In 2017, we embarked on a journey through the gospel of Mark to get a new glimpse at “the Jesus life.” Two main themes have risen to the top:
Jesus advocates for the poor, confronts and casts out evil, tells the truth about systemic corruption, practices peacemaking between segregated groups, heals the sick, and feeds the hungry.
Jesus retreats regularly, practices Sabbath rest, prays all night, attends the synagogue, encourages fasting, and never hurries.
And we have a long way to go. And so do we. (Let the reader understand).
I’m tempted to just leave it at that, because you are smart and you probably see it, but can we just stop for a second and reflect: what are evangelicals1 most suspicious about?
Well, ironically, we tend to get suspicious of a little too much talk about justice and spirituality.2 In other words, we are suspicious of the Jesus life! We see justice and spirituality as slippery slopes to liberalism or mysticism rather than as hills to Calvary. Really, it’s not remotely complicated why so many young people (like myself) are interested in Jesus but want nothing to do with a church that has spiritualized justice. It’s because most Christians can’t see the hypocrisy of this. And if we can, we are typically unwilling to actually do much about it other than shrug or maybe get defensive.
But this isn’t an article to induce hand-wringing. “Let’s get out there and do more!” No. As a church we have actually been practicing doing less this year…
(how’s that going, by the way?)
…so that we might actually create some margin for the Spirit to do something in our midst. So that we might actually notice when he does and jump in. But are we prepared for what that might look like? Are we open to it looking like nothing we’ve ever seen before in our church experience?
Still reeling from Charlottesville, Pastor Jake K. walked into the office Monday after spending time with Jill Lorentz and Jan Villott (get to know them if you don’t!). They had spent the afternoon watching well over forty impoverished families get unjustly evicted from their homes in Pleasanton(!). This effectively ended VCC’s Stability Ministry. Jake was visibly angry, as he should have been—he probably looked the way Jesus did when the Pharisees tried to prevent the healing of the man with the withered hand.
We were dejected. We talked about the hopelessness and invisibility of it all: Why does this sort of thing never come up at church? Why did so much of this advocacy work fall upon the shoulders of only two or three women? What can we do?
And then it hit me.
This. This stress. This pain. This is why Jesus retreated, this is why he rested, this is why he prayed all night, this is why he went to church, and the rest of it. This is the why of spirituality: to give us, in Dr. King’s words, the “strength to love,” the strength to keep seeking justice (Cornel West once said that justice is what love looks like in public. How good is that?). Because human anger does not just naturally produce God’s justice.3 So justice is not merely hard; it is impossible. Without the practices of grace, we will flame out and fall into despair or else become jaded, judgmental, or even violent in our quest for justice. This is why Jesus insisted that with God, nothing is impossible. God not only does the impossible work of changing hard and hate-filled hearts, he trains us for it. I hope Charlottesville woke you up to how desperately the church needs to wake up to our true calling to train people to nonviolently seek first the justice of God’s kingdom4.
So here’s the warning: may God forbid that we only pursue half of the Jesus life.5 The Jesus life is eternal. But you can’t cut eternity in half! Half of the Jesus life is death. Half of the Jesus life is religiosity in the sanctuary while the poor are evicted and starve down the street. It’s what caused prophets like Amos and Isaiah (and Jesus) to blow gaskets.
Let’s pursue the whole Jesus life. Wholeness is holiness. Let’s listen to our flesh and blood neighbors, let’s listen to the cries of the poor, and let’s listen to the compassion in our guts (as Sid pointed out, the emotion most consistently ascribed to Jesus). God put that there for a reason, and Jesus teaches us how to let it flower, how to put flesh on it.6 More than that, Jesus is the love of God taking on flesh and going public. Jesus is the justice of God.7 And we can be too.8
None of us can pursue the Jesus life alone. We cannot pursue justice alone. It is an every member mission!
*Jill Lorentz will be providing a more detailed update on the Stability Ministry in the coming weeks*
- And Valley Community Church would fall under the umbrella of evangelicalism.
- Select issues such as abortion mostly notwithstanding.
- James 1:20
- Matthew 6:33
- Or as Pastor Heath put it better on Sunday, “Watch out for a crossless discipleship.”
- That’s what the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is all about.
- 1 Corinthians 1:30
- 2 Corinthians 5:21