09/03/23 – Topsy-Turvey Kingdom – Rev. Chip Roland

Topsy-Turvey Kingdom

September 3, 2023
Ex. 3:1-5; Rom 12:9-21; Matt. 16:21-28
Rev. Chip Roland

          I was a very nervous child.  I became obsessed with concern over things I couldn’t control, be it disease or the weather or any number of random misfortunes.   I blame it on The Wizard of Oz.  That movie terrified me when I was little.  It wasn’t the flying monkeys!  It’s this idea that Dorothy was just minding her own business.  She was doing okay.  Then suddenly, without any input for her she’s swept off to this alternate reality.  I didn’t sleep a wink that night!  It was the first time I was presented with the idea of an unpredictable universe.  This concern wormed its way into my prayer life.  When I prayed to God, I’d try to place some legal restraints in my prayers to hem God in on how He was going to answer them.  “O’ Lord, I want to live to 120 years old (for some reason I thought that made sense) …but, but, but.. wait, I don’t want you to answer that prayer by causing me to go into a coma when I’m 60 and sleeping for the next 60 years.”  “O’ Lord, please do let me fail the spelling test tomorrow.  But don’t do it by causing me to get really sick or in a car accident so I don’t have to take the test in the first place!”

I was responding, albeit anxiously and obsessively to something that seems to be apparent about God.  That there’s something a little wild and unpredictable about Him.  In the midst of the normal and the predictable, God brings newness, renewal, healing in suppressing ways.  Even though it’s done with a love for us so titanic we can’t possibly imagine it, it can still be scary.  And as humans, as we negotiate our interaction with God, we have ways to compensate for it.  There’s an overall trend I see in the Old Testament.  It’s not a straight line and there were prophetic voices also in the Old Testament who spoke out against it, but God made this journey with God’s people from being this wild God who manifested in the titanic forces of nature.  Pillars of fire at night and spoke at day, burning bushes not consumed, a voice on the wind to resting His glory on/in a box, in a sacred room, in a temple, in a city.  Safe, secure, predictable.  God got religion.  I’m not picking on the old temple of Jerusalem.  I’m saying there’s something of God’s concession of the limitations of humanity in that.  In Exodus 33, God allows Moses to see his back, but out of concern for him, he covers Moses as he’s passing by so that Moses isn’t annihilated by seeing His face, the totality of I AM.

I’m also not drawing an antisemitic comparison between the Jewish people and Christians, claiming that we’ve got it right.  Because, my friends, we haven’t.  When I was a kid, all the rage in Christian youth culture was the What Would Jesus Do stuff.  You could put on bracelets, trucker hats or T-shirts and make bank.  But when I look back on it, it kind of bothers me.  Because to ask what Jesus would do about the everyday events of our life suggests to me a sort of taming of Christ, a reduction of Jesus’ claim on our lives.  It reduces Him to an advisor, the sprinkles on top of a predictable and comfortable life.  Christ’s radical, life changing call of picking up our cross and following him and the invitation to a lifetime of discipleship of unpacking what that may mean to us is reduced to a question of what websites Jesus would visit.

Moses was doing okay, you know.  This fugitive adopted minor member of Egyptian nobility had made a pretty decent life for himself.  Watching his father-in-law’s flock, taking comfort, I imagine, in the expectation that tomorrow was going to be very much like today.  But then, God shows up!  And when our God shows up, our God who isn’t content to stay on a throne in some far-off divine dimension enters into human life, enters into human history, Lord, things happen.   People much more steeped in language and theology than I have written thousands and thousands of pages on the meaning of the name he gives Moses, “I AM”.  But there’s definitely something about it that’s a rock dropped into a placid pond, creating ripples, disruption, newness, hope.  There’s something of a monolithic wall separating Moses’ past life that he’s losing and future that he’s gaining.  God calls Moses into this great act of liberation, of hope and his life will never be the same.

Peter was doing okay too, you know.  I get him.  He had a comfortable and totally culturally appropriate set of expectations of what was supposed to happen with the messiah.  And getting arrested, tortured, and executed was not it.  It’s hard to understand the intensity of Peter’s objections because we’ve had two thousand years to get used to the narrative.  Being killed wasn’t what the messiah was supposed to do.  In fact, that’s typically how a person’s claims to messiahship were shown to be false.  He didn’t even seem to register the part about being raised from the dead.  Okay, the NRSV and really, most English translations render the Greek prolegomenous as Peter “took him aside”.  The problem is that it sounds like this gentle, polite gesture that’s so out of tone with the dialogue.  I mean, Peter sounds like he’s yelling and Jesus and Jesus sounds like he’s yelling back at him.  Peter is trying to give Jesus a “come to Jesus” moment.

So, what is all this?  It’s the topsy-turvey kingdom of God that turns everything on its head.  It’s the kingdom where slave become victors, the Messiah lives the life and stands in solidarity with the victims of arrest and execution at the hands of oppressing authorities, it’s the kingdom in which enemies should be prayed for and cared for.  It’s a kingdom in which a life lost to the world, to comfortable expectation, to the belief that “this is just the way things are” is found in God.  It’s the kingdom where God enters into history, into human life in the most surprising and unlikely ways.  It’s the kingdom where it is God’s love for us, God’s presence in the midst of all our struggles gets the final say on who we are, not the world of the mighty, the rich, the slavers and the empires.  And lest be honest, that’s both hopeful and scary.  There’s a reason why Moses and Peter put up a fight!  They, and we, are being called out of our comfort zone.  Let’s be honest, for many of us, though we can highlight how we’ve been wounded by the world, we’ve also been the beneficiaries of its unjust systems.  So much so that Jesus call to pick up our cross and follow him feels like a loss, a death.  But we gain the path to embracing who we really are.  Free, and beloved children of God.  And, perhaps, that makes it worth it.

 

 

 

© Rev. Christopher ‘Chip’ Roland, 2023, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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