Monday, July 25, 2011

All up, All in

Romans 8:26-39
Matthew 13:47-52

I have often wondered how much of a remnant in the 21st century Church remains that even closely resembles the emerging Church of the 1st century. That is to say, of the doctrines and practices we teach, preach, and embrace today, do they even come close to what St. Paul, St. Peter, St. James, or even Jesus tried to convey in their original teachings?

Since we began our Wednesday night OT Survey class, we have been challenged to look more closely at the Scripture as it was written and for whom it was written; going forward from the beginning rather than moving backward into it from the end. I think we can agree for the most part that the NT is a more thorough commentary of the OT because the NT cannot make sense outside the OT context. I also think we are inclined to "insert" not only NT theology into the OT but we also tend to "insert" certain doctrinal and practical traditions and personal opinions into the OT as well, traditions and opinions that have evolved over time especially after the 16th century Reformation.

None of this is to say these are all bad necessarily, but such narrow focus can be misleading or even outright dangerous especially when we pay more attention to a locked-in personal belief system based on what "tickles our ears" and thus refuse to look more closely, openly, and honestly at what is actually written within its own context. A former OT professor of mine had a favorite saying as it pertains to common and fond notions of biblical interpretation: "When all else fails, read the Scripture."

There is another fond saying as it pertains to "consumer-minded" Christians who demand the "ear-tickling" and reject the soul-jarring: "prostitutes also give their 'clients' what they expect and demand - for a price." A more contemporary, "progressive", and (we think "enlightened") understanding of grace has become somewhat "cheap" and watered down because we have reduced Christian faith to a religious "service" - like plumbing or roofing. It becomes "my way or no way". Witness the many church "shoppers" who visit churches with a certain list of "demands" and "expectations", and then witness the churches and pastors who "prostitute" themselves in a vain effort to appease these individual demands and expectations. Give the "clients" what they demand, says the pimp.

When we become so narrowly focused on how the Bible and faith should appeal to us on an individual basis, we tend to overlook the profound meaning that is in the many parables Jesus uses to make real for us the reality of the Kingdom of Heaven. If Jesus had never used any parables, all He spoke of would be so abstract there would be very little we could ever get hold of. Interpretation would be left strictly to chance, and serious disciples, students of the Bible can clearly see that the Lord left nothing to chance.

If there is to be a one-dimensional focus on spirituality, faith, and religion; it is within two particular parables Jesus shares. The first is the "treasure of the field" (Mt 13:44), and the other follows: the "great pearl" (Mt 13:45). In both parables there is one singular focus: obtaining the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven at the expense of everything else. In both cases the persons finding the "great treasure" or the "great pearl" sold everything they had, withholding nothing, recognizing this one highly significant fact: it is not possible to have both. They could not keep all their other "stuff" - AND - acquire what they really needed, that which alone has immeasurable value.

It is not easy for us today because I think even the Church has allowed her mission and her message to become so distorted as to leave the faithful somewhat confused. We have been led to believe we really can "have our cake and eat it, too". We have been led to believe we can keep all our stuff - AND - obtain the riches of the Kingdom of Heaven. We have been led to believe we can play on both sides of the street at the same time. We have been led to believe it is possible - in fact, desirable - to balance the demands of serving two masters at the same time.

If we have come to believe these things to be possible, we have essentially rejected the biblical reality of Jesus' teachings. We have chosen to believe in "grace" but have rejected the necessary element of "discipleship". In other words, we have chosen not to trust and believe the Lord yet we do not hesitate to call Him "Savior" - unless, of course, we are in mixed company. After all, we do not want to "offend" anyone, do we?

Why is this? How have we allowed the state of our spiritual being to fall to such a lowly estate? It is because we have yet to fall completely into the "pit" of life. We have managed pretty well over time and have invested heavily in the so-called "American Dream" which is at its core completely antithetical to discipleship. The two do not - and cannot - mesh. They are completely incompatible because the "American Dream" does not care one whit about one's neighbor unless that neighbor happens to enhance the value of one's real estate or investment holdings.

The choices we face are not always easy because there is an internal, spiritual struggle between what is pleasing to our bodies and what is nourishing for our souls. Yet choices have to be made intentionally with a sense of purpose and a strong sense of spiritual awareness. This requires active participation in those "means of grace" (corporate worship, Scripture study, the sacraments, praying, fasting), acts of humility and submission which all work to enhance that necessary spiritual awareness. Anything less leaves us vulnerable to the forces of this world which seek to subvert our allegiance to the one we call "Lord" and "Savior".

Jesus had a choice to make and it became clear to Him when His hour was upon Him that for the sake of something much greater, He could not have it both ways. He could not protect His mortal body without endangering His immortal soul - and yours. He gave up everything He had for that one invaluable treasure, that which our Holy Father values above all else: His beloved, His creation, His children. He chose you with everything He had. He was "all in". Are we?

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