Sunday, May 24, 2009

Promise Fulfilled; Promise to Come

Luke 24:44-53

It is impossible to imagine the emotions the apostles must have been experiencing at Bethany as Jesus was preparing to depart from this earth. It had not been that long before when all hope seemed lost, as the life was quite literally being beaten from Jesus’ body before He was finally hung on the Cross and left to hang until dead. This was Messiah, the Promised One, who talked a good show, made a lot of promises, told some great stories, and performed a lot of pretty neat tricks, but one day this “Son of God” gets man-handled all the way to His doom – or what appeared to be His doom. It was so bad, the doom and gloom so thick, the hopelessness so apparent, that many fled. There was nothing left to hang around for – it was over. Done. Finished.

Those who fled lived in fear in the ensuing days prior to that first Easter, fear that all which had befallen Jesus would soon come upon them because of their devotion to Him. The group behind the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus was not a very forgiving bunch, so it was not unreasonable to assume that what happened to Jesus would soon happen to all who had professed allegiance to Him. Imagine living in such a state of fear as to be virtually paralyzed only to discover that you were wrong about the demise of Messiah, that something remarkable, if miraculous, has taken place, beyond description, certainly beyond “neat trick”!

A Promise had been fulfilled right before their very eyes, the New Covenant made manifest in the Resurrection of the Christ that would leave no doubt that “though one may die, so may he live” (John 11:25). The reality of this Promise has arrived, has been fulfilled, and has been made manifest in the presence of the Risen Christ. But now He is leaving yet again, only the circumstances are not quite the same as before. He is leaving us with a few words and is issuing yet another Promise that “help is on the way” very soon; we need only the patience, faith, and courage to hold on and wait. We have just witnessed the Reality of Eternal Life, and we have been redeemed from the bondage of our sins. What other “help” can we possibly need?

Very clearly, the story is still unfolding. While it might seem that the Ascension would be pretty close to the end of the Story, as it needs to be told, the truth is the Story is not quite finished. There is much more to see, much more to learn, much more to do, much more even to endure. And life on this earth, for the faithful, is going to get much harder – and also easier – because of the words that Jesus not only left them with at Bethany (“wait until you are clothed with power from on high”) but also because of the words Jesus imparted to them according to Matthew’s Gospel (in addition to the others): “They will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake” (24:9).

It occurred to me that if we are not standing firm in the faith, we will endure no real challenges, no real hassles. There will be no “hatred”, no name-calling, no tribulation by the hands of non-believers. However, if the Church stands firm in thousands of years of human history and tradition and refuses to bend and flex according to the world’s standards and the world’s demands, there will be much “wailing and knashing of teeth” among the non-believers. Consider the recent slander of Miss California who dared to stand firm in her faith and express what she believed to be true. She did not thrust this belief on the world; the world demanded to know. And she was all but burned at the stake for what she believes.

Another case in point: the French First Lady has taken to blaming Pope Benedict for her loss of faith. She claims that the Church’s teachings have left her feeling “profoundly secular”, and she continues the criticism that was leveled against John Paul II regarding artificial birth control and AIDS in Africa. She claims that this particular means of birth control is the “only existing protection”, and these many continue to suggest that AIDS would simply go away if the Church will simply shut up.

Now I quite frankly do not care what many believe or think about birth control, but I do care that we all acknowledge there is something much more sinister at work here than whether or not Africans use birth control. Those who criticize the Church fail to see the “big picture”, but the Church – and specifically the pope – are taking a lot of flak over its teachings. Would it be easier to simply succumb to the world’s demands? Of course it would be easier and many Protestant churches have done exactly that, but Jesus did not call us to a life of ease or leisure. And it appears to me that there wouldn’t be much of a difference anyway. Several methods of birth control already exist, and so do unplanned pregnancies, AIDS, and other STD’s. Other biblical prohibitions against certain behaviors also exist, but that does not seem to stop the many from violating these prohibitions. So why the fight over merely condoms? It seems to me that we cannot see the forest for the trees.

It also seems ironic that an unbelieving world has accused Christianity of “creating [a] god in man’s own image” while desperately seeking to create for themselves a “god” more pleasing to their own ideals and standards; a “god” that will allow them to live as they see fit, do “it” (whatever “it” may happen to be on a particular day) as long as it “feels good”, a “god” that will expect little from them but will ultimately demand so much more from them than they will ever be willing to give.

But I digress. What the Church is called to do goes far beyond one doctrinal belief about one particular thing and while birth control is not mentioned in the Bible, those acts which cause unintended pregnancies and AIDS are specifically mentioned in the Bible, but the world seems intent on demanding that the Church remain silent about even these things. Even still, where are our duties defined? And do we even need to be talking about such things? What matters most? What is the point of the apostles being “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49b) if we are called to make peace with the world, tell the world what it wants to hear rather than what it needs to hear, assimilate ourselves into the worldly culture, and simply remain silent on those points at which we disagree? I don’t think we need ‘power from on high’ to sit on our hands. And it seems clear that Promises coming from Christ for the days to come do not involve our silence, our inactivity, or our complacency.

In Luke 12:35-48 Jesus tells the parable of the Faithful Servant and the Evil Servant. Long story short, Jesus ends the parable with this: “for everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more” (48).

This leaves the faithful with these two questions: how much has been given to us, and how much are we willing to give in return?

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