One of the most popular, most comforting things Jesus ever said was:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11.28-30)
Another thing Jesus said that is decidedly less popular (especially in modern Western cultures) was:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6.19-21)
And it’s rare for pastors to teach on this basic instruction Jesus gave to all those he sent out to do kingdom work:
“Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt.” (Mark 6.8-9)
It occurred to me this morning (in one of those Aha!/Doh! moments) that the comfort of the light burden and not taking any luggage on the journey go together. The yoke of Jesus is easy, the burden is light, because he tells us to leave all our stuff behind.
There are persecutions. There are trials. There are hardships in following Jesus. There is a fault line between the way of the world and the way of Jesus. But none of these are along the lines of what I see and hear in Christian culture. What we call persecutions often are not. Where the real persecutions are we almost always ignore.
If you’ve listened to our podcast, know I’m not a big fan of Christian subculture and especially its commercial expressions and this is at the heart of why. It offers a skewed version of the Christian faith to sell products to people with money. The creators of Christian subculture tweak their pitch, not toward faithfulness to the Gospel, but toward giving the customer what they want. And what the customers want is to feel good about where they are, not to feel pressure to to conform to the likeness of Christ and his cross. Christian swag companies sell a lot of crosses but they do so by peddling a very anti-cruciform lifestyle.
As part of that, they re-narrate what it means to carry one’s cross, to be persecuted, and so they pervert the way of Jesus precisely at the heart of the way Jesus. In fact, they play up their warped version of persecution because it creates a felt need and sells more product. Some Christians today are persecution hypochondriacs. Christianity is not under attack like they think. Christianity is under attack by the way they think. Despite how the Christian retail marketers try to sell us, Christianity is not under attack in the way they claim. There are persecutions. There our hardships. There are crosses to be carried. But they’re not the ones we’re being sold.
This is what we’re going to talk about at Vineyard North between now and Advent. The persecution/pressure/pursuit that Jesus claims is a blessing to us, this comes at the fault line between the world and the kingdom of God. We’ve been told the fault line is in one place but it’s not. It’s somewhere else altogether. We’ve got to rid ourselves of this persecution hypochondria and pursue the justice of the kingdom of God. We will find real pressure and real pursuit and it will be a blessing to us. In many ways it already is because our church has been living on this fault line and doing some of this implicitly for the past three years. But it’s time to be explicit. It’s time to embrace the challenge more fully than we have yet. It’s time to run, to chase and be chased.
And look, we know the outcome. There is no doubt. The pursuit helps us reach our stride, helps us pursue justice, mercy, compassion, kindness, and we find that running with the love of God to the world is a run we can enjoy. And then we get the prize.