Sunday, May 29, 2011

Proof in the Pudding

John 14:15-21

Tragedies we face each day are the chaos of the fallen world we live in. Whether we are talking about the natural order which includes tornados and hurricanes, earthquakes and tsunamis, or the evil disorder in which lawlessness reigns supreme and survival of the fittest and looking out for #1 seems to be the order of the day; we are faced with these realities day in and day out. And as we are faced with these realities, we are also faced with decisions. We are compelled to respond. We must acknowledge what is happening because it is real enough, but we must decide each and every day what the Lord calls us to and how we will respond because, contrary to what some may believe, "the" decision we made upon our Confirmation into the Faith does not automatically or mindlessly drive what we do from that moment forward. We have to make mindful, willful decisions every single day.

A life of faith is not merely based on one decision we make to call the Lord our Savior but is based on many subsequent decisions whether or not to continue following the Great Shepherd. A life of faith is informed and transformed on a continuing basis by the decisions we make each day by our active engagement within the foundation of that faith. It is especially important because people are watching Christians; they notice what we do and say. We are under the social microscope perhaps like no other time since the very early days of the Church when it was all new and folks were wondering what the Church was all about. The same questions are being asked today, but the questions seem to be much more cynical and accusatory than inquisitive.

In the early days the Church was in direct conflict with the dominant religion - and culture - of the day. Today the Church is still inherently in direct conflict with the dominant culture - which has become a religion unto itself - but this dominant culture seems to be insisting that Christianity "get with the program". Christians and the Church are accused of being hopelessly out of touch with the contemporary reality (and this is one of the nicer accusations!), and the many churches seem to be scrambling to find a place within this dominant culture and its hedonist religion. Once the dominant culture begins to awaken to the fact that the Church in its desperation to be "culturally relevant" is finally on the ropes, the Church is no longer a voice of conscience. It can't be; and by conceding its principle tenets in a vain effort to "get along", the Church also surrenders its moral authority. Thus everything becomes socially and morally relative. When that happens, the Church becomes irrelevant altogether. And when the Church is irrelevant, so too is the Christ.

When Jesus speaks to His disciples about His commandments and the disciples' need to adhere to these commandments, He is not merely testing them to discover whether or not they "love" Him and will continue to love Him by their obedience. He is rather speaking in much broader terms as in how the Church as the Body of Christ will be identified by the dominant culture and focused in her mission within that culture. In such a statement Jesus is making it very clear that the Lord's commandments and our faithful adherence to these commandments will be the mark and measure of how we will be received - or rejected - by the dominant culture. This is the daily dilemma Christians face.

In faithful adherence to the principle tenets of faith in Christ, which is obedience to His commandments, we will then - and perhaps only then - be empowered by "The Advocate", the Holy Spirit of the Lord, who will lead us and guide us through this minefield we call "civilized society". It is this very same Advocate who will pick us up when we fall and will steady us when we falter. And make no mistake ... it will happen - often - because we are continually faced with the certain reality that we must choose each day Whom - or what - we will serve; ourselves or our Lord. And yes, they are in fact mutually exclusive because Jesus makes it clear that the "world cannot receive [the Advocate] because it neither sees Him nor knows Him"(John 14:17a). In other words, everything the world will come to know about Christ and His Church will not gel with the dominant culture.

It is a well-known adage that those who are ignorant of history are doomed to repeat history. We can clearly see the constant degradation of our society and we can clearly read of Israel's downward spiral after they took possession of the Promised Land after they - like we - got a little too "fat and happy" and full of themselves. The Lord had clearly spelled out for them that the dominant religion and culture that existed was to be obliterated and all remnants destroyed lest the people of Israel be tempted. The ultimate proof of their failure to adhere to the tenets of faith in Israel's God was the Exile, when they were finally driven from the Land the Lord had destined them to take possession of. They had proved to the Lord that they could not be trusted.

It is painful to see what is happening today within the context of what happened to ancient Israel because there seems to be a dangerous arrogance which refuses to believe that what happened to Israel can happen here. Yet the parallels are strikingly similar. The Church herself is becoming more and more politically active and, by that same token, less and less relevant. The Church - the Body of Christ - has been reduced to a Political Action Committee, just another group of people trying to get the ear of the Congress. We as the Church are no longer a moral or spiritual force to be reckoned with.

So when people begin to see the Church only in a political context and they see Christians pursuing a political agenda - regardless of the nature of that agenda - how can they see the Lord in our lives? How can they tell the difference between a generous "Uncle Sam" and a benevolent and gracious Holy God? Where is the "proof" unbelievers need to see that we absolutely, unequivocally, unapologetically trust our Holy Father? Where is the "proof" unbelievers need to see that the Lord God of all creation "so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son"?

Many suggest the Church of yesterday can no longer speak to social concerns, but I say to you this day that the Church of "yesterday" - IS - NOT - YOU! YOU and I are the Church TODAY, right here and right now. Whether we will still be the Body of Christ tomorrow remains to be seen and is entirely dependent on the decisions we will make from this moment forward! So we must choose to proclaim today and each day that "the Lord is [the Church's] Shepherd and that we are want for nothing". Let us sit at the Table and share the Banquet He has prepared for His own - by His Flesh and by His Blood.

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