What kind of world do you want to live in? That’s the question. It’s the question that we ask ourselves with every cup of coffee we pour in the morning. With every text message we send, or leave on “read”. Its what we ponder on our commute to work, or the first 15 minutes at our desk while we stare at that picture of our family. You know, the ones where the kids just wouldn’t sit still and smile. It’s the answer we look for when we ask our friends what they are up to this coming weekend, or when we check in with family members via Zoom or Facetime chats. It’s what we try to answer when we spend our money, raise our families, vote in elections, and even in how we see who looks back at us in the mirror each night before we go to bed.
We humans keep looking for the stuff that matters, because we were made that way. The very spark within us, the soul that anchors us to what is real, was made with a hunger – a hunger to be filled with purpose or meaning… or something. It’s why even Jesus’ disciples would jockey for position; the ones who would someday sit at the right hand of Jesus would be the ones who had “made it”. Asking the question, “What kind of World do I want to live in” invites all kinds of potentials and possibilities. And yet, that same question seems to leave so many of us tired, worn out, emotional gas tanks on empty, suffering from anxiety, depression, destructive self-medication, and even self-harm. It’s a question that we, in our history, have not completely been able to answer.
When the disciples followed Jesus in the beginning of his ministry, they had no idea what they were in for. Doors shut in their faces, run out of towns, death threats, and angry powerful people watching was a part of their regular routine. But so were celebration meals, wedding receptions with tons of incredible wine, the healing of sick folks from town to town, and people of all ages and backgrounds coming to see their rabbi. Don’t you imagine somewhere in their minds they replayed the same question, “What kind of world do I want to live in?”.
And so, this text in Luke 9 is important, because it seems to be the culmination of a teaching that Jesus had been trying to offer his students. Jesus asks his followers, after months and months of following him, “Who do people say I am?” The disciples answer with a number of names, all relating to how people interpreted what Jesus was doing. To some, what Jesus was doing looked like the work of a prophet like Elijah, who dealt with corrupt rulers during. Perhaps those people wanted to live in a world where they received justice for the wrong that was done to them. Others replied with the divisive and revolutionary John the Baptist – maybe those folks wanted to live in a world where the tyranny of Rome was no longer pressed down on them. Others would say that he was another prophet from the past – when times were better – and that’s the world those people wanted to live in.
But Jesus was none of those. And so he asks Peter, who is never shy, and never hedges his bets. Upon Peter’s confession that he believed Jesus was the Christ, send by God to be Messiah, Jesus began to teach them this from verse 23-24: “All who want to come after me must say no to themselves, take up their cross daily, and follow me. All who want to save their lives will lose them. But all who lose their lives because of me will save them.”
It’s here where Jesus draws out the the call to discipleship. He does so by focusing on the disposition of ones’s life, symbolized first in socio-economic terms, then in the language of honor in shame. The keyword Jesus uses, “life”, refers to the totality of human life, which paradoxically, is saved only when it’s lost. This is, first, a reference to the denial of self (within one’s social relations); Forsaking previous forms of constructing the self gives rise to this new life, life in the new community of God’s people. Second, Jesus makes clear that he is not calling people into a form of masochism, as though quote losing quote one’s life was its own reward. Would be disciples are to lose their life for the sake of Jesus. The pledging of life for the sake of another, for friends, or even for quote the truth quote already had a history in the second temple Judaism and in Greco Roman myth, so Jesus is working with categories that would have been both recognizable and recognizably meritorious.
Fancy words, right? But what does any of it mean?
In the words of one of my favorite all time professional wrestlers, Hot Rod Roddy Piper, “Just when you think you have all the answers, I CHANGE THE QUESTIONS”
Jesus was pointing his disciples to a new question. It was a question that would shift their approach to seeing the world and it’s challenges. It would reorient their frame of mind to seek different solutions. The barriers and walls created by the worlds conceptions and expectations would begin to fall off like an eroding cliffside on high tide.
Instead of chasing the questions “What Kind of World do I want to live in?”, Jesus presented them a new question to answer…, “What kind of World does God want us to live in?”
With this question, this new question that Jesus posed to his disciples, and maybe even to us, throws so many of our human systems out the window. Where the world may tell us what successes can make us happy, God’s joy is in our faithfulness to the divine and our fellow creation. When the world tells us that there are us’es and them’ses, God continues to remind us that the Creator of the universe does not pick favorites, but welcomes ALL as children of God. When we get lost in the sauce about how others see us, Jesus reminds us of how he saw Peter, who blurted out words with his heart first, not worry what others would say, and how proud Jesus was of him.
Here is one of those defining moments in the Bible, where Christianity makes a left turn where the world tells us to turn right. Jesus tells those that follow him that the cost of discipleship is picking up their cross/burden everyday, and walking. That means picking up a load that is different than the one we carry. God has given us something, a task, a role, a responsibility in this world, and in order to take it forward, there are other things we must set down.
Coming Together for Joy is critical in the life of the church. This has been a difficult year to express joy in, and it’s been an even harder year to share togetherness. It’s been a year in which we have had to really consider what we believe about the function and role of the church in communities across the globe. For us, this has meant shifting our priorities to deliver our story of encouragement and love to our neighbors in the Glendale and Peoria areas through some non-conventional ways. Your generosity through unprecedented times has allowed us as a church to give people hope and to extend the mercies of God in a tangible way. As we live Together for Joy, we continue to seek ways to redefine what it means to live well on this earth. We do not hold ourselves to the worlds standards, but to the standards of God, whose love compels us to act.
The work we have continued in is important, because it is telling the story, right now, of what question we are asking.
“What kind of World do I want to live in?”
“What kind of world does God want us to live in??”
Others will continue to watch us as we deliver the answer to one of these questions, it is up to us, as individuals and as a community of faith, to determine which we will work to answer each day. When we live as a church that believes in this call, we are actually living into a freedom that is greater than any earthy freedom that could be provided. We are free to express and work within the infinite love and joy of God, to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to offer a greater view of each human on earth as a loved creation of God. The crazy thing is, this isn’t a deal we brokered, or a negotiation we navigated with Jesus. God pursued us, still does, chases after us to give us this opportunity to live free from the traps of the world, the temporary games that we so often get lost playing in.
God hands the choice to us and asks us to consider this, “What kind of World?”