[Last night I got to lead a Maundy Thursday service at Hopewell Presbyterian Church. The service was done in five "movements"; composed of lots of scripture, lots of hymns, some prayer, some silence, and two short homilies. Below are the two homilies... the first of which is called "ALL" and the second, "NOT A FAN?"]
Cornel West once said, “I cannot be an optimist but I am a prisoner of hope.”
We are part of a long tradition of hope…. but it is not an uncomplicated hope. It is a hope in the midst of great suffering, in the midst of exile and confusion. Those words of hope from Zechariah and from the Psalms are words written out of close familiarity with pain and suffering. Hopelessness is certainly not alien to the ones who wrote these words. In the same Psalter we find the psalms of lament, psalms that say things like “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).
“Genuine hope,” writes Jurgen Moltmann, “is not blind optimism. It is hope with open eyes, which sees the suffering and yet believes in the future.”
It was into this kind of hope, in the midst of hopelessness, that Jesus entered the scene. It was to a people who lived under oppression and with the threat of violence, yet a people who hoped for a Messiah, a people gripped by a hope that their savior would come… It was to these people and it was of these people that Jesus, the light of the world, came into the world.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion!
Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem!
Lo, your king comes to you;
triumphant and victorious is he…
And we are, all of us, invited to “come” to this Jesus. We are, all of us who are weary (not just the strong among us, but the weak), invited to come to Jesus, to follow Jesus, to receive this salvation, to enter into this victory. We are all invited, even in our hopelessness, to receive this hope by which we are confronted in Jesus of Nazareth.
And yet who is this Jesus?
“Who is this king of glory?” (Psalm 24) “…humble and riding on a donkey…”?
I invite you tonight to watch closely, to listen closely for the answer. Look to see who this Jesus is, how his power is displayed. Listen for what this king will decree.
NOT A FAN?
So what is the nature of this hope? Who is this king of glory?
Where we might have expected a call to take up arms to join in the great battle for the victory of God, Jesus invites us to take up the cross. The cross was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a symbol of victory (not for the one who would be killed on it). The cross was a symbol of death, the most profound image of shame and degradation. The victorious king—the Messiah—Jesus calls us to follow him onto failure and death.
Where we might have expected a great feast in celebration of coming triumph, instead we have a modest dinner wherein Jesus takes the role of a slave and washes the dirt covered feet of his disciples. And he gives us this example as his decree, his new commandment. He says (later, in verse 34)
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
The theologian Eberhard Jüngel wrote, “...godly power and godly love are related to one another neither through subordination nor dialectically. Rather, God's mightiness is understood as the power of his love. Only love is almighty.”
Jesus’ power, his victory and his great authority, is displayed in his act of love. His mightiness is to become a servant.
During the Lenten season we, as a congregations, have been going through the book Not a Fan by Kyle Idleman. In this book he makes a distinction between a “fan” of Jesus—someone who likes what he’s about but doesn't really respond to the call to discipleship—and a “follower” A follower is someone who changes their life for Jesus. A follower is someone who will take up their cross and go with Jesus to death. This is not a call to comfort and prosperity. It is not about “upward mobility” as his original disciples may have originally expected. It is a journey to the ground. To the knee, to the feet of the other to wash them… even the feet of those who might betray us. The invitation to follow Jesus is an invitation to love the way Jesus loved.
And Idleman has, throughout his book, “not a fan” stories… stories of people who did sell all they had to follow Jesus, stories of followers who did radical things.
But there’s irony here…
If we look closely to the scriptures, when we look to the New Testament, we begin to notice that it is not, at its core, a story of “followers”. If we look especially to the gospels, we find no neat examples of people who did it right. When Jesus bends down to wash the disciples’ feet, though they’ve been with him learning from him for years, they don’t even understand what he is doing. Indeed, when Jesus gets to the cross which he invited his disciples to take up, he is alone. In the final hour, there are no followers… there’s only Jesus.
If there is really a “not a fan story” at all, it is the story of Jesus.
And that is what confronts us in the New Testament—not the story of human success, but the story of God’s love and God’s grace displayed in the only one who truly gave it all in pursuit… It is not the story of humans following after God… it is the story of the God who chases after us…