Sunday, April 15, 2012

One Lord, One Cup, One Church

Matthew 12:22-30

"Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive; and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came ... Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained ... Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes [the Lord's] aid against the other ... The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses [will] come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.'" 2nd Inaugural Address excerpts, Abraham Lincoln, 4 March 1865

President Lincoln's religious affiliation has been argued by many who question whether or not he was a professing Christian.  Well, I don't know if he was and, frankly, I don't care enough to find out.  What seems apparent by his writings, however, is that Mr. Lincoln had a firm grasp of biblical principles and what he supposed, if not a religion of Christ, was certainly a practical philosophy of Jesus as a useful doctrine for a nation clearly divided and at war with itself.  He supposed the war, if perhaps the result of the scourge of slavery, was the Divine Judgment imposed on a nation divided by prayers to the same God for different ends.

Such a concept should be compelling for thinking Christians today who are living in the midst of a culture war that has claimed and will continue to claim many victims as young people face unintended pregnancies as well as sexually transmitted - and often debilitating - diseases, people young and old alike continue a rather aggressive regimen of "self-medication" through drugs and alcohol, and homes (as well as churches!) are destroyed by pride and selfishness generally because of a dominant culture in which it is virtually "every man for himself". 

This may be a cultural reality in some circles, but it is far from what is ultimately truthful.  Clearly SOMEONE cares.  It may just take some time to find out who it is, but find out we must!  Along the path to this discovery, there will be many bumps and bruises - and even more casualties - before we finally realize the search for this truth outside of our Lord and the Lord’s revealed Word will be futile and fruitless.  We won't find anything or anyone outside of the Church that cares beyond what may be personally gained from caring.  And sometimes even the many churches seem only to care insofar as something for itself may be gained. 

Now this may sound shallow to Christians who gather faithfully for regular worship and it sounds even more ridiculous to those outside the Church who have been harmed by "church folk" but I think if we were to seriously and carefully review motive outside of service to the Lord, there will always be found "ulterior motives"; that is, "what's in it for me?"  This represents a “house divided” because the Lord’s purposes and humanity’s “ulterior motives” can never be reconciled; yet each will be pursued relentlessly by members of the same Body the Church.

I will grant there are good and decent people who are non-believers who might help if they have resources with which to help and I will grant there are the many non-believers who will not intentionally do harm to someone - unless, of course, they were harmed first; actually, just like "church folk".  This, however, misses the point.  It is not about who is "good" or "decent" or "harmless".  It's not even about those who claim to be "saved". 

It is about the Common Purpose, the commonality of our humanity.  This commonality was defined long ago, and it is the commonality to which we are called; into which we are created.  And according to our Lord, anything less than this commonality, this Common Purpose, is diametrically opposed to Him; which is to say, there is "good" and there is "evil".  There is no "gray" area. 

Now no Christian in his or her right mind would openly oppose the Holy and Almighty God, yet we must acknowledge that anything less than "good" IS active opposition to - and open rebellion against - the Lord.  If we curse someone, we defy our Lord.   If we deny someone bread when it is within our power to provide, we defy our Lord.  When we bless the "good ol' boy" who lives in open defiance against our Lord and His Holy Church, we “divide the house” by joining forces with the "good ol' boy", testifying to a lie.  And we virtually spit in the Lord's Eye when we live our own lives and pursue our own "thang" Monday through Saturday and then enter into His sanctuary on Sunday with no thought toward humility, repentance, or transformation.

At the risk of repeating myself, the Church's problem is not with the ungodly forces outside the Church; the problem is within the Church itself.  This has been true for centuries!  Lest there be any misunderstanding, the "Church" is the Body of Christ, the "priesthood of believers".  If a problem exists within a particular church or a particular denomination, there is a problem in the "priesthood" that will always adversely affect the Holy Church and turn that Holy Church into something substantially less than holy.  The subsequent and imminent damage is disastrous, as stated by 4th century church father St. John Chrysostom: "Wars abroad are not so ruinous as the civil wars".  It is as President Lincoln observed, some would "make war" from within while others would "allow war" within.  To each his own, indeed.

Jesus' words to the Pharisees cannot be dismissed as inapplicable to us simply on the basis of whether or not we "believe" as some loose affiliation with Christ in principle only.  No, the words are much stronger in that Jesus turns up the heat when He proclaims that "whoever does not GATHER with me SCATTERS [against Me]".  So if we are not actively engaged in the "harvest" which is the Mission of the Church, we are by our neglect letting the "harvest" rot in the fields and on the ground; we are not "gathering".  According to Jesus, we cannot have it both ways and there can be found no middle ground or happy medium.  If we do not “gather”, we “scatter”.

If the aftermath of the Reformation has taught us anything, it is that we miss the entire point of what it means to be "holy"; what it means to be united in Christ.  The dominant question of the Reformation, "What must I do to be saved", ignored the basic premise of our Holy Father's injunction toward those who would claim Him as Supreme God, Rock, and Redeemer; something that was "shown" to us even before the time of Jesus: "He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8).

These mandates, to "do justly", to "love mercy", to "walk humbly", call upon the faithful nothing less than "mission"; to "do", to "love", and to "walk" in active ministry to those who are searching in vain for meaning, for purpose.  These are not "personal", "internal", "private", or "emotional".  They are missional, purposeful, communally outward "defense" and expressions of the "hope that is within us"

These are the attributes of a "house united"; for if there is only One Lord, there can be only One Cup, the Cup Jesus says His followers will surely drink of: "You will indeed drink My cup [not CUPSSSSS]" (Matthew 20:23).  This is the Way of the Cross.  This is the Way of our Lord, for this is the Way of Life itself.  AMEN. 

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