Based on Luke 12: 32-40
“Woke up this morning with my mind, stayin on Jesus.” Or, as Luther counseled, “every morning when you rise, make the sign of the cross and remember your baptism.”
Does this discipline seem to be getting harder than ever to practice? It’s easy to get up, make the coffee, turn on the news, and renew our outrage that the messiah still hasn’t returned, all while choking on our yogurt. It is a discipline to put our minds on Jesus. It is a discipline to go to the well of love, compassion, and mercy; to be reminded that my real life is secure in Christ, and then refreshed from that same well to recommit with the same love, compassion, and mercy to do the quotidian work that God has appointed each of us and given each of us the unique gifts to do. And, yes, it is a discipline to do this daily without imputing ill to each other who are in the same harness of Christ’s mission.
This is what Jesus through Luke is talking about yet again, today. In this passage that continues from the past two weeks, though Jesus is surrounded by thousands for a spiritual Woodstock of teaching, he addresses only his disciples and those leaning close-in to listen as best they can. They were worried. They wondered about survival and purpose. All around them the authorities were defining them out of existence. Poor? You don’t count. Female? You don’t count. Christ-follower? You don’t count. A person of social authority in collusion with the empire? Okay, maybe you count. But Jesus’ people and Luke’s people were called enemies of the state, traitors, bad news, vermin, less than human. They had been defined and defined again by all the authorities into little flocks of fear.
So Jesus says to his smaller group, being pressed in on all sides, “have no fear, little flock. God has given you the kingdom.” Jesus secures them in what counts: life that is intimate with God, a life intimate with God that even means that God—the Master of the Universe–serves the servants. “Do not be afraid about anything, you precious dear ones! You are mine. And what is mine is yours. Now let’s do something with that inheritance!”
Toni Morrison died this week. She was yet another of our beautiful literary voices of truth who saw clearly and could speak both prophetically and beautifully from the truth that she saw that theretofore was all too defined by authorities not of her color or gender. And so her words were indeed and profoundly Nobel and Pulitzer worthy. Her words recharged the air we breathe with truth and beauty. She winsomely and boldly translated God’s voice into her own. It was a process of deep self-and-social-reflection that few us plumb so deeply, being usually more reactive than reflective about our own life struggles. She wrote and spoke of that struggle, the struggle of the oppressed, those whom self-appointed experts kept in suffering by their arrogant definitions of who is in and who is out; whose foreheads are too thick or noses too long or skin too dark to be…human.
Morrison knew the challenge firsthand. Getting free wasn’t even half the struggle. There would be the daily trial too. As she wrote in Beloved (1987), “Freeing yourself was one thing. Claiming ownership of that freed self was another.” But she discovered freedom was in her own story and self-definition. “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.” (“Beloved,” 1987). So she wrote the truth deeper; “the political correctness debate is really about is the power to be able to define. The definers want the power to name. And the defined are now taking that power away from them.”
We see a lot about power figures defining others. We do it ourselves in even pretended friendlier ways, as with jokes, and stereotyping. That we can repent and, I believe, do. But how about this, you—we—who mostly have achieved well. What about your own self-definition? Do you feel fake? Suffer the imposter syndrome? Come here even with the nagging feeling that something is just not right in the soul? In other words, are you well and satisfied with the story you have made of your own life?
Toni had a word, many words actually, about that. Especially that. “Make up a story. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.”
I confess that I still struggle to claim my story. I spoke about it some last week. Our work at speaking and doing our own story within the grand design of Jesus’ story is a lifelong process. And it has comedy to it. All my self-aware life (I know, there’s an opening), I’ve understood myself in the terms of my mother’s lineage as of Austrian heritage, with a great-great grandfather who came from the Alps to be a pastor in Nebraska territory. I know nothing of my biological father, whose ancestry evidently was mostly Swedish. Or so I thought. Then I finally acquiesced and did the “23 and Me” thing. Cuz Joen paid for it. My results came back that my lineage was dominantly Polish. No way. So I’ve submitted another test sample to another company to get the results I want. Joen is paying for this one too.
Whatever the results, finally, I won’t care. Jesus has defined me and therefore I can and continue to define myself in the large and endless terms of the story of Jesus. What’s your story? Who defines you? Who are you defining? Has your story freed you from fear for urgent service? Our works of love can be so paltry, especially when we think them ours. Is the mind on Jesus? Morrison recognized that too and named it rightly. “Love is divine only and difficult always. If you think it is easy you are a fool. If you think it is natural you are blind.”
So Jesus does the unnatural. He defines us so we can then live lives of self-definition in response to Jesus’s love and declaration. He tells us to have no fear, because we have all we could possibly desire. But it is not a mere chaplaincy patting on the head he gives us. He’s urgent with his own service members. Jesus frees us with assurance as to whose and who we are, and then says to get on with the heavenly work, saying something like this. “Sell your stuff and give alms. Be alert. Be ready for the master to serve you. Make your possessions the sort that no thief will be able to take, and do it now.” In other words, be wildly generous now with what God has given you because you and all that you are made of …count.
You will recognize the need when you see it. You will commit to correcting the wrong when it occurs, no matter who does it. Your fierce love for your family, your neighbor, the other, the alien, the discounted: whether it is a bottle of water for the thirsty or kindest word for the lonely or the godly act of putting a stick through the spokes of the wheel of cruelty and injustice, that is the faithful giving of alms, given from your own full and freely defined life dignified by God.
“Woke up this morning with my mind stayin on Jesus. Hallelu, hallelu, halleluia!”
Duane Larson Christ the King Lutheran Church, Houston, TX August 11, 2019