Sunday, February 28, 2010

Blind Indulgence

Philippians 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

The other night at our OT Survey class I quoted a TV character and was promptly told that I probably watch too much TV. Well, I’ve admitted that much, but M*A*S*H and gangster movies don’t count as “too much”. Besides, sometimes even TV writers have something worth listening to!

Though I’ve never actually watched this particular show, A&E has a series called “Intervention” which is about addicts and their loved ones who pull out all the stops and “intervene” in their lives before they are completely destroyed. As it goes for addicts, including alcoholics, interventions become necessary because just when we might think someone has actually “hit bottom”, we find their downward spiral to be substantially “bottomless”. And we intervene because we genuinely care. We actually “love” that person whose life is spinning out of control, that person who is on the road to perdition and, ultimately, his own destruction; we love because we care enough to go out of our way and actually DO something for them, regardless of what may be required of us.

I often wonder why we Christians are not so aggressive when it comes to “intervention” on behalf of those whose souls are “in danger of the judgment”. And I don’t mean public protests and curses and name-calling against those who do not live according to our personal mandates and preferences. I mean a genuine, heartfelt, soulful, sanctified way of love by which we can see these persons and feel genuine care and concern for these persons because, through the spiritual growth that is sanctification, we have been empowered and enabled to see them through the eyes of the Lord.

Paul challenges the Philippians in much the same way, particularly when he challenges them to “imitate” him but most notably when he speaks of those “enemies of the Cross” for whom he weeps. There is a spiritual certainty within his compassion by which he is convinced that these people who worship their own “bellies” (i.e., fleshly desires) and are on the path of spiritual destruction are completely unaware of their impending doom, blinded as they are by their own selfish indulgences. In their blissful ignorance, these have become “enemies of the Cross” because they fail to comprehend the sacrificial nature of Christianity itself. Perhaps it is they fail to understand that when it comes to allegiance to Christ, there is no middle ground, there is no “kinda sorta”, there is no “after I finish everything else”. Jesus clearly admonishes His disciples that they either “is” or they “ain’t”, and that allegiance goes much further and much deeper than self-proclaimed salvation.

These to whom Paul refers – and these many whom we know today – are also the very ones to whom Jesus refers when He speaks of the many who were and are “unwilling” to be gathered into His protective embrace. And yet, in spite of their “unwillingness”, Jesus is still on the path of the mother of all “interventions” even as those on the path of self-destruction cannot appreciate it or even comprehend what is about to take place, so engrossed in their own lives as they are to the point of being deaf and blind, not only living in darkness but taking genuine joy and pleasure from it. Worse, perhaps, is that they find no shame.

St John Chrysostom, a 4th century Church father and bishop of Constantinople, reckoned that it might not be as bad to live such a life as one of such self-destruction “in secret” as it would to bring such behavior better suited to darkness out into the light. At least in the darkness, there is evidence of a conscience, an element of one’s being that may still have hope of redemption. These seem to at least be aware of their own shame and would much prefer that it not be so well known. For the “enemies of the Cross”, however, they bring what they believe to be their own “glory” into the light where it is revealed by the Word of the Lord, by the Light that is Christ, as their ultimate shame. Just as it will soon be their judgment and spiritual death. The Church does not use such language much anymore, does it?

For an example we could be so bold as to point to a protest which took place at a cathedral in Chicago on February 14. The church was celebrating its regular Sunday Mass but was also inviting married couples to renew their own vows to one another during the Mass. It was to be a celebration of married love. A homosexual rights group chose to use this cathedral and its celebratory Mass as a venue by which to “protest” the Catholic Church’s refusal to change its stand on homosexual behavior. These people obviously have no shame and are so blinded as to believe that the Lord God is subject to our protests. Even worse, they showed an utter disrespect and disregard for the rights of those in worship and for the rights of those who simply do not and will not agree with them.

Or we could choose other, less conspicuous examples of personal excess, selfish indulgences, ignoring the Body of Christ in favor of pursuing one’s own personal desires. And there are any number of examples that fall somewhere between the seemingly innocuous and the blatantly obvious. In the end, however, the standard of one’s own faith can be measured by the willful efforts made to grow in faith … and in Christ-like, sacrificial love; that love which ignores the needs and the glory of self and actively pursues the needs and the glory of others.

“Whatever”, that cavalier proclamation spanning a couple of generations that suggests a “take it or leave it” attitude, is not an option in the Body of Christ just as such condescension was not an option for Jesus. The commitment was as absolute and as unwavering as the compassion felt for those who kept – and still keep – the Church and life in the Body of Christ safely at arm’s length. There can be no such thing as a benign faith that simply exists but does not actually “live” and grow and flourish and that feels no shame in its contempt and hatefulness. Simply believing in a possibility or a concept is not the same as abiding faith.

I think there is much more that is exemplified in Jesus’ lamentation and Paul’s tears to those who are still working and striving and growing in such faith and in such love that they can appreciate Jesus’ sacrificial love even for those kept Him at arm’s length, those who “killed the prophets and stoned those who were sent” to them to proclaim the Day of the Lord, as well as for those many who were prepared – at all costs – to intervene and stop the cycle of self-destruction and ultimate judgment that will come sooner or later.

I read an article years ago written by a tax protester who not only tried to use the US Constitution to prove that he did not have to pay taxes but also used Paul’s statement of “citizenship” to prove that he was not subject to the nation’s laws because he was not a citizen of the US. It was a stretch, to say the least, but there have been others who have tried and failed. The problem with these few, however, is that they missed the entire point of what Paul was suggesting, blinded as they were by trying to use Scripture – and the Lord’s name in VAIN! – to their own selfish ends.

We cannot “use” our heavenly citizenship as a means to our own end, and we must not use our “resident” status to avoid those things we would rather not do. Instead, we embrace our faith and sanctification to do those things we GET TO DO, like share the Good News, to sacrifice even ourselves in spiritual “intervention” for those on the road to destruction.

The Truth is within us according to Holy Scripture. We are of a much higher calling than to simply grab all we can for ourselves. But if the “pursuit of happiness” means more to us than the Lord as our “light” and “salvation” and “stronghold”, if we are more apt to quote the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence than we are Holy Scirpture, then we will spend our lives in blind indulgence and in constant fear of tomorrow because we fear we do not have “enough” today. We will become of those for whom Jesus lamented, those who refused His protective embrace and kept Him at arm’s length, refusing to heed His call to Eternal Life after the grave, and peace and contentment in this life before the grave.

The Lord have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us into everlasting Life.

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