Sunday, April 10, 2016
"Have Some Kryptonite." - Sayings of Superman in Jesus' Kingdom
3rd Easter, Year C
April 10, 2016
Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
"Have Some Kryptonite." - Sayings of Superman in Jesus' Kingdom
As we know, Jesus’ disciples and hoards of his followers were wanting Jesus to be a big gallant conqueror who would kick out Rome and end up basically ruling over all the other nations, so that Israel would not only remove Rome from power, but would also take Rome’s place as the world power, the empire over all nations. Jesus told his disciples and hoards of followers that he was not going to bring about some huge military campaign to establish his kingdom, at least he said this implicitly. He taught about not fighting against the governing authorities, turning the other cheek when someone hits you; he said, “My kingdom not from here, if were, I’d have angels coming, to my rescue, but as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Then he proved that he really was going to live by what he taught and not seek to conquer all nations by dying, dashing completely the messianic hopes that people had in him.
As a story goes for a Messiah, it’s a rather lackluster ending. Not very flashy, it’s a difficult cinematic climax. It’s Batman vs. Superman, but superman doesn’t even put up a fight. He says, “here, Batman, have some Kryptonite and do me in.” “Lame,” many of his followers were thinking. They were disillusioned.
Then Jesus was resurrected. He cannot die again. He could come and go at will at this point, appearing and disappearing. He could presumably do anything now, and no amount of Kryptonite on Earth could stop him, and so he had a nice breakfast on the beach with his friends. Even after resurrection, the kingdom of God was not brought about by conquering others.
On the beach, over breakfast, Jesus got to turn around the denials Peter had given him. Three denials, three chances to say, “I love you.” Not only that, he asked him three times to feed his sheep. Jesus gave grace to his disciples who abandoned him, and asked them to continue his work and ministry. The kingdom of God is brought about through grace.
My guess is that Jesus was not overly fond of Rome as a world governing authority. While there was much that was good about Rome, they were brutal, power hungry conquerors. They would take over your land and then tax you to pay for the army that had just destroyed your people. Jesus and his followers, ruling through grace, would definitely have been a better world governing authority than Rome. The prince of peace ruling over all the nations would have been fantastic, except that to become that world governing authority, to supplant Rome, Jesus and his followers would have had to become just as brutal as Rome, killing or imprisoning dissidents, conquering nations who didn’t want to be conquered, forcing themselves onto people who didn’t want them there.
The message of grace, the reality of grace, would have been destroyed in conquering and struggle. The Jesus movement was not won by force, or threats, or coercion. The Jesus movement was won through grace.
Consider Saul who had been persecuting the church and even helping to put Jesus’ followers to death. He was like Darth Vader hunting down and destroying the Jedi. Then the grace of Jesus brought Saul back from the dark side of persecution and into the light of Jesus. When Jesus spoke to Ananias in a vision, telling him to lay his hands on Saul so that he could restore his sight, Ananias was understandably wary to doing so. I imagine he was also not overly pleased with the idea of giving sight back to the persecutor of Christians. Like Jonah who didn’t want Nineveh to repent, that’s why Jonah fled, remember, and the fish brought him back. He didn’t want Nineveh to repent; he wanted Nineveh to burn. So like Johan not wanting Nineveh to repent, I can imagine Ananias not wanting Saul to regain his sight. He deserved to be blind after what he had done. He shouldn’t get to see and be healed. The grace of Jesus allowed Ananias, despite his fears, to go to Saul, to lay hands on him and heal him, and to embrace him as a brother.
Then Saul became Paul, so great was his transformation through the grace of Jesus that he had to change his name. He was a new person, and his old name would no longer do. Paul then went about on a grace campaign, teaching about Jesus to all who would hear. He went to gentiles, to non-Israelites, and the Jesus movement spread beyond Israel, even beyond Rome, and there was no military, no conquering, no force of any kind. There was teaching and preaching, healing and caring for people, forgiveness and love. The Jesus movement, Jesus kingdom, was spread through grace.
On a quick search through Paul’s letters, he mentions grace 86 times.
Looking at our world today, how we live with grace and live out the Jesus movement, there is an awful lot of grace in the church. There are very loud voices out there talking about Jesus, but voices which have very little to do with grace. I was talking with my neighbor this weekend, and he was telling a story about how judgment often takes the place of grace in people who call themselves Jesus’ disciples. He told a story of a man at work who looked at what another employee was doing and said, “He shouldn’t be doing that; he’s a Christian.”
Ok, now there are certainly many behaviors and actions which we should not be taking because those actions are harmful to others and to ourselves. Paul wrote in his letters quite a lot about behaviors we should and shouldn’t be following as disciples of Jesus. With love and concern in our hearts, part of the Jesus movement is certainly to help guide each other in our behaviors so that we aren’t harming ourselves and others.
That’s very different, however, from looking at someone else and saying, “He shouldn’t be doing that; he’s a Christian.” As my neighbor said to this co-worker, “You don’t need to be judging him; you need to take a look at the log in your own eye before noticing the speck in someone else’s.” The co-worker needed to be living with grace. There seemed to be behind the co-worker’s statement an “or else.” “He shouldn’t be doing that; he’s a Christian.” He better shape up or else…he’s not really a Christian, or else…Jesus will reject him, or else…who knows what? There was an implication that the he wasn’t really a Christian because he wasn’t following a certain list of behaviors well enough, as if following a certain list of behaviors well enough is what makes us Christian.
Good moral teaching is absolutely a part of being a disciple of Jesus, but the point of Christianity, the message of the Jesus movement, is not “behave.” We don’t need Jesus for that. The point of the Christianity, the message of the Jesus movement, is grace. Being a Christian is receiving and giving the grace of Jesus.
The grace of Jesus doesn’t say, “Behave or else.” The grace of Jesus says love God, love others, love yourself, and let your actions be guided out of that love. The grace of Jesus says you’re going to mess up a lot, and when you do, I’m going to forgive you. The grace of Jesus sees that those who cause harm do so because harm has been caused to them, or because they are afraid, or because they think they are right. The grace of Jesus looks at that and says “forgiven.” That is life in the Jesus movement.
The Jesus movement says, “You think you’re not good enough, well join the club!” We’re none of us good enough and we don’t have to be, because what we are is enough. The disciples denied and abandoned Jesus when he was about to be killed. Then when he was resurrected, they were so steadfast in their discipleship, they said, “Well, I guess we’ll go fishing.” The disciples weren’t good enough, and yet they were enough for the grace of Jesus.
They were enough for Jesus to say, “Feed my sheep.” Saul certainly wasn’t good enough as he was persecuting the church, and yet he was enough for the grace of Jesus to transform him into one who would grow his kingdom not by conquering, but by teaching, healing, caring for people, and sharing grace. That’s life in the Jesus movement. That’s the life that we get to live as the Body of Christ, sharing and receiving and giving grace. Amen.