Sunday, April 12, 2015

Christian Ethics and the Virtues of Faith

Leviticus 19:9-19a
James 2:8-20
Matthew 7:13-27

“Politics is not the task of a Christian.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ironically, in light of Bonhoeffer’s observation and opinion, these past few weeks have seen politics in America sink to levels that surprised even me – and I’m a political cynic!  The Religious Freedom Restoration debates in Arkansas and Indiana saw not the worst of humanity but, actually, the worst of Christianity – from both sides, each claiming to speak in Jesus’ name! 

This dark period was capped with a cherry on top by a self-described “evangelist” from AZ who baited a bakery in FL.  When the bakery declined his request for a particular cake, believing it to be a prank call, this “messenger of the Gospel” (which is what an “evangelist” is supposed to be) hit social media to highlight this “godless” bakery that denied him a certain cake with a certain caption for a certain cause (the “cause” – and his Christian “credentials” - were lost due to this guy’s vindictiveness!).  Soon this man’s followers from all over the country were calling this bakery, threatening their business, and threatening their lives - all in the name of Jesus!

I cannot help but to wonder how this bakery must have felt about this particular “God” whose followers threatened to kill them and their families, or burn down their business and homes?  It is not unlike how we typically question the “God” of Islam, judging by the very public and barbaric behavior of those who claim allegiance to “Allah”. 

How do you suppose others view our God, judging by our public behavior?  It is a question every person of faith is compelled to ask … and then answer truthfully.  Funny how we believe in grace when we talk about our own sins, but we absolutely believe in and uphold the Law when it comes to the sins of others. 

Admittedly lately we Christians have been taking it on the chin and feel like we are being needlessly bullied and taunted and unfairly treated, which is the sentiment driving this Religious Freedom Restoration.  These political initiatives, we are told (by politicians, incidentally), are designed to protect us from being compelled by secular law to violate the Divine law.  It is a political push-back against what we’ve decided is a political fight – not a moral cause. 

Jesus, however, never asked us to push back.  Nor did our Lord advise us to go to “Caesar” whenever we get our noses out of joint.  Actually in our political quest to fight a moral fight we believe to be right, we seem inclined to go directly to “Caesar”.  And we always expect “them” to be straightened out … because “we” are not the problem.  Right?

Remembering the prophets spoke to Israel, before and during the Exile, within the context of the only Scripture they would have known, the Torah, it can be so written, “[The Lord] has told you, O mortal, what is good [through Torah]; and [according to the law] what does The Lord require of you but to DO justice, to LOVE kindness, and to WALK humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).    

Now it might be our inclination to say, ‘That’s it.  That’s all there is to it; just be nice’.   However, this statement is packed with the entirety of the “royal law according to the Scripture”, as St. James points out and as Jesus affirms: “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). 

We are not admonished to merely refrain from evil acts, although it would be a good start.  We are compelled and commanded toward purposeful acts of justice, deliberate acts of kindness, and intentional acts of humility – all as a reflection of how we understand our God and our relationship to our God according to The Word (“the Word which was in the beginning”, the Word which was revealed at Mt. Sinai, the Word “which became flesh”).

What “evangelism” has become for the church, however, is a twisted idea of what may be more appropriately classified as “superstition” rather than faith.  Rather than to hear St. James’ admonition as it is written in its entirety instead of a few select verses – to a church that should have known better according to the only Scripture they would have known, the Torah - our sense of “evangelism” has twisted James’ words.  We do not say to those who are “naked and lacking daily food” to “go in peace and eat your fill”.  We are more likely to say, “Get a job, make your own peace, and buy your own fill”.

OR we may make the necessary doctrinal correction by saying to those who are “lacking”, “Just accept Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and all will be well with you.  Then you can go in peace and eat your fill”.  We have left them just as we had found them, “naked and hungry”, but we have convinced ourselves we have fulfilled the Great Commission when, in fact, we’ve done nothing at all … nothing meaningful to them, nothing useful for them.

Do you notice how “hate speech” has become so defined in the politically correct world to include passages from the Bible, especially the prohibitive passages?  When we rightly stand opposed to what we believe the Scripture is clear about, I wonder if the reason our objections are not taken seriously is because our own chosen words and efforts lack “Gospel” substance.  We have so busied ourselves in trying to do spiritual warfare by political means that we have lost any sense of some fundamental principles of what we, as the Church, are called to actually do

“Get saved” is not one of them; “save others” is, however, many of them.

Now I know there are many with an understanding of “righteousness” in that our “works” will not earn Divine favor; that we are not justified by what we do – we are justified by what The Lord will do.  I get that, and I sincerely hope you do, also.  I think, however, that we are missing the point when we look at the “royal law” so narrowly as to miss entirely the fullness of the Gospel.  There has to come a point at which it is no longer about “me”.  I frankly wonder if it was ever about “me” at all – but more about those we will come into contact with after we are justified and filled with the Holy Spirit and within our knowledge of the written Word Itself – rather than the words we’ve made up.

For the next few weeks we will explore what are known as the Seven Virtues.  These Virtues were once considered the essential characteristics of the Christian but are today – especially post-Reformation - all but forgotten by a Church that seems more familiar with the Seven Deadly Sins and those who are so guilty.  Considering St. James’ context of the “royal law according to the Scripture”, if the words and principles of the Bible are indeed timeless as we like to believe, it is time to reach back to some fundamentals and add substance to our being as The Body of Christ. 

It is maddening and madness to witness what the so-called “social progressives” are doing to The Word in their feeble attempts to make The Word relevant to an unbelieving culture, but I cannot say we so-called “conservatives” are doing The Word much justice ourselves when all we do is “push back” - angrily.  Are we not called to “counter-act” evil with acts of goodness, grace, and mercy rather than to respond to evil with evil acts of our own? 

An evil act, even by the hands of a righteous person, is still by its nature an evil act.

I think we can do better.  I know we must do better.  Jesus expressed in the Sermon on the Mount, “Everyone who hears My words AND acts on them will be like the wise man …” (Mt 7:24), St. Paul expressed in his epistle to the Romans, “It is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in The Lord’s sight, but the DOERS of the law who will be justified”, {ooh, that’s gotta sting!} (Rm 2:13), and St. James affirmed in his epistle, “Be DOERS of the Word and not merely hearers” (Jas 1:22). 

It is time to hear the Word and then respond appropriately, graciously, humbly, and purposefully rather than to allow the Word to just sit idle.  There is no component of the Church – NONE – not parties, not potlucks, not fundraisers that can exist without an outreach element and deliberate effort.  NOT ONE, NOT EVER.  Everything we do, without exception, is an expression of what we know about The Word of our God – and that’s what people see … and believe.

When – and only when – we are true to the Eternal Word will we find true meaning in The Word in our own lives and in the Life that is the Church.  And we will, according to that same Word, be richly blessed beyond human measure - but only if we believe and fully trust and act in The Word, the same Word which “was in the beginning”, the same Word revealed at Mt. Sinai, the same Word “which became flesh”.  The Eternal – and unchanging – Word.

In the Holy and Eternal Name, and according to the Living Word, let the people of the Church declare, “Amen” – “let it be so”.

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