“After John Was Arrested”
A Sermon preached by the Rev. Douglas M. Donley
January 29, 2017
University Baptist Church
Here we are, a little more than a week into a new reality for our country. There is a new reality after the inauguration and a slew of executive orders that threaten the health and well-being of many people and natural resources. It’s also the first week after the great marches. There were at least 8 UBCers in Washington and another couple of dozen attending the local marches. Far from being calmed, people are even more agitated. The question is how do we harness that agitation. How do we make the best of this moment in time?
Jesus began his ministry in earnest after John the Baptist was arrested. John was arrested for being a rabble-rouser. He was arrested for planting the insurrectionist idea that Caesar was not God. They recognized a different sovereign. He baptized people, Jesus included, saying that we are beholden to a new set of rules. Rules where people matter. Rules where the poor are valued. Rules where outcasts are welcome at the table. It was good news for the movement made up of misfits, but also those who read the Torah and discovered it’s prophetic power. The Torah warns against unchecked power.
And then John was arrested. He was arrested for sedition. For being a trouble-maker. For saying things that the king didn’t like, or that made him look bad. Herod had a fragile ego. John would soon be executed on Herod’s order.
After John was arrested, Jesus had a choice to make. He could have become an ascetic, removing himself from society and starting a commune of like-minded people, unsullied by the politics of the world. They could be safe there, performing their baptismal rituals and cleansing themselves from earthly stains.
That was one way he could go. But I imagine he would have to deal with the demons of guilt that would plague him. His cousin John taught him about the Torah and the need to cleanse yourself not just from something but for something. When we take on the Baptismal waters, we do so to repent from our sins and to embrace a more fitting Gospel lifestyle.
Jesus must have been thinking of this as he walked the shores of the Sea of Galilee. I imagine Jesus went there to get some perspective. To contemplate that fertile sea, an oasis in the desert. Where do you go to get perspective? What safe space reminds you of who you are?
Jesus saw fisher-people on the water. Not the best candidates to lead a movement. Eventually there would be others, some more well-healed to join the movement. But it started with the fishermen, Peter, Andrew, John and James. Jesus’ first sermon after John’s arrest was a short one: Matthew tells us that after John was arrested, Jesus began saying “repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
The compelling word that Jesus gave after John was arrested was, “Repent.” It’s another way of saying turn around. Do something different. Don’t just look out for yourself, but look out for others. And join with those who are likewise ready to turn around as well.
He could have said, “keep your head down”.
He could have said, “Agree to disagree.”
He could have said, “Be careful of your tax exempt status.”
But he didn’t. He said repent. The Kingdom of heaven has come near—or better yet, the Kingdom of heaven is at hand. Not in another world, but in this world—A decidedly different kingdom than the one that currently calls the shots. Be part of a better movement. Turn around. Repent of your complicity.
After John’s arrest it ceased to be Chronos time, when everything just proceeded on like before. After John was arrested, it became Kairos time. God’s time. Pay attention. Wake up. Do things differently. Repent. Turn around.
I know some of us talk about our lives, BC Before Children or before College and AD After depression, after divorce, after death of a loved one.
The rubber meets the road in the AM, after the march. We have been inundated with ideas and actions that have taken on new meaning. Copies of George Orwell’s 1984 have been flying off the bookshelves—or is it the Amazon warehouse bins? Illusions to Germany have come, with Martin Niemöller’s statement ringing in our ears,
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Today we can say, first they belittled the activists. Then they targeted the media. Then they banned refugees. Then they came for the Muslims. Will we stand up?
Today, there is a meeting at 3pm in the Brian Coyle Community Center in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood. Organized by our Somali Representative Ilhan Omar it will be a strategy and solidarity session. While there is a march scheduled for Tuesday, spontaneous marches are already happening at airports across the country. People are turning around.
MLK’s letter from the Birmingham jail comes to mind:
I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection…
It was audacious of Jesus to call out the disciples. It was fool hearty for the disciples to leave their nets, their only source of income, security. But there was something more compelling than safety. Maybe they wanted their children to live in hope and happiness, to aspire to something greater than fish juice.
Things took on a different meaning after John was arrested. After he was arrested, they could no longer be public without fear that they could suffer the same fate as John. Those first disciples were our role models. Are we as willing to make a risky turn in our lives? We often turn from something that we regret. But we need to not only turn from what made us sick, but we need to turn toward what will make us healthy, hopeful, hearty and holy.
What is your turn-around moment? We are here at UBC because we have been turned around. And we have found support, companionship and even joy.
We are different after a major event in our lives. And we have a chance to live in the past or in the present. We can’t live in the future because it doesn’t exist yet. Our present makes the future. What events are markers for you?
After Jamar or Philandro was shot
After the Donald was inaugurated.
After the Muslim ban went into effect.
After a loved one died.
The world looks different on this side of a turn-around event. The question is, what will we do with our one precious life because we have been turned around?
Laura Justin suggested that as an act of resistance, we ought to tell positive stories of immigrants. And let’s face it, most of us or our ancestors were immigrants, many were even refugees fleeing persecution. Some came here in chains and gained their freedom after immense struggle. This is our American heritage. Resistance is our bread and butter.
Yesterday, I joined a group of over 2000 people of faith who were committed to building a moral Minnesota. They encouraged us to take 100 days of prophetic action---that’s 100 days of action. Imagine 2000 people taking action for 100 days. That’s 200,000 steps toward a more moral Minnesota. That’s some serious action. We may well need it to restore our moral compass.
Let me close with one more quote from Martin Luther King’s Letter from the Birmingham Jail. It was written after Martin was arrested. It was written after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, after Emmitt Till was lynched, after death threats and after the writing was on the wall that Martin might receive the same treatment. Here’s what he wrote:
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self- evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
After John was arrested, Jesus called on the would-be disciples to turn. To repent, to turn toward God and embrace a new reality. It’s time for us to do the same.