Sometimes, Jesus isn’t enough. We can be raised in homes that are loving. We can go to Sunday school from day one, sit through church services week after week, and still, when we begin to truly enter and engage the world of reality around us, the soul can be sorely shaken. We begin to ask, how can followers of Jesus do this? How can they act that way? Where is the spirit of service and love he brought? Would Jesus detest the neighbor because of his culture or color? Would he go to war over access to the earth’s riches? Would he not honor all the works of the Creator?
It’s only when we see the Spirit of the Holy in the lives of those around us, in our historical setting, sometimes in stark and public ways, more often in quiet and inauspicious ways, that we assent, and proclaim that Jesus is still alive and well.
Thinking about the quiet and inauspicious, there is no one person who stands out. When I look back on my years in ministry, there are many that blend together. Usually, they were responsible for feeding or building. It wasn’t just food or shelter, although that was also their gift. It included food for the spirit in times of suffering and grief, or building of confidence and courage in times of depression and desperation. They were the ones you could always count on for a kind gesture, a caring word, a loving act. They didn’t seek or receive public acknowledgment. The only time they made the paper was when they died.
Then there are those whose names we recognize. In a world mad for weapons and violence. For me, the apostles of nonviolence are Jesus models. Not that they are perfect, but just like us, they are nevertheless the sons and daughters of God. We all have within us the power to be followers of “the way” of Jesus.
One of those apostles for me is Mahatma Gandhi. That may seem strange to some that I would speak of Gandhi in a Jesus context. But as a spokesperson and activist for the way of nonviolence, of conscious suffering in pursuit of service to others, he is a striking representative of “the way” of Jesus. Gandhi loved the Beatitudes and the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. He was a model of how to turn an adversary into a friend, winning the respect of those destined by power and privilege to be his enemy. His only weapon was his capacity for accepting and transforming the violence of others and giving himself over to his own eventual demise in assassination.
Another nonviolence apostle is Martin Luther King, Jr. We celebrate his life this coming Jan. 15.
We will remember he was assassinated some 50 years ago. He told us he had been to the mountaintop and saw the promised land. He brought hope for racial healing and harmony to a weary world. He tells us he saw it, but we haven’t yet realized it. After 50 years we are a world still waiting and watching; still wandering in the wilderness.
Christians sometimes forget their origins and history with regard to active participation in the public life and issues of their times. The early church was persecuted, criminalized – because they worshipped God and held the nonviolent Jesus in highest esteem, not the emperor. In our time and country, slavery was legal, and Christians who participated in the Underground Railroad were criminalized. In Nazi Germany, rounding up and killing Jews was legal. Christians who thought and acted differently were known as the “Confessing Church,” as they sought to shelter and hide Jewish citizens and risked arrest and imprisonment. During the years of legal segregation in this country, those Christians who resisted were treated as criminals. The corporate ecocide taking place today is legal, and those who resist are criminalized. Legality does not always constitute morality. Violence against the neighbor or God’s good creation has no ethical justification in a Christian value system.
Given our 21st Century reality, the increasing threat of violence and environmental disaster; we are in dire need of those who will follow “the way” in their usual humble and quiet manner, behind the scenes; changing and healing a life here and there by witness and example.
And we are also in need of those more public figures, devoted to a way of living that is evident in their public and private life, who help us look from the mountaintop at a promised land, without violence, rich in milk and honey and shared with all.