Romans 12; Matthew 5: 38-6:4; 6:19-34
What is punk? The dictionary definition of punk focuses on two aspects: the music and the clothing. Punk is, according to google definitions, “a loud, fast-moving, and aggressive form of rock music, popular in the late 1970s and early 1980s.” If a person is a punk, the dictionary says, she or he is defined as “an admirer or player of punk rock, typically characterized by colored spiked hair and clothing decorated with safety pins or zippers.” I found it interesting that the dictionary left out something that was a crucial part of punk identity for me and many others. Google’s dictionary definition fails to mention the values of punk—anti-corporate, anti-establishment, anti-materialism. Punk was and is about not conforming to specific expectations or values that society promotes.
In my junior year of high school, I began hanging out with a group of punks, a few of whom were the anarchist variety and some of whom were Pentecostal hippie punks. I had had my worldview shattered during a trip to Kenya when I was 16, seeing firsthand the extreme inequality in our world—meeting people who didn’t have adequate housing or clean water to drink. I yearned for something that flipped our materialist culture on its head, that focused on justice and equality and compassion instead of selfish individualism and consumerism. I found it in Jesus and punk.
Punk can make people uncomfortable because the clothing, the music, and the attitudes appear subversive. Which they are. This brings us to the question, if we’re talking about Dunker Punks today, are we talking about being subversive in the church? Quite simply, yes. At the 2014 National Youth Conference of the Church of the Brethren, speaker Jarrod McKenna defined Dunker Punks as “members of a rebellious countercultural tradition that radically commit their lives to living God’s Calvary-shaped love in the power of the Spirit, to the glory of the Father.”
Jesus was consistently subversive—which is defined as “seeking to subvert an established system or institution” (Google definitions). He turned the values and expectations of his day upside down. Jesus defied what the Pharisees thought a religious person should do or whom they should love and associate with. Jesus refused the zealots’ ideals of taking up the sword to usher in an earthly kingdom with violence.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus proclaimed an alternative and subversive ethic—one that was difficult for people to hear in his day and is still difficult today. He taught that hating someone was akin to murder, that lust was not unlike adultery, that evil acts should be countered with love and nonretaliation, that acts of faith should not lead public accolade but should be done in secret, that the things we treasure indicate what our hearts value, that worry and anxiety are fruitless, and that judging others will result in our own selves being judged. Love and forgiveness and reconciliation, trust and generosity and freedom from anxiety about material wealth, prioritizing people and looking to the Creator: these are the values that Jesus sets up to guide our lives. Values that still, today, ring true as contrary to our culture’s values and mores.
Sometimes we hear messages that overtly or subtly tell us that our worth and our personhood is defined by our occupations (and therefore how much we earn), by what we buy, what we wear, what type of house or apartment we live in, and where it is. Our culture—which includes the media and the various messages we see, hear, and read—tells us that we have value when we wear the right clothes or have the perfect Instagram photo. We hear messages that encourage us to hate the stranger, kick out the immigrant or refugee, and refuse to bear anyone else’s financial or spiritual burden—unless they are our own family or they resemble us in one way or another. We also hear messages that promote building our own material comfort at all costs and voices that demand we take “an eye for an eye” whenever we are hurt or injured.
Jesus said on the hilltop in his sermon on the mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
In Romans 12:2, which we read earlier, the apostle Paul taught the early church to question the values of their Roman society. “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
We are called to discern together about the world’s values and activities to ensure that our lives and actions reflect the ethic of Jesus, the ethic of neighbor love and enemy love and radical generosity and community and faith.
Radical music, radical hairstyles, and radical values. It makes sense, looking back, that I was drawn to the Church of the Brethren. I was interested in service and justice and simple living (I wasn’t quite convinced about peacemaking at first), so I was incredibly intrigued by this Christian tradition that valued these things. I joined the Church of the Brethren because I loved the Brethren ideals of community, service, simple living, and peace.
Community over the individual, service over self-satisfaction, simple living instead of a materialistic rat race, peacemaking and reconciliation instead of bitterness and revenge: the values that this church stands for are indeed radical and turn the values of our culture upside down on their heads. Jesus calls us to follow Him and His Kingdom is an upside-down Kingdom, as brother Don Kraybill aptly wrote years ago.
How do we think about forming a more radical, more loving community here at Washington City Church of the Brethren? How do we demonstrate radical love—for strangers, for “scary” others, for neighbors and enemies? How do we frame our individual and family priorities—our 5 or 10 year plans, where we live, what we do, how we spend our money and energy—in radical ways that build up Jesus’ Kingdom of love and peace, in ways that illuminate a little outpost of that Kingdom here in Washington, DC?
Jesus instructed His disciples that anyone who wanted to follow Him needed to daily reaffirm his or her commitment to the way of Jesus (Luke 9:23-25). The challenge to youth at NYC stands as a challenge for all Brethren—and all Christians. Are we willing to abandon the world’s values of wealth, power, and prestige in shaping our lives? Are we willing to commit ourselves to living out Jesus’ message of love, nonconformity, and radical discipleship, in the power of the Spirit, to the glory of the Father? AMEN.