Sunday evenings spent on the porch often provide an occasion to unwind from a busy day. A phone call interrupted the quiet.
I answered because I always look forward to hearing from Rick.
Rick: “What are you preaching these days?”
Me: “We are in Eastertide. Too often we race past Easter so we are taking our time with the Risen Christ.”
Rick: “Did you preach from John 14?”
Me: “1 Peter 2”
Rick: “That’s good too.”
From there Rick relayed his recent work with John 14. Having preached since he was 17, Rick could easily fall back on a healthy repertoire of sermon material. Instead he insists on mining the sacred text over and again. I listen intently, as I learned to do with my mentor(s), as everyone should.
Rick pastors and preaches with an atypical group. Four times a week he gathers with a group of people seeking re-entry after incarceration. I think to myself, “a people who were not a people.” His work with them provides a vision for “a people who are now God’s people.”
During our conversation, Rick pointed out the three conversations that take place in John 14. He noted the different points from which Jesus admonishes them to stop their troubled hearts. Three times prior to John 14 Jesus is referenced having his own troubled experience. Once Jesus worked through his own troubled heart he exhorts his disciples to stop letting their hearts be troubled.
One quality exhibited by each of the three was the strength of their resolution to follow Jesus. Rick considered each instance to reveal the lack of resolve displayed by their actions and words. Maybe he will send along his manuscripts to see how he works this out in his sermon series.
For now I am left thinking of the way a lack of resolve subverts resolutions of loyalty.
Language of Loyalty
Yesterday the Washington Post carried an article suggesting a pattern emerging with President Trump’s leadership. If loyalty is not pledged, you may be replaced. You may read the article here. Sure, some will pan the article since it is from WaPo. It is not my concern to quibble with anyone’s analysis. Agree or disagree with the writer, the point about loyalty caught my attention.
Dallas Willard suggested allegiance as a helpful word when describing commitment to Jesus. It would be hard to see how his chosen word signals something of an appeal to a cultural, even civil, sense of loyalty. “I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which is stands.”
Once a month we recite the pledge to begin our City Council meetings. It is an apt symbol for our civic work. The laws of our City, State and Nation require our diligence and our faithfulness when making decisions related to our shared life together.
The crossover from the fervor felt from allegiance, loyalty, to Country should not be lost on what Willard was doing. Taking the common language of what is considered one of our highest expressions of nationalism and using it to describe our deepest commitments to Jesus is akin to Paul’s words at the Areopagus. Rather than quoting Epiminides and Aratus, Willard borrows from our most commonly repeated verse of allegiance, of loyalty.
Every time Christians hear the Pledge, it may, and should, stir within us a certain dissonance. Who deserves our highest loyalty? The answer should be simple.
The rupture of this dissonance was felt in the past election cycle. It lingers. For six months I have abstained from drawing attention to this dissonance on the blog. Some dear friends took offense at my insistence that our allegiance to Jesus ought to inform our decisions more than partisanship. I confess to being guilted and shamed by others as if I had somehow forsaken the faith of my forebears. It came as a big dose of shut up juice.
Very public figures in my own denomination resorted to name calling. It persists.
A friend recently re-posted a resolution from the 1998 Annual Meeting of my denomination. Those present adopted a resolution calling for the highest level of morality for our elected leaders. I wondered to myself if that same resolution would pass were it offered today.
I fear not.
Rather than rid ourselves of obstacle to love – malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander, it seems these have become stock and trade. Is it possible that we think we have built upon the Cornerstone only to have stumbled over it? When there is no resolve to our resolutions, loyalty dies. And with it, any confidence that Jesus calls us to imagine a world different.