I deal with a lot of pissed off people. Yesterday I pastored members of the flock who seemed to be at opposite poles. Some were upset that things had changed too much and were ready to follow those who had already left. Others were upset that things had changed to little and were ready to follow those who had already left.
And one person was pissed about them all. “Don’t they know that church isn’t about getting my needs met?”
So I told her the Jesus story. About how we were living it out here in Peterborough. How the worship we created together in lent had done what Jesus did. How Jesus walked his followers into established religion and creating the tensions – polarizing the people with power and the people without – the satisfied and the unsatisfied - until the tension had to break at the strongest/weakest place.
The sacrifice of Jesus – who believed not in the power of the leader but in the power of god's people to sustain the impossible mission to heal the hurting, love the unlovable, gather the righteous and the undeserving into a community of radical generosity where the “haves” let go of what they’d been taught to hold onto and the “have nots” find that what they’d been taught was worthless - is received and valued.
But once the Messiah was truly gone – dead and buried – those divisions and tensions dispersed the Jesus people. They no longer had a Messiah to project their hopes and passions onto. Without a hero, they lost the call to follow.
Without Jesus the most radical among the followers found they just couldn’t step up and keep the struggle going. Without Jesus cracking the whip of hope over their heads, the struggle was too great and too long with too many costs and not enough benefits. They were dispersed back out into the wilderness of seeking, seeking, seeking what this failed Jesus community couldn’t deliver.
Without Jesus the most loyal of the followers ran back into the safety of their tradition and its great comforting conformity. They had been lured out by the passion of the teacher and the wonders of his works. They wanted to be part of the wave of popularity, join this new crowd that would make them more righteous than the righteous leaders of their tradition.
When the wave crashed, their righteous joy ride ended and they returned to the fold. They were not leaders. They needed leaders and so they went back to the established leaders who were not so bad after all.
Who among the followers could step into Jesus’ shoes? The disciples were all lost in their mourning and the horrible weight of guilt that dogged their thoughts about what they could’ve, should’ve, would’ve done if only…they had the courage, wisdom and foresight of the one they followed.
It was the women who first found jesus alive and well.
No one believed them.
No one else could see him.
This invisible friend they claimed was alive urging them to keep going.
It was women, who know better than men how to trust in the unseen urgings of their souls. Women, who know better than men how god’s mysterious impelling passions can take hold in the deepest part of the bodies and grow. They’d been impregnated with the Jesus seed and now it was being embodied within them. They would carry the baby-jesus-community until it was ready to be born.
And some men, upon hearing the women’s news, could see him too. It was no hallucination or dream. They could feel Jesus’ skin. He touched them. His breath brushed their beards. And somehow, in some unexplainable way, his skin became their skin. Like snakes they shed the skin of fear, guilt, and doubt and found an animal power that told them the god-skin beneath the man-skin they wore was the same skin that once shone with Jesus’ soul.
They found, especially when they were together, that Jesus was alive still. His mission fed some. His compassion fed others. His passion for truth fed the flame in a few. And his love of laughter and food and the fun of teasing the mighty and the meek into the same big joke giggled up in the ones who didn’t a give a shit about being righteous - but just wanted to keep the party going.
But still, when they were apart, they would lose sight. When they couldn’t see the jesus-light in their brothers eyes, they lost faith in the jesus-skin they wore. When they couldn’t see jesus-acts and jesus-truths and jesus-transformations happening before them, they forgot their own jesus-selves alive within.
Instead they looked in the mirror. They saw the illusions of man that seemed more real. They heard the harsh voices of the “real world” that were louder than the often silent calling of their souls. And it just seemed way easier to be lost in the culture instead of found out in front. It just seemed better to be alone in a crowd of complainers than together in the crisis that is Christ’s cauldron of hurt and hope where god demands impossible creative solutions to be born in blood, sweat and fears.
Many dispersed. Many went and led good and decent lives. Many took the lessons of the dead-Jesus story and lived them in the safety of their homes. Be good but don’t push it. Be Hopeful but don’t expect too much. Be Passionate but be careful you don’t get burned. Trust in God but not your neighbor. Believe in the impossible, or at least tell the children you do. The truth will set you free, but don’t rattle your boss’ cage. To thine own self be true, as long as your reputation stays intact. Be generous, but keep the best for a rainy day. You were born to live free and unafraid, but all you really deserve is a break today. And upon this sand the religion of good and fearful and dutiful people was bought and sold.
We buy the lie still that living in the shadow of empire, commerce, and aristocratic benevolence is worth the suffering and necessary sacrifices of earth and earth-people who have nothing but the dirt beneath their nails. We still trade in the religion of empire that purchased the Jesus story for a song and sold the people something safe and easy and always unattainable.
But some of the Jesus people stayed put. The ones who listened to their hearts instead of their heads, who believed what they saw within instead of what the mirror showed. The ones who had lost their taste for what was possible and hungered for the living-jesus morsels of the impossible. They were the ones who caught the Jesus germ that dis-eased their ego’s health and called upon a holy immunology to make them whole.
The ones who stayed found that it was only by spending more and more time together that they could resist the pull of common sense. That even though the Messiah of Nazareth wasn’t around very much (he was off disturbing the angels into action – organizing them into unions to keep the saints at bay) they found Jesus alive in each other’s lives.
The women would let them feel the kick of the new thing about to be born. When they broke the bread and passed the jug the living out of the jesus-story seemed more real than the illusions of their daily grind.
So they gathered wherever and whenever they could. They moved in together so they could all make a home for the baby being born. They became the family they never had. They loved and fought and chased away fears and hurts with songs of faith.
Still today people with jesus-skin and jesus-babies in their bellies are moving in together. Some are buying houses in neighbourhoods only jesus could love and doing what their own sweet jesus-selves can do.
Some are moving into the houses bought and built by yesterday’s religion. They know that today’s jesus-movement will surely become tomorrow's religion to the next generation. Still, amidst the great carved oak and ornate glories of empire’s hoarding they prepare humble homes for the baby born new in hearts of meek and mighty ones whenever, wherever, they get the bug.
Like sparrows nesting in the eaves, like bats and mice and squirrels coming out of the attics and the walls, they make homes for the sacred animal-truths of people who cannot find peace until all find peace, who cannot be free until all are free, who cannot be rich until all god’s abundance finds its way into the undeserving hands of those gathered in the never-completed, ever-lasting, circle of the table jesus set.