The Renegade Gospel: A Revolutionary Lifestyle
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 4, 2018
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Today is the third Sunday in Lent and we are nearing the half-way point in our Lenten journey toward Resurrection Day. We began our discussion about the Renegade Gospel, led by the Rebel Jesus two weeks ago as we began to envision Christ not just as a gentle lamb, but as a man who could be fierce like a lion. He taught new and edgy things, he challenged the first century community to think outside of the box, to imagine that we could love one another and transform the world with God’s love. Christ is our mentor, he challenges us to be like him and to be like him, we must understand all of him, not just the safe, sanitized Jesus. We must enter the world he lived, as a revolutionary, bringing God’s love to a broken world.
And so, we begin this morning with Paul, after Jesus was crucified and resurrected. Paul had had his own transformational experience with Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul was an opponent to Christianity, a Pharisee who wished to squash this revolution and bring peace to the region. And in a face to face encounter with Jesus Christ, Saul became Paul and was enlisted into service to God and called to preach this good news to the ends of the earth.
Paul became a virtual outlaw along with the other disciples and followers of Christ. Remember, during these first three hundred years of Christianity, the new faith was outlawed. When the early followers called Jesus “Lord,” it was received as a threat from the Roman Empire. It sounds “innocent enough to twenty-first-century American ears; but in the Roman Empire of that time, saying “Jesus is Lord” was both heresy and treason. Under Roman law, Caesar was Lord. Caesar alone yielded absolute power and authority.
“In the government-sponsored prosecutions, tens of thousands of believers were executed publicly, often left hanging on crosses along major roadways so that all people would witness the penalty for proclaiming Jesus as Lord. Other believers lost their lives in front of the crowds that packed the Roman coliseums located throughout the empire.
“New Christians courageously refused to bow to the religious or political barriers that denied and defied Jesus’ authority, no matter the consequences to self or family, and many were martyred for their faith. The word martyr in Greek means witness, and what a witness it was, and how different from the “witness wear” and car clings we use now to express our faith.
“That was the world that the Apostle Paul traveled and ministered within. Everywhere Paul journeyed on behalf of Christ, he and the church were in jeopardy and met with resistance at every turn. During Paul’s second missionary journey, he stopped at a town called Thessalonica in Greece. Jason, a believer, had hosted Paul and Paul’s traveling companion Silas, in his home.” Our scripture today picks up the story in Acts 17:5-8:
5 But the Jews became jealous, and with the help of some ruffians in the marketplaces they formed a mob and set the city in an uproar. While they were searching for Paul and Silas to bring them out to the assembly, they attacked Jason’s house. 6 When they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some believers before the city authorities, shouting, “These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has entertained them as guests. They are all acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, saying that there is another king named Jesus.” 8 The people and the city officials were disturbed when they heard this.
“These men who have caused trouble all over the world…” When did Christianity stop causing trouble? When did the church become so tame? In A.D. 313, the Caesar of Rome, Constantine, issued the Edict of Milan, legalizing Christian worship. No doubt during his predecessors’ rule, Constantine had noted the Christians’ stubborn persistence in clinging to their faith and allegiance to Christ no matter what persecution they endured. Constantine perhaps realized that if he harnessed that fervor and allegiance to Rome, the Empire would prove unconquerable. From that point forward, the Christian flag would fly under the flag of Rome.
“This new, legalized status for Christianity thankfully diminished the persecutions but ironically would prove to deal an almost fatal blow to the vibrancy of the church. Jesus’ followers started to become comfortable and complacent. Christians enjoyed being part of the status quo instead of the rebellious fringe. In essence, Constantine made the church an instrument of the state; and in the fourth century the church started to lose the radical nature of a renegade gospel. The gospel became civilized, the rebel Jesus domesticated, and the movement institutionalized and ritualized.”
Being a committed follower of Jesus Christ “means commitment to a revolutionary lifestyle, in which we do not subjugate our allegiance to Christ to any other priority. The commitment means ensuring that our lifestyle is in alignment with a kingdom of God worldview.” It can be easy to forget who we are following and get tangled up in the morality of today, the lowered sense of what is right or wrong and forget that we are followers of Jesus Christ. We must fight the urge to turn our focus inward, onto ourselves and strive for self-preservation over the call to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world.
Jesus calls us to also be rebels when he says in Luke 9:23-24, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.” We must put Jesus’ priorities first in our lives and our families and careers, second and third.
When we say yes to Jesus Christ we become part of his church, we are his witnesses in the world. We are called to be in community with other radical believers and work toward our full potential as called by Jesus. 1 Peter 2:9 reads,
9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
We are chosen for a reason, not to sit inside the building and have prayer meetings, although those are important. We must venture out into the world and go where the people are. We must be in the marketplace and members of local organizations. We must represent Christ in all the things that we do and be prepared to respond when people ask about our faith, or better yet, bring up your church work in conversation and share what we are doing here.
Two examples from recent years encourage me that we are still able to be radical followers of Jesus Christ, following Jesus’ example. First, during World War II, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a Lutheran pastor, was one of very few clergy people who spoke against Adolf Hitler. His opposition to the hateful practice of the Nazi’s, ultimately cost him his life, but he knew what Christ would do, and so he did it, against the authorities of the day.
Then we have Martin Luther King, who also led a revolution against racism and he led us forward in the fight for civil rights for all citizens. One sermon, one demonstration, one bus strike at a time, Dr. King practiced nonviolence so that the former system would be replaced by a more just and equal system of justice. This new community is what Jesus meant when he challenged us in Matthew 5:14-16:
14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. 15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
As members of Christ family, we are the light that is in our world, and in our communities bringing hope and love to a broken and needy world. “Practicing a revolutionary lifestyle means submitting ourselves fully to the authority of Jesus’ teachings. In Matthew 7 Jesus shared the parable of the wise and foolish builders, stating in verses 24-25:
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. 
Our faith is grounded in Christ Jesus, not only by our words, but more importantly by our actions. What does a revolutionary lifestyle look like today? What actions can we take to be like the Rebel Jesus? I would say that we should educate ourselves to the issues of today. What are the things that are broken or who are the people who are hurting? Those are the issues we must prioritize in our work to make our world a better place. We must be in dialogue with other people to hear their stories and find common ground. We must adopt new things, we must be open to change. Imagine if the disciples weren’t willing to learn, dialogue or change? Everything in their lives were upside down once they joined Jesus team.
To live a revolutionary lifestyle, we must be willing to leave the building, to learn about others and the struggles they live every day, and we must be willing to do something about it, especially things that we’ve never done before. Yes, sisters and brothers, we must be willing to try something new, even if we’re scared to death. That my friends is living a revolutionary lifestyle as followers of Jesus Christ.
 This sermon series is inspired by the book of the same name by Mike Slaughter.
 Slaughter, Mike. Renegade Gospel. The Rebel Jesus. Abington Press, Nashville, TN. 2014. Page 39-40
 Ibid, 40-41