pandemic.
There was a time when everyone seemed to assume that you would grow up, go to school, get married, have two kids, pay your taxes, and go to church.
That world no longer exists.
Whatever the something is that happened, it had a major impact on the church. For, it is no longer assumed that new people will keep streaming in through the sanctuary doors (back when we could have in-person services) nor will they willfully sit through an entire service from the comfort of their couches simply because that’s what people are supposed to do.
Church, now, is a choice. And it is a choice among a myriad of other choices regarding what we can do with our time.
So, how has the church responded to this something that happened?
Well, in large part, we’ve decided that the best path forward is to convince people to love us because we’re a people of love.
Which, all things considered, isn’t such a bad idea. God is love, after all. Jesus does tell us to love God and neighbor. Maybe, just maybe, love is all we need.
So we, as an institution, created banners proclaiming the necessity of love, we crafted sermon series about how God loves everyone just the way they are, we dropped the L word as often as we could when, frighteningly, we’re not entirely sure we know what we mean when we talk about love.
Here’s an example from a sermon I listened to recently: “God loves you just the way you are, but God doesn’t want you to stay just as you are.”
What in the world does that mean?
Therefore, we find ourselves in a place where love is the key to being the church and even if we don’t know what it means, or even what it looks like, we at least know that, in the end, we all want to be loved.
And yet, Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that following him means the world will hate us.
“Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world – therefore the world hates you…If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.”
Which, if we’re being honest, isn’t an easy thing to hear from our Lord.
Particularly when we’ve convinced ourselves the whole point of church is to love and be loved in return.
Here’s a brief thought-experiment – Let’s imagine, if we can, Jesus showing up today. What would he look like? With whom would he spend his time? What would he preach about?
Usually, when we picture Jesus, he’s this hippy-dippy character who throws up a peace sign every once in a while, he asks us to all get along, and above all he is nice.
But Jesus wasn’t nice. You don’t crucify someone for being nice.
If God just wanted us to be more loving, why did Jesus have to come to tell us that?
If God is all about love, then why did God go through all the trouble of being this particular person, Jesus, at a particular time and a particular place?
Jesus knew that life wasn’t all that it’s often cracked up to be. He told stories about giving money away, he regularly ridiculed the rich, he belittled the religious authorities, he called into question all of the powers and principalities of his day.
And for that, and more, he was hated.
Take the whole Gospel in: the crowds grow and grow only to leave him abandoned in the end.
Are we sure that we want to follow this Jesus?
If we can’t imagine being hated for our discipleship, we can, at the very least, recover how odd of a thing it is to be Christian. This whole proclamation we call the Gospel is an extraordinary adventure, and that’s not that same thing as wanting to be liked/loved by everyone.
Consider – Last week we looked at Jesus’ temptations from the Devil out in the wilderness. He doesn’t eat for forty days, he contends against the powers of Satan, and then he returns to call upon the first disciples. And, in our minds, we just kind of assume the earliest conversations went something like this: “Okay, so I’m God in the flesh. I’m the Messiah. And I finally figured out how to solve all the world’s problems… All we need is love. Now, go and tell everyone what I said.”
But, of course, that’s not what happened.
Because, again, if all Jesus came to do what push us in the direction of love, then why did everyone reject him. Why did the crowds, to use the language of our passages today, hate him?
Perhaps Jesus was hated because he refused to give the people what they wanted on their own terms. Remember – the Devil offered Jesus the power to institute feeding programs, the power over all earthly kingdoms, and even the power to instill faith in all people.
But Jesus refused.
Jesus refused because God’s kingdom cannot become manifest through the devil’s means.
But that doesn’t mean that Jesus is a Messiah of apathy, laziness, or indifference.
Jesus is very political – in fact, he is an entirely new politic. But the Kingdom Jesus inaugurates through his life, death, and resurrection is one that comes through the transformation of the world’s understanding of how to get things to happen.
Unlike the world, Jesus refuses to use violence in order to achieve peace.
Unlike the world, Jesus refuses to use coercive measures in order to make the Kingdom come.
Unlike the world, Jesus refuses to use the powers and principalities to do anything.
Therefore, the offense, the thing people hate, is not that Jesus wanted his followers to be more loving – the offense is Jesus himself.
Over and over again he talks about bringing down the mighty and lifting up the lowly because he’s in the business of rectification.
He talks about feeding the hungry and clothing the naked for no reason other than the fact that they’re hungry and naked.
He talks about dying in order to be raised so that the whole of the cosmos can be raised with him for FREE.
Is is then any wonder that the world wasn’t prepared to welcome this Messiah?
It is any wonder that people have hated Jesus and his followers since the beginning?
Jesus was ultimately put to death not because he thought that the world could use a little more love, though we certain could. Jesus was killed because he embodied and proclaimed an entirely different reality that threatens anyone with any power.
Put simply, Jesus was killed for telling the truth.
For us today, the problem with Jesus’ truth-telling is that we, and the world, are drunk with deception, we hoard half-truths, and we live by lies.
Telling the truth is no easy endeavor – it got Jesus killed and it can upturn everything about our lives. But contrary to how we often water-down the gospel, there’s nothing safe about Jesus, no matter what VeggieTales might tell us.
Jesus offers freedom from our anxieties by giving us, of all things, a yoke to wear around our necks.
Jesus shares the possibility of transformation here and now by inviting us into his death (baptism) so that we might rise into new life.
Jesus promises our resurrection from the dead not with a wave of a magic wand, but by making of members of his very body redeemed by his blood so that we can become a community that is an alternative to the world.
And for that, the world might just hate us.
Jesus forms us into a people who live by strange ways and by strange means. We are a community who gathers (even virtually) with people we share nothing in common with except that Jesus binds us to one another.
We are a community who believe in the transformative power of praying for our enemies, turning the other cheek, feeding the hungry, befriending the friendless, and hoping against hope.
We are a community committed to the least of these even if (and when) the world tries to convince us to do otherwise.
God in Christ has knit us together to be a people of love in a world that runs by hate, which is a very dangerous way to live.
It might sound difficult or even frightening, but its at least an adventure. The Gospel is not merely one thing after another, it’s the only things that really matters – it’s the difference that makes the difference.
Hear the Good News, the Gospel: Despite our best efforts, and all of our best intentions, we couldn’t climb all the way up to God. We couldn’t save ourselves and we couldn’t save the world even though we certainly tried. We convinced ourselves that if we just loved each other a little bit more that things would finally be set right. But things largely stayed the same.
So what did God do? Was God delighted to give us an A for effort but an F for execution and therefore closed the door of the kingdom right in our faces?
Actually, in a wild act of humility (read: humiliation) God came down to us, became one with us.
We always thought that the whole purpose of this thing called faith, this thing called church, was so somehow get ourselves closer to God. And then God came down to us, down to the level of the cross, straight into the muck and the mire of this life, all the way down into the very depths of hell.
He who knew no sin took on our sin so that we might be free of it.
Listen- This is not something that happened just for other people in other places – God still stoops down into your life and into mine. God has taken stock of all of our choices, the good and the bad, and still chooses to come and be God for us, with us, in spite of us.
God loves you so much that God was willing to die.
Jesus died for you.
He lived his whole life as a refugee and amidst poverty, he endured reproaches and derision and abuse just so that you and I could escape death.
Jesus does this knowing full and well that we are the very people who would’ve shouted crucify.
Jesus is peculiarly obstinate.
And it is wonderful.
Jesus does not need us, but we certainly need him.
And that’s the scandal of the Gospel – Jesus, God in the flesh, chooses to live, die, and live again for us and we don’t deserve it one bit.
No one does.
And we are now called to live in the light of that perplexing Good News. That light helps us to see ourselves and one another not according to the ways of the world where we measure everyone and everything by worth, but according to the One who is the way, the truth, and the life.
The world might hate us for it, but Jesus has overcome the world.
Something has happened. And things are not as they once were. But this is still good news, because the something that happened is called Jesus. Amen.