March 5, 2017

Clarence Jordan was a very clever man. He earned two Doctorate degrees, one in Agriculture and the other in Greek. As a white man living in the deep-south during the more tense days of segregation Jordan did something almost no Christian was doing, he lived in community with Christians of African-American background. As a result Jordan was threatened, the Christian community that he founded based on the Book of Acts (that included persons of difference races) was fire bombed and boycotted and had a Cross burned on their property. Jordan could certainly identify with the early disciples of Jesus.

And as a result of his witness Jordan put his twin passions to use, the community he founded farmed pecans and peanuts and cotton and shared the profits and he got busy translating the original Greek text of the New Testament into the southern vernacular. He wanted locals in the deep-south to hear the Good News and understand what Jesus was calling them to do. Clarence Jordan called this the Cotton Patch Gospel.

Lyn read the Gospel text just now. I want you to hear Jordan’s version of the same story:

Then Jesus was taken by the Spirit into the country, to be given a test by the Confuser. And after a forty-day fast he was plenty hungry. Well, the Confuser came around and said to him, “So you’re God’s Head Man, huh? Then order these stones to become pones.” But Jesus told him, “The scriptures says, ‘A man shall not live on pone alone, But on every word falling from the lips of God.’ ” Next the Confuser takes him into Atlanta and stands him on the steeple of First Church and says to him, “Okay, let’s suppose you’re God’s Head Man; now, jump down from here, for the scripture says, ‘He will make his angels responsible for you, And they’ll carry you along on their hands, To keep you from stumping your toe on a stone.’ ” Jesus replied, “Yes, but it is also written, ‘You shall not try God’s patience!’ ” Again, the Confuser gets him way up on a mountain and points out all the nations in the world and their splendor, and he says to Jesus, “Now if you just let me be boss, I’ll turn all this over to you.” Then Jesus tells him, “Scram Satan! The scripture says, ‘You shall let the Lord God be your boss, and you shall give your loyalty to him alone.’ ” At that the Confuser leaves him, and you know, angels came and began waiting on him.

Please note that most of the Bible translations of this text include the name satan or devil. But Clarence Jordan uses a different word, confuser. Jordan explains that diabolos comes from dia meaning ‘around through’ and bollo meaning ‘to throw.’ Our English word ‘ball’ comes from that. Diabolos means ‘one who throws things about’ – one who stirs things up – gets them confused. The work of the devil is just to get us muddled. The one the Bible identifies as the source of lies (who scatters them about), the slanderer, the accuser of the saints, then, is really the Great Confuser. Apropos of Lent this confusion we are looking at today is one based on power, what kind of power did Jesus exercise and what kind of power is the church suppose to embody.

Bill Wylie-Kellermann of the Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries reminds us that this text is found in Matthew just after Jesus’ baptism. Further he also reminds us that this text was read and absorbed by the early church during the period of Lent that was for them a lengthy preparation for baptism at Easter. “It was the culmination of a three year period of instruction and discipline. In the underground rigors of pre-Constantinian faith the scrutiny was serious, the preparation prolonged, and the prayer intense. Those demanding final days before baptism were marked with a fast. In part, by a simple act of solidarity and intercession, other members even whole congregations, were drawn instinctively to join the fast and renew their own sacramental vows come Easter sunrise.”

During this season of Lent I feel it would do us all well to consider the way confusing thoughts come to us that can shake us from our resolve to be followers of Jesus’ mission. What I feel is most helpful about this text is the way the confuser contrasts the way Jesus has laid out his vision for a welcoming, sharing and engaged community with what could happen if Jesus uses power and authority to compel his followers to do as he commands. The confuser is describing power as being invested in one strong leader and the followers merely offering their assent and consent. This is not a sharing of bread and love around a welcoming Table, what the confuser offers is a leader who gives the bread to the hungry in return for more power to him.

Two examples of the confuser at work in the Jesus story are the arrest and the entrance into Jerusalem. At the arrest Peter wants to use coercion to move the authorities into following Jesus. But Jesus says, “get behind me satan.” And when Jesus enters the great city as Saviour he comes riding not on a white stallion but a donkey. Again the message is clear, this Jesus will bring us to love and community not through the power of strength, prestige or wealth but with agape, self-giving love. Jesus comes to serve and calls us to serve.

Let us not be confused about our mission. Jesus did not send us into the world to be powerful and prestigious, for people to look at us and say, “Wow that Bethany crowd are pretty impressive with their handsome building and shiny interior.” No, we are called to follow Jesus by acts of service, the spirit of community and the awe that we are part of something so much larger than us.

To keep Lent is to discover and remember who in heaven’s name we are, as person and community. We pray against all confusers and confusions for our true identity and vocation. We know that means standing before the Cross and making some choices. As we explore more deeply the choices around our building and our mission let us not forget who and whose we are. The confuser wants us to embrace power and prestige. The Saviour wants us to embrace service and humility. The choice is ours. Amen.