|Let us begin with the story of Jesus's nativity and his early life.|
Jesus's birth was surrounded by angels and prophecies. They looked forward to his purpose as the one who would turn the world upside down and bring a new kind of liberation. The birth itself, however, was a humble affair attended by shepherds rather than priests and kings and Jesus grew up in a remote, obscure community. His adult work was preceded by his cousin John who became a great prophet, calling people to repentance. Jesus himself was baptised by John in the River Jordan and after that was led by the Spirit into the wilderness.
We follow Jesus into that wilderness. There we confront our true selves, our most profound weaknesses and face our most penetrating temptations. Here, if we are to have any hope of experiencing the new life, we must learn to resist.
And these are the temptations we must resist:
To have all the answers and the solutions to all problems.
To crave power and, therefore, to worship a false god.
To be popular and successful, and to impress people.
To do everything for others and not let them find their own path.
To fight against evil with self righteous anger.
To lose touch with our roots in the quest for an easier or more perfect path.
To forget that stones are stones and that not everything can be made OK.
To forget that what we worship is what makes us who we are.
To forget the meaninglessness of the impressive gesture.
Jesus resisted these temptations and was filled with the Spirit of God. In Jesus God has entered into humanity -- he fills our weak and frail bodies.
Jesus does the work of God: bringing healing and liberation. This work comes into conflict with the powers that be. It is hidden, revealed amongst the marginal and invisible of all kinds. It is the celebration of a new reality inevitably entering into conflict with legalism, precisely identifying the significant issues of the day.
These are the key tenets of this New Way:
Trouble is part of life only in it can you find blessing and hope
In the inevitable struggles of life avoid self-righteousness
Don't get caught up in judging and criticising others. It's yourself you're harming by your spite and anger
You will only understand this Way if you live it. Clever words and endless analysis won't help
If you can live in this Way of true faith remarkable and surprising things will happen. People will be restored, awakened and included once more in the human family. They will experience the touch of God. This is open to all but it is the neglected and the despised who respond most readily.
Story and song is often the best method of communicating this new life even if it may appear to be lacking in rigour and clarity. Stories uncover people's diverse and complex responses and focus attention on the response rather than a rigid set of commandments. For the Way is open to all, what matters is how you respond not your intellectual interpretation or your feelings. In responding you encounter a Personal Power: one that responds to you in dialogue, recognising your immediate context -- where you are coming from and what you have to offer.
In the story of Jesus the followers are those who respond to him. In consequence they receive the Spirit's power. When they receive this power they go out into the world to share this good news. But they are told to keep it simple, respond generously to those who welcome them and not become over-encumbered with possessions. In Jesus there is always enough. But you must lose yourself in order to find this new life and power. This is why it is a way of suffering and struggle.
Within the story of Jesus and his followers we see that worldly power becomes aware of what is happening although they do not understand it. For at the same time the true identity of Jesus is revealed: he is the ancient hope of Israel, the one called Messiah. He is God's chosen one, the pinnacle of the prophets, shining with the divine light. But for the time being this is kept quiet, it is only ever fully revealed to those who have made a decision to actively follow in the Way.
The Way is utterly dependent on Jesus. Everyone is called to leave behind past lives and attitudes and follow him on the journey.
So we are launched on an exciting and joyful mission in which we are empowered by God living within us but there are some important things which we must not forget:
Keep focused on God, don't become obsessed with what people think of you
Keep attentive to the task at hand, whatever that might be
Rely directly on a God who cares for everyone
Don't be distracted by worrying about demonic powers
Open yourself up to the light, letting repentance and joy transform you
Some people think they control true religion -- avoid them at all costs. They focus on insignificant details and cut people off from the true liberation of faith. Don't let yourself be bullied by these control freaks. Focus on God. And don't be controlled by money, either -- be free and powerful like ravens!
Jesus challenges us: Wake up! Stay awake! Life is difficult and is going to get more difficult so make a decision now to focus on the important things.
This is serious. Turn to God now or bear the consequences... open your heart to God. Let God plant a seed there and it will grow into freedom and joy, otherwise will find yourself shut out in the dark and miserable place. If only you'll let him God will nurture you and care for you like a mother hen brooding over her chicks. Remember, be humble and unconcerned for fame and status. God's offer of new life attracts the outcast not the celebrity. But are you ready to follow this Way? It's tough and it means giving up a lot. Think carefully before you decide.
This story reaches out to include those who have lost their way, been forgotten in a dark corner and wasted their lives. In fact it is often more difficult for orderly, reliable citizens to hear and understand it. Strive with everything you have to follow the Way -- wealth, influence, everything needs to be used for this one purpose.
The Way is practical. Don't get too dramatic. Do your best, complete the task, be thankful and get on with the next challenge. This is faith. Don't spend your time waiting for the End. It will come, when it comes, but your job is to walk in the Way now and keep alert!
Prayer is important. But only if it is a genuine and reckless casting of yourself into God's hands, not a carefully managed celebration of your own piety. For you can only enter on the Way in the simplicity of a child. Following the rules doesn't really help, neither does wealth -- in fact it's a hindrance. The Way is dangerous and risky and the best way to embark on it is as a spontaneous response from the place of deepest need. This will transform even the most avaricious miser into a generous and delightful follower of the Way.
Listen! Things are at a critical stage. This lifestyle may seem risky and dangerous but nowadays playing safe isn't an option. Risk everything in the Way and you will reap a rich reward!
At the critical time Jesus comes into the centre of things but people respond in different ways:
Some will be there quietly in the background supporting the work
Some will enthusiastically welcome him when things are going well
Some will get surprised when he upsets their commercialisation of religion
And some will be so furious that they'll try to get rid of him
All this can't be helped but it shouldn't deflect from the central challenge of whether I choose to follow the Way. Resistance to Jesus -- trying to get rid of him -- takes many forms for example:
Probing into his origins so as to discredit him
Simple physical violence
Trying to manipulate him by co-opting him into a particular Political position
Attempting to get him mired in futile theological controversy
But Jesus will not be trapped or limited by any of these tactics. Nonetheless he does make uncompromising claims and he is not slow to attack hypocritical religion which lacks compassion and justice. He also prepared his followers for difficult days ahead:
All kinds of terrible things have and will continue to happen in this world. There are the catastrophic wars, the destruction of the environment, fierce persecution for faithful followers of the Way, not to mention the perversion of religion for unholy purposes. Every generation must face its trial. You must not get over excited by these things but neither must you ignore them -- they should keep you alert so that you can resist evil and remain hopeful. There is nothing worse than falling asleep when you should be keeping watch!
To finish let us tell the story of Jesus's passion
Jesus was in the midst of great danger. He could feel his enemies closing in so he brought his chosen followers together to celebrate a meal. The meal was his farewell to them but it also became a way by which they could remember and relive his life and his teaching about the Way. The meal empowered them to take on the leadership of the followers of the Way but also emphasised that this was to be a servant leadership far removed from worldly models of power and self-promotion, yet in the very midst of the celebration Jesus reminded them of their own weakness and ability to betray him.
And, sure enough, the betrayal comes. As the story unfolds we see Jesus struggling with the way ahead: isolated from friends and his heavenly Father and yet still close to the divine power. At the point of betrayal his followers suddenly realise what's happening and they react with violence and denial, completely confused about what to do. At the last Jesus is taken into the den of his accusers. They taunt and abuse him yet in the midst of this questioning his true status and authority is made clear, even if his tormentors are completely unable to see it...
Jesus is now tossed into the cauldron of Jerusalem politics: kings, priests, governors try to get him to speak but he remains quiet. In the end the most convenient option is for Jesus to be disposed of, and he is sent to be crucified. Once Jesus is led off to be crucified he becomes vocal once more. Around him people laugh and cry, both mourning for him and taunting him but Jesus forgives them, warns of coming troubles and speaks comfortingly to his fellow condemned. In the end he dies. The noise and the taunting cease and his body is laid respectfully in a tomb.
But Jesus did not remain in that tomb.
People began to experience strange things: angels, empty tombs, encounters with strange people... the hope spread that Jesus was alive. Risen from the grave. Then he appeared among them -- a solid, fish-eating, real human being! Slowly he made everything clear to them, enabling them to reread scripture so that they could understand what had happened. Then he commissioned them as witnesses to his resurrection, preparing them to receive the Spirit that they might be empowered to be messengers of the Way throughout the world: resisting its temptations and bringing to it a new hope.