An excerpt from Daniel Medina's upcoming book: A Preacher's Fake Book, Vol. I: Improvisation in the Key of Grace, available Spring 2021.
|The Crucifixion by Salvador Dali|
The original sermon was shared with a congregation that listened for heresy, not hope. The preoccupation for those possessing authority in the congregation was to drop in, listen, and then report (gossip) on the orthodoxy of what was preached. An additional annoyance was the reductionism practiced to where every sermon was diluted to the salvation formula, a common strategy employed by many pastors who shouldn’t be preaching at all. I decided to take this reality as a weekly opportunity to not only share ideas that would make most certainly sound heretical to ignorant members but upset them sufficiently to go back to the scripture and hopefully, learn something about God – and themselves.
As I aged, I came to regret this theology of reconciliation as being oppressive. I recall as a young 25-year-old how I would listen to men cry in accountability groups about their brokenness and encouraged others to “open up” and come to Christ.
I don’t see that happening with Jesus. I see him walking up to two young men. Addressing them to follow him. He doesn’t acknowledge their terrestrial father, Zebedee. He doesn’t demand them to come clean and offer up their dirty laundry. In fact, at no point in any of the Gospels does Jesus demand that. So why do we?
If you bring this up to a typical Evangelical pastor, they’ll tell you it’s biblical. Where is it, though, in the Gospels? That’s when they run to St. Paul, Pop Psychology, or Theologies. Theology has been predominantly developed to defend what people do in the name of God, but not usually to explain why God acts so differently to us.
Most theology is predicated on assumptions, presumptions, and interpretive instruments, employed to arrive at the desired (denominational) end. This end then becomes the litmus test for the clerical class of the institution, which then seeks to grow its numbers of members for the sake of stability, financial development, access to power, and influence. It is done in the name of God.
Jesus usually doesn't appear in a person’s life as a ghost. He isn’t an optical illusion. It is a genuine encounter as would be any with a significant individual in one’s life. Some people truly possess something attractive that isn’t physical or sensual. Conversely, it is pure and touches the true self – who you really are. Are there exceptions? There are combat veterans and victims of crime who will swear those anomalies are true. I believe they are, too.
I have several concerns with expectations I’d like to share with you. First, expectations limit your experience. As soon as you generate how the encounter with God should go, you aren’t open to the actual opportunity; rather, you are set on a course of finding the expectations, instead of God. Second, every experience with God will be as unique as each life on Earth. According to Yale University, there are currently 7.8 billion human beings on the planet. Therefore, God will engage humanity in approximately 7.8 billion ways – this is a limited number, of course. The experience you have with God cannot be regulated, explained before your having it, defined by someone else, and determined as being credible afterward.
It is my opinion the redactor of the Gospel According to Matthew knew that. The inability to know what was going on inside of those young men’s minds was left to the imagination and reserved for the intimacy between each life and Jesus. As I believe this to be certain, it is with greater confidence that I believe the nature of what shames or grieves us is just as intimate. No one can feel or comprehend your pain. No one can ever tell you they know how you feel. They do not and they never will – even if they were to experience the same exact event. Then why are there so many who wish to make one’s experience with God the exception?
This is why confession became a means of controlling people in history. This is why confession was used against people, bankrupted trust in the clergy, and demonstrated the corruptibility of any institution passing itself off as the sole voice of God on Earth.
No one can define the relationship you have with Jesus. I can tell you mine. For those two men, it seemed to be a life-changing one. It appears from the text that something happened to the degree of literally dropping their nets – which was the equivalent of leaving their livelihood behind – and willingly followed a man – perhaps contemporary in age to them – into unchartered waters, cities, towns, and history.
The encounter was not planned, at least not for the young men. It happened at an inconvenient time for the father, perhaps for them, too. In the original sermon, I mentioned Jesus enters our life at a time when we seem convinced our lives are settled and under a manageable degree of control. Jesus comes as a distraction to our sense of accomplishment and stability. We are often left disoriented, confused, uncertain, and humbled. But this can also be true about a relationship, losing a job, finding new employment, and having to move from a house you raised your children in. The difference, in my case, was the inability to domesticate God.