Well, there was good news for the protesters in Hong Kong this week. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lamm announced that she would formally withdraw the extradition bill that would have allowed the mainland China to extradite citizens of Hong Kong. It was a victory for all those who joined in the great throngs that have been staging protests this year.
The demonstrations started back in March when the Hong Kong government began consideration of the extradition bill. In early June, hundreds of thousands were on the streets protesting. A week later, the number grew to over 2 million. There’s power in crowds that rally around a common cause. There’s enthusiasm, especially when you’re winning.
What draws these people? Well, for some it certainly is entertainment, the excitement of the spectacle. If you got two million people hanging around outside, you want to join in and see what’s going on.
For others it might be a sense of belonging. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. They want to be part of history being made. And so they join in the parade.
For some it’s genuine anger. Anger at the communists, anger at mainland China, maybe anger within themselves. And the crowd of protest gives them a venue to vent their anger.
And, certainly, for others it’s about freedom. They see a totalitarian government headquartered in Beijing that is trying to incrementally take away their freedom. And they won’t sit home and let that happen.
Whatever the reason, the crowds gathered and they protested. And the Hong Kong government struck back. Some were beaten by police. Some were gassed. Some were arrested and now face a five-year sentence. Some paid a price for their victory.
Was it worth it? And would they have stepped forward to join that crowd knowing that price?Some would and would have paid more. But I’m sure others would not.
In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus turns to address an enthusiastic crowd. They have been traveling with him. They, no doubt, have been hanging on every word of his teaching. They’ve marveled at his healings. These guys are all in for Jesus.
But them Jesus, out of the blue, stops along the way, turns to them and says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all you possessions.” Seems a little cranky. Seems a little egotistical.These are kind of harsh words. Actually, they are very loving words. Let me explain.
Jesus leads a parade of people as he journeys to Jerusalem. It’s been said that everyone loves a parade. And everyone loves a winner. And, right now, he sure looks like a winner. He confounds the legalistic Pharisees, he banishes demons, he heals people.
Jesus is a winner. He is their great champion on his way to Jerusalem and they want to be part of his team. Now, different people have different reasons being out there. Some might anticipate a great clash ahead between Galilee and Jerusalem. Or peasants versus the powerful. Laity versus the clergy. Jesus versus the establishment. “We’re with you, Jesus! Onward and upward to victory!!”
But here’s the reality of what’s really going on. This is not a parade that Jesus leads, it’s a death march. And Jesus is not going to Jerusalem to be their champion. He’s going to Jerusalem to die on a cross.
You see the enemy is not Jerusalem, or the powerful, or the religious establishment. The enemy is sin. The war is against powers and principalities in the heavenlies. And, yes, Jesus will defeat sin and the devil. But Jesus is not looking for revelers to populate his parade. Jesus is looking for disciples – disciples who will teach what he taught. Disciples who will do the work that he did.
Those who want to sign up can’t be timid. They can’t be half-hearted. They have to be willing to move beyond their comfort zone, to stretch beyond their security. Whether it be the security of their family or their material goods.
I thought about Jesus’ words this week when I was listening to Jordon Peterson. And I have Barbara Barrans to thank for that. Jordon Peterson is a clinical psychologist who is causing quite a stir on YouTube. He’s published a best selling book called 12 Rules for Life. He confounds political correctness with common sense and – to my way of thinking – biblical wisdom.
In this particular clip that I watched, he talked about living in to our full potential. He said that you can’t discover what you’re capable of being or what you’re capable of withstanding if you hide away from any of the things of life that are terrible, but true. Because necessity will force that out of you.
There are things in life that exist that we all like to avoid. When I was in seminary, I had never had much experience around the mentally ill. Mentally ill people were not people that I would seek to be around. I wouldn’t know how to engage with someone who was certifiably paranoid or suffering with schizophrenia. Fortunately, I didn’t have to worry about that because I wasn’t becoming a psychotherapist. I was studying to be an Episcopal priest. But the Lord had other ideas.
When it came my turn to work as a chaplain intern at a hospital, I chose the VA Hospital in Pittsburg. And on my first day of chaplaincy, I was assigned to a ward of paranoid schizophrenics. I remember when I walked into that ward and the door shut behind me and locked. There I was, locked in a ward full of crazy people My first interview was with a patient lying in bed in restraints. An orderly sat just outside the room keeping an eye on things. He was nuts and kept tugging in his restraints trying to get free.
Mental illness is part of life. And I would have spent the rest of my life avoiding any exposure to it because I was uncomfortable with it. But by exposing myself to it, I learned that I was quite capable of dealing with it. And that experience freed me to be more useful for the Lord and less fearful in life.
Mention public speaking to some people and they recoil. “Oh, I could never do that.” That’s what Sean Hannity used to say, until he did it. Think how different his life would have been if he shied away from public speaking. Signing up to be a lector would be a good first step to free yourself of the fear of public speaking.
Here’s something that I find fascinating. Prof. Peterson went on to explain the biology of challenges we experience. Science has learned that when you put yourself in new and challenging situation, new genes turn on in your nervous system. And these new genes code for new proteins that produce new neurological structures. Confronting challenging situations leads to biological growth.
Well, that’s all well and good, Gordon, but what does this all have to do with Jesus? Well, think about what Jesus is saying. He’s calling for disciples – people who will follow after him to do the things he does. Yes, to heal and bring blessing. But also, disciples who will live their lives to the full potential that God created them to be.
He’s giving full and fair disclosure of what is required. It means putting him first before everything else. That means trusting him that where he guides, he provides. It means that when the choice comes to face a challenge, you won’t fall back on your security.
Now for some, following Jesus might mean going on the mission field to some pretty hostile areas. Just this last week I read about another missionary who was murdered in an African nation by an extremist Muslim group. But not everyone is called to that kind of challenge. For some, following Jesus might challenge the security of family. It might mean putting Jesus before a family member.
Jesus says: Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.” Now Jesus is NOT calling his disciples to forsake their families. He’s not calling us to hate. To hate is a Semitic expression meaning to turn away from, to detach oneself from. He’s really calling them to bless their families by putting him first. Sometimes, that can uncomfortable. It can be a challenge.
While I was at Wheaton this summer, I went to breakfast a little early and was seated at a table alone. One of the other attendees came by with his tray and asked to join me. We got acquainted and he shared with me about his family. As it turns out, he had a son in New York who is good looking, talented and getting parts in plays on Broadway. His son is a rising star and everything is going well for him. And next month, the young man is getting married …..to another man.
Dad has a choice to make. Will he attend his son’s wedding and, by doing so, show his support for the wedding. Or will he put Jesus first. Put another way, can this man truly be a blessing to his son by endorsing something that Jesus calls sin?
Jesus says, None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. There are those who find their security and comfort in their possessions. That’s understandable. We work hard and live carefully to establish financial security. And I don’t think Jesus condemns that. But, how often do we shy away from ministry for fear of getting sued? Let’s face it, we live in a litigious society. A lot of times it’s just safer to steer clear of ministry that might expose you to liability. It’s too risky, it’s too challenging.
To be a disciple of Jesus is to bless the way he blessed, to heal the way he healed, to minister as he ministered. It happens as we put our trust in him. It happens as we faces the daily choices to follow his way or the way of the world. At first, that can be a great challenge. But as we step out in faith, Jesus is there – not always in the way we expect and not always in the timing we expect. But faith step by faith step our trust in him grows. And our confidence grows. And the Truth indeed sets us free.
I find it interesting that the Hong Kong movement has a theme song. You’ll hear the thousands of them singing it as they stand vigil. It’s not the Star Spangled Banner – although we’ve seen footage of them singing that in English. It’s “Alleluia, Sing to Jesus. His the Scepter, His the Crown.”
A lot of people in Hong Kong are still living free today. I’ts happening because ordinary people are not afraid to confront the things of life that are terrible, but true. They were willing to risk their security for freedom.
And Jesus says: Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.