Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Dark Side

Luke 19:28-40

Putting together several dictionary and online sources, the summarized definition of a “Christian” is this: one who professes belief in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ; one who is a member of a Christian denominational church. While this cannot be said to be an exhaustive search result, it does speak substantially to what being a “Christian” is about: discipleship; a journey that begins but does not end in a single moment. Being a Christian is, like love itself, an intentional act of one’s will. It is in no way “incidental” but is, rather, a deliberate and chosen way of life marked by perseverance, constancy, integrity, and faith.

Compare this to the definition of secular humanism: A system of thought that rejects religious beliefs and centers on humans and their values, capacities, and worth; a cultural and intellectual movement of the Renaissance that emphasized secular concerns.

Though the values may seem similar on the surface as they pertain to the worth of the human person, there are still fundamental differences between the Christian and the humanist (and no, one cannot be both). One has foundational “rules” and values that are not subject to review or revision, despite apparent evidence to the contrary. The other’s “rules” and values shift from one generation to the next. For Christians, this means acknowledging the sacred value of the life of the human person, a value that cannot be measured, marked, quantified, or qualified except in holy terms; sanctity, of sacred worth meaning that the value of the human person is according to the Lord’s desire and not ours or society’s.

The humanist measure of human value, on the other hand, is assigned by society and is determined from one generation to the next according to one’s usefulness to the dominant culture. The set value is determined from generation to generation and fluctuates to accommodate a very fickle human race that may value a certain attribute today and then find it completely useless tomorrow. One must then be prepared to “keep up” with the constant and undefined changes in values and social mores or risk being labeled a social liability rather than a cultural asset.

Think in terms of how the Church as a whole is typically regarded today and compare that to 20-30 years ago, and it is easy to see how values change from generation to generation and how the Church in general has shifted its values from the sacred to the more humanist. Once, the Church stood as the believable Body of Christ; now it seems to be little more than an unbelievable “wet blanket” that gets in the way of “real life”. How can an institution that promotes Life be considered anything less than the “Life” of the party??

The Lord alone knows the answer, but humans – perhaps especially Christians - will bust a hump trying to figure out how to keep up to the point of compromising his own integrity in a vain effort to “be popular” to the point of moving from one church to another to follow a charismatic or popular preacher or a particular program … or, worse, dismissing the fellowship of believers in church and Bible study altogether.
Clearly Christian priorities have shifted. Once, it was unthinkable to miss church; now it is simply a matter of mood or something more appealing. Once, an unborn child held promise; now such a child can be regarded as a threat to a promising future. Once, homosexuality was a sin; now it is “lifestyle”. The humanist list of shifting priorities is endless and strangely enough, the Church in many instances has even jumped on this humanist bandwagon in a vain effort to be “relevant” or “popular” or to “fit in”. And the world is laughing, not WITH us but AT us.

This fickle behavior could very well mark the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem, that moment many refer to as the “Triumphal Entry”. The Gospels differ slightly in how Jesus was received and by whom, but it can be said that without this particular moment Jesus still had throngs of followers besides the Twelve – for the time being. Luke says “people” threw their cloaks on the road and that “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God …”

Disciples. Followers of Jesus, students of the New Testament, but not necessarily believers in the New Covenant of the Lord God. Sometimes things turn ugly. Sometimes things stop going the way we believe, expect, or demand they should. Sometimes humanist values and social pressure become overwhelming. And like the disciples of Jesus’ day, we abandon that which was once considered “absolute” in favor of that which is trendy and popular for the moment but clearly will not last. Unfortunately, we don’t always see or acknowledge that until it’s too late.

Triumphal Entry, indeed. Only there was no triumph, no apparent victory. Nothing was overcome, no one was chased out of town … except for most of the disciples when they suddenly felt … vulnerable … threatened … not so well protected ... pressured to join the crowd or simply disappear. There would soon come a time when their devotion to discipleship, their devotion to Christ would be tested far beyond any test you or I will likely see in our lifetime. At least, maybe not a physical test.

The truth is we are tested each day in some form or fashion, and whether we pass or fail these tests is determined by the choices we make, by how intentional we are about our faith journey or whether we simply take it for granted that a single “moment” in the course of our lives will be adequate for salvation, for redemption; “just enough” to avoid hell.

Following Jesus through the Gates of Jerusalem and making a public proclamation in the “name of the King” is sort of like attending worship. We’re there … until other choices pressure us to abandon the “triumph”; choices like fishing, hunting, golf, sports tournaments, lounging in bed, reading the Sunday paper. And when we make these choices and disregard that which could have been, should have been a “triumphal entry”, the world sees us “running away” – or worse, joining the crowd that demanded His Crucifixion. It is when the “triumph” comes closer to resembling a “defeat”.

These moments are not only when the darker – if true - side of self is revealed but these moments are also how the Church today loses its momentum and its moral authority to speak to anything. These are those moments when the label “hypocrite” actually finds its mark and sticks because, you see, the Church is not some faceless entity, a lifeless institution, or a building on the corner. The Church is not the Committee on Relief or the General Board of Church and Society. The Church is not even the Pope or the many Catholic and Methodist bishops. The Church is you and me. The Body of Christ is not some lifeless form that has no shape, no mission, no purpose. It is His presence made manifest in the life of His disciples, warts and all – or not at all. As stated earlier, there is no in-between, no “little of this” or “little of that”.

As the Lenten season winds down, it is appropriate that Christians take the time to reflect upon the journey that is Lent, the journey that takes us up to and through the Gates of Jerusalem, the journey that continues beyond those Gates … or simply fades out. It is when disciples discover their true allegiance and whether a relationship with the Lord exists at all. And it is indeed a time not only of reflection but a time of repentance – because the journey through Holy Week is going to get very ugly before we can even think about rising from the darkness.

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