Be Careful Whom You Follow

Be careful whom you follow.


Is it the Jesus who entered the temple, the seat of the government, and overturned the moneychangers’ tables as a statement about following a higher god than the one enshrined in this political system?


Is it the Jesus who comes with a sword in the book of Revelation, sweeping in on a cloud and sending all the bad guys straight to hell? And of course that doesn’t include you, because you will be one of the elect. As the song title says, “Jesus Loves Me, but He Can’t Stand You.” That sort of thing.


Is it the White Jesus we’ve seen in paintings, 6 feet tall with flowing blond-brown hair, standing outside our door and knocking? That Jesus loves White people, no matter what. But maybe he doesn’t like other people so well, especially people of color.


Be careful whom you follow.


Is it the president who promises to make America great again—by which he apparently means making it White again? The same president who has rolled back environmental protections, making it easy for industry to rape and pillage the planet and burn fossil fuels. The same president who called the coronavirus the Chinese virus, said it would be gone by Easter (of last year), and has politicized the wearing of masks to the point that our hospitals are filled to capacity and overflowing, our morgues have to rent refrigerator trucks, our healthcare workers are exhausted, our schools and restaurants and so much more are closed, and our economy is tanking because so many people have lost their jobs. The current death toll is near 400,000 people in this country alone.


Be careful whom you follow.


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and others led the Civil Rights Movement, demanding through nonviolent protests that Black people in this country be treated as human beings, as equals, that the Jim Crow laws be outlawed. No separate water fountains or restrooms or back-of-the-bus seating. No second-class status. Following him meant putting everything at risk: your personal safety, your job, maybe even your life. But you can see from the video we watched a few minutes ago—it was exciting. It was hope-filled. People who participated knew that they were standing for justice, for inclusion of everyone. You can see the joy on people’s faces—people who understood that none of us is free until all of us are free. You can see Black and White people standing together, holding hands, singing, listening to speeches, riding buses. How liberating to reach across the boundaries that our society has told us—for centuries—must not be crossed.  


And we know who King and the other leaders were following. They were following the Jesus of love and justice. The brown Jesus. The Jesus who ate with the establishment types as well as the prostitutes and tax collectors. The Jesus who provided free health care to those who could pay nothing. The Jesus who called us to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, visit those who were sick or in prison.


Someone told me that, on January 6, before storming the Capitol Building, the terrorist insurrectionist insurgents prayed for Jesus to help them. They appear to follow a warrior Jesus, and certainly there are warrior-God images throughout the Bible. For our opening prayer we read parts of Psalm 139, about God knowing and loving us wherever we go. But the psalmist takes that love to a fanatical extreme in several verses that usually are cut from readings, and you can see in these verses how things can get out of hand:

O that you would kill the wicked, O God,

   and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me—

those who speak of you maliciously,

   and lift themselves up against you for evil!

Do I not hate those who hate you, O God?

    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?

I hate them with perfect hatred;

    I count them my enemies. (Psalm 139:19-22, NRSV)


So those who attempted to bring down our democracy on January 6 apparently think they follow that warrior Jesus. This Jesus can call for sacrifice, too. In their internet echo chambers, they had been fed a host of lies for years—lies that fed on fear, paranoia, vengeance, and hate. Lies that said White people are supreme, better than any other race. The more recent lies said that the president had won reelection by a landslide but those pedophile Democrats were stealing the election and needed to be stopped. So these followers, mostly White men, came with their guns and their Confederate flags and their pipe bombs, ready to conquer and sacrifice for the Jesus they think they serve—certainly for the president they follow. They listened to their president inciting them to commit violence, to attempt to bring down their own government, to go after fairly elected legislators, to overturn a fair election because the one they follow lost that election. And they roared up to the Capitol to break in and terrorize, vandalize, and destroy. Because that is who they follow. They have drunk some toxic Koolaid.


Be careful whom you follow.


When Jesus says to Phillip, “Follow me,” Phillip has no idea what he’s getting into. But he does recognize that Jesus is the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets. So he not only walks away from whatever life he had been living, but he invites others to come, too, like Nathanael.


We want strong leaders. We want to follow someone who is doing something important. We have to be careful that whoever we follow is headed in the direction of liberty and justice for all.


We find that leader when we follow the Jesus of the gospels. We may make sacrifices, but they are in the name of the greater good. We may find ourselves speaking a prophetic message to our government, but it won’t involve guns or terrorizing our legislators. It will involve justice, compassion, and inclusion. It will involve loving our neighbors, not killing them. It will not involve selling our souls to hate. On the contrary, we will find ourselves involved in what is life-giving to all.


Jesus was indeed a rabble rouser, taking on his political system in the name of justice and love. And it got him killed. He came not with guns and flags and hate, not with violence, but with truth and compassion and vulnerability and an invitation to change. Follow that Jesus. It’s not easy. But this Jesus points toward life and love, not death, not hate, not fear or paranoia.


There have been plenty of marches on Washington before. Fifty-seven years ago last August there was the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and I believe it was at that event that Martin Luther King, Jr., gave the “I Have a Dream” speech. This past August, on the exact anniversary of that march, there was a “Get Your Knee off Our Necks” Commitment March on Washington. People wore masks but still risked COVID-19 to stand up for liberty and justice for Black lives, because, 57 years later, Black people are still being killed and discriminated against and oppressed for being Black. Which march would Jesus attend: the one that says Black lives matter, or the one that tries to overturn the results of a fair election and risks the lives of our leaders?


On January 6 we saw mayhem. We hear rumors that there may be more to come this week. We follow the Jesus who stands for love and justice. We stand firm for truth and compassion. When I hear of these terrorist mobs incited to violence by their internet world and by their president, I think of how they have given themselves over to the hate and lies they have chosen to follow. And I think of what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4:8-9, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.” Let’s follow that Jesus. Amen.




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