Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Who's With Us?

Numbers 11:27-29
Mark 9:38-41

Darkness can be deceptive. With just enough light, a jacket tossed haphazardly across the back of a chair in a dark room can come to look like a strange, menacing animal. If this jacket has shiny buttons, with just enough light – coupled with the wild imagination of a frightened child or even a nervous adult – and suddenly this “animal” has eyes! And because the mind can play incredible tricks on a child’s or an irrational adult’s psyche, if one is still long enough, one will swear the “animal” moved! And BLINKED!!

We could explain that it is the branch of a tree outside the window gently bending and swaying in a breeze and interfering with the source of light that caused the “blink”, but how can an over-excited mind comprehend that which is perfectly rational, reasonable, and true especially if one thinks one’s “eyes” were wide open the whole time? The easy and obvious solution is to get up and turn on the light, but that might mean walking right past the “animal” that is obviously up to no good! Or putting one’s feet on the floor and being within easy reach of the troll hiding under the bed. Besides, who needs the “light” of truth when one’s mind is already made up?

Since the dawn of humanity, there has been religion in some form or fashion. As evidenced by archaeology and witnessed on the Discovery or History Channel, one can see that the pagan worship of multiple gods as well as the worship of fire, rocks, trees, birds, and other animals – and paychecks, check books, shiny cars, fancy jewelry, and fine homes - is as prolific now as it was when the Lord said, “Thou shalt not …” And since that time, there are still as many who insist there is no God in the first place, most certainly no God who would care about what we do with our time or other resources. And as long as all these things and persons have been in existence, there have been at least as many persons eager to shout from the mountaintops and rooftops as well as from the pulpits and the pews: YOU’RE WRONG!

Why do you suppose it is that someone must be “wrong” in order for us to be “right”, especially when it comes to abstract notions and concepts of religion or politics? And why do you suppose it is that we seem more intent on pointing out the faults and flaws of others and what they believe, reminiscent of the Salem Witch Trials, than we are about focusing on what we claim to be so right? In other words, why must we be so intensely focused on the “wrong” of Islam, for instance, that we cannot be equally focused on the “right” of Christianity … and with the same intensity and conviction?

I don’t think it is a matter of having the courage of conviction or the integrity of one’s faith to stand for what we believe, because we don’t point out what we believe, and we don’t share The Good News. We point out what we don’t believe, we seek out fault (and find conflict!), and we propagate The Bad News: brother, YOU AIN’T RIGHT. What’s worse, still, is that this is not merely a conflict between Christianity and Islam or a conflict between faith and no faith. Instead, most of the conflicts I see especially here in the US are the ongoing conflicts between Christian denominations. These conflicts are intensified when we seem to go out of our way to slander a fellow Christian for no other reason than that brother or sister is of another denomination. Christ is still the Center, but we lose focus, find fault, and highlight that fault, those differences, and virtually ignore the One who unites us.

Had you ever noticed before that as intently as Christian churches seem to be focused on a “recruiting” drive to get people in the doors, ostensibly under the guise of “saving souls”, there have been as many, if not more, Christians trying to keep others out? The Church has taken on the persona that is more like that of a country club than what the Bible clearly says to constitute the Body of Christ. We only want those who agree with us, those who believe “right” things, we only want those who are the same color, and we want to determine for ourselves who is “right” and who is “wrong”. And clearly if those who do not think exactly how we think and believe exactly as we believe are outside, well, they seem to be right where they need to be. And before they will be welcomed in to join the rest of us sinners, they must get right with US.

We focus on the things that separate us, things that enslave us, things that destroy us, and virtually ignore the One who saves us, preferring to engage one another not in fellowship and common purpose of mission and ministry but in spitting matches than should never be fought – and will never be won – by anyone, particularly people of faith. And worse still, those who are weak in the faith are the ones who get hurt and are ultimately driven away altogether.

The very worst of Christianity is that which I have witnessed and endured first hand since my childhood and, sadly, still see alive and well today. It is the eager willingness of Christians to slander other Christians, particularly those of other denominations. Sadder still, these libelous and slanderous “Christians” are the ones who would insist that this is a Christian nation, and the Ten Commandments (a uniquely Jewish thing, incidentally, and found in Exodus 34, not Exodus 20) would be posted on every government building and in every classroom … while they skim past #9: the prohibition against bearing false witness. These are the very same who would plea to the Lord God to bless America but would curse entire denominations – and pastors – who worship the same God and endure the same struggles … within the same country but somehow don’t do “it” correctly, whatever “it” may be.

The Body of Christ is seriously fractured, but the cause of separation is not due to the devil or the unbeliever; it is the willful pride of man. The moral authority of the Church has been compromised and continues to be compromised because of the misguided, though perhaps well-intentioned, efforts by many to focus not only on what separates one denomination from another but from also focusing on who can (or who should) be in church and what is expected of them before they are “allowed” in. The essence of this particular endeavor is most evident and notable among the so-called “liberals” vs. “conservatives”. Like the flag-waving American fundamentalist Christians whose greatest concern seems to be illegal immigration, we are too intently focused on who does NOT belong. Too often, without our having ever been aware – until it is too late, of course – we have refused angels our fellowship and hospitality (Hebrews 13:2).

Show me unity in Christ, a gathering in which Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians and others are actively invited, encouraged to attend and participate in such gatherings as these, without precondition, free to be and to believe as they are and as they do, recognizing them as individuals from varying traditions who believe as intently and as earnestly and as honestly what they believe just as intently and as earnestly and as honestly as you and I believe, then I will show you the genuine – and whole - Body of Christ. When we are working for the edification of the Church Universal and not for the destruction of churches and/or individuals we just don’t happen to like or agree with, then I will show you the Body of Christ in action, properly focused on mission and ministry.

Until that time, let us at least act with integrity and stop pretending that we really mean to promote Christ and admit that we are only promoting our own churches and/or our own personal agendas, insisting that unity can only mean someone else’s complete and total submission to US and OUR WILL. Let us admit our prideful and sinful nature when we choose to determine for ourselves who can come in and who must be kept out. Jesus said Himself that He did not come to save the righteousness, that those who are well are not in need of a physician. Why must we choose to create for ourselves new criteria that are clearly contrary and antithetical to the call of Christ Himself?

Then again, why turn on the “light” when our minds are already made up? It would only create confusion.

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