"if they called the master 'dungface'..."

My morning “coffee with God” continues to consist of reading through Matthew in “The Message” and this morning’s read shook me awake yet again:

“A student doesn’t get a better desk than her teacher.  A laborer doesn’t make more money than his boss.  Be content – pleased even – when you, my students, my harvest hands, get the same treatment I get.  If they call me, the Master, ‘Dungface’, what can workers expect?” (Matthew 10:24,25)

Dungface.  The word is a reminder that the life to which Jesus invites doesn’t have some sort of universal appeal.  After all, at the end of three years Jesus’ ministry was so effective that nearly everyone in his little part of the world hated him, and conspired to put him to death on a cross.  Some of his biggest fans turned on him, and even his most loyal supporters cowered in fear, denying that they knew him.

After an early growth spurt in the church, the same thing happened again, and Christians ended up being used at torches at Nero’s parties, or fed to the Lion’s as food in a sick sport.

“The world will hate you” is how Jesus said it elsewhere.  What’s up with this?  I spend a lot of time telling people that the story Jesus writing across the pages of history has universal appeal, telling people that God’s good reign of justice, mercy, peace, beauty, abundance, and healing is coming – why not join early, and get in step with God’s story?  What’s not to like about that?

Plenty, it appears.  Paul says the scent of Christ is the scent of life to some and the scent of death to others.  Careful observation indicates to me that what’s unappealing about Christ’s message is the very thing that’s also appealing: transformation!  Since Jesus came in order to set things right, following him will mean that there are going to be some adjustments.  Remember what Isaiah said about valleys being lifted up and hills being smashed down?  It’s metaphor (or allegory, I can never remember which) for Jesus equalizing things.  Remember Mary’s prayer?

“He bared his arm and showed his strength, scattered the bluffing braggarts.  He knocked tyrants off their high horses, pulled victims out of the mud.  The starving poor sat down to a banquet; the callous rich were left out in the cold…” (Luke 2:51-53).  It’s good news – if you’re poor and hungry.  Otherwise, not so much.

Here’s the way it seems to work:  To the extent that I want transformation, Jesus’ life, message, and power are all very good news, the best news.  Consider the lepers that were healed, the woman caught in adultery that was forgiven, the blind man who could suddenly see, and the disciples who, at various times, were aware of their profound need for transformation.  All of them ultimately loved and worshipped Jesus because He really did set them free.

And then there were his enemies, who didn’t like Jesus because they wanted to hang onto something:

Herod wanted to hang on to illicit sexual pleasures, and I’ve a suspicion there might be a few people today who are just like him.

An earlier Herod wanted nothing to do with a different kingdom because, being a king, a new kingdom would spell an end to his own power.

The same resistance came from religious camps who understood that Jesus’ reign would mean an end to their religious hierarchy and the structures that allowed them to enjoy prominence and power.

The rich young ruler didn’t want economic transformation because it sounded to much like “transfer of wealth”, especially in light of what Jesus told him to do.

So transformation was resisted by some people on sexual grounds, by others on religious and political grounds, and by others on economic grounds.  Sound familiar?

There are two dangers we who love Jesus must consider:

1. Am I being called dungface for the wrong reasons?  As a pastor, I hear nearly endless stories of people who have been burned by the church.  The stuff that’s been done “in Jesus name” down through history has been gross enough, sinister enough, to turn your stomach, and it’s happening still.  What’s worse, when people are called out on their unChristlike behavior, they relish in it, declaring themselves to be persecuted for righteousness sake.  That’s dung.  They’re persecuted because they’re behaving like jackasses.

2. Is no one calling me dungface?  If my message isn’t offensive to anyone, I fear that I’ve massaged the rough edges off so much that it’s become some sort of therapeutic soup, stripped of all transformative power, offering sentimental precious “kum-bay-ya” moments instead.  God help us, if that’s what we, the leaders of the church are doing, and sometimes I fear that it is.

How can I make certain that my message and life is powerful enough to elicit rejection, and yet know that I’m being rejected for the right reasons.  The answer is simple – to say:  Truth and Grace.

Jesus was relentless in calling people to transformation, challenging the prevailing sexual ethics, economic ethics, nationalism, religious hierarchies, and all other forms of idolatry.  He did this out of love, because he came to set us free from things to which we’re addicted.  We think they’re giving us life, but they’re killing us.  I need to hold to this.

Jesus was equally relentless about loving people, whether or not they ever believed.  Healing, blessing, friendship, changing water into wine, good conversation, all of these were offered as Jesus roamed through life, without pre-conditions for the recipients.  He loved people.  Lots of Christians who are called dungface these days are called that precisely because they offer no demonstrable love to people who think or believe differently than they do.

There’s a lot of dung flying around and I need to be willing to let it hit my face – but only for the right reasons.  It’s something to think about in a world filled with dung.

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  • Linda

    “Jesus was relentless in calling people to transformation, challenging the prevailing sexual ethics, economic ethics, nationalism, religious hierarchies, and all other forms of idolatry. He did this out of love, because he came to set us free from things to which we’re addicted. We think they’re giving us life, but they’re killing us. I need to hold to this.”

    This is not always true, in that the Lord Jesus Christ was “relentless” in calling people to repent, just read Luke chapter 10, where He told His disciples ” But whatever city you enter, and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say ” The very dust of your city which clings to us we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near you”.

    There is a time to stop being “relentless” with certain people, with people that just outright reject the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

  • raincitypastor

    it’s a good point Linda… maybe ‘uncompromising’ would be a better word than ‘relentless’

  • Linda

    Let me just clarify in that as Christians we should be always “relentless” in our love to our fellow man, even our enemies, but we should not always be calling them to repentance and faith in Christ if they continually oppose it. Remember “do not caste your pearls before swine”, there will always be swines and dogs in the world, and you need to be discerning.

  • Linda

    I think most pastors these days, especially in the United states are the ‘kum-ba-yah” types. The reason they are this way is because they are greedy, just like those BP oil executives, they know if they preach the whole counsel of God, like sin, judgement, hell, Jesus the ONLY way, denying yourself and carrying your cross that the congregants will go to some other pastor to get their ears tickled and they will end up with less money. So they just basically do not preach the whole counsel of God, they leave a lot of stuff out when they preach – and they end up being momentarily richer for it, but in the end they will end up in Hell.

    Jesus said you cannot serve both God and money, so you know these “kum-ba-yah” type of pastors are not from God.

  • fluger

    Great message, Richard. Thank you.

  • Thanks for this Richard. I fear I am not offensive enough, in part because it’s an overreaction to the fundamentalism I used to spew and the damage that did. An honest question- aside from prayer and discernment, how do we evangelize to a people who act as though they’ve heard it all already and are bored and turned off to what we believe? They aren’t even angry about Christ, they just keep a polite distance. This is a very self-insulating culture, and people are hyper sensative. If they aren’t asking, then how do we share, aside from demonstrating love and grace? Because truthfully, I feel “prompted” to encourage people and give general advice at times but I rarely feel “prompted” to directly speak of Christ unless it’s close family. Does this mean I’m failing? Many followers of Christ struggle this way.

    And does the answer HAVE to be “you’re not living a life that’s inspiring hope and those questions,” because if so- it’s discouraging- I always feel like that’s a religious response, ie- I am not DOING enough. And that answer seems to come from churches that are very works/evangelism oriented and not balanced with God’s grace and sharing love/ministry. You and your church do not strike me as imbalanced (quite the opposite actually), so I’m hoping for a more useful answer.

    perhaps this is too big to tackle, but I’ll really appreciate it if you try.

  • Claire

    This reminds me a bit of a Larry Norman song called “The Outlaw.”