Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Thought for Tuesday 16 August 2016

“Jesus Christ lived in the midst of His enemies.  At the end, all His disciples deserted Him.  On the Cross He was utterly alone, surrounded by evildoers and mockers.  For this cause He had come, to bring peace to the enemies of God.  So the Christian, too, belongs not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the thick of foes.  There is his commission, his work.  'The kingdom is to be in the midst of your enemies.  And he who will not suffer [allow] this does not want to be of the Kingdom of Christ; he wants to be among friends, to sit among roses and lilies, not with the bad people but the devout people.  O you blasphemers and betrayers of Christ!  If Christ had done what you are doing, who would ever have been spared?' (Martin Luther).”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Life Together: the classic exploration of Christian community”

I have to be completely honest in saying I have never – NEVER – even given such a concept as this much thought at all.  I am among those who can honestly say I don’t know any (or many) non-believers because all my friends are Christians or Jewish.  All my friends are members of other synagogues and churches as well as my own; my friends are not “evildoers and mockers”.  I can honestly say the enemies I do have will have no more opportunities to abuse me or kick me around, for I will not give them another chance to do so. 

So ends the lesson in the utter arrogance of the “respectable” Christian psyche.  Thinking again of the “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in The Letter to the Hebrews, those who were “tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection”.  Then there were the others who “had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword … and destitute, afflicted, tormented”  (Hebrews 11:35-37 NKJV).  And the author spoke thusly of these great witnesses: “The world was not worthy of them” (vs 38). 

No one wants to be kicked around or abused, and very few Christians I know have a death wish.  Indeed we spend money we don’t even have trying to cheat death!  We would all like to live to a ripe old age and die painlessly in our sleep and in our own beds surrounded by our families.  We would all love to have a tidy nest egg we can pass on to our children and our grandchildren so they will remember us fondly, believing cash to be a legacy worthy of tremendous respect and admiration.  And after a life of comfort and security and safety and a funeral well attended, we would also like to go to Heaven.

It seems an unfair question posed by Martin Luther in asking where we would all be now if Jesus had chosen the safe route instead of the risky one.  It is unfair because Jesus followed His Father’s heart and went through it all for us.  And in remembering Him as we do when we share Holy Communion, what is it we choose to remember?  Maybe “whew!  Better Him than me!”?  Or perhaps His broken heart when one of His dearest friends betrayed Him?  Or when another denied even knowing Him?  What is it we remember?

In His death, the human race has been redeemed.  The Lord paid the price for our immortal souls and set us free from the tyranny of bondage to sin and death.  This is settled and done, worthy of our eternal gratitude.  But what else?  What else is worthy of our constant remembrance?  What else is worthy of our consideration?  For what reason are our souls set free?  Perhaps more than how He died, we may serve Him faithfully by remembering how He lived and what He taught with each parable, what He gave with each healing and every miracle that defied human logic precisely because we get a glimpse of Heaven’s glory when a significant portion of self is sacrificed for the sake of another!  Each and every time.  Not just for those we consider to be our friends, but also for those who have actually proved themselves to be our enemies.  For the truest test of agape, sacrificial love, is not in what we get but, rather, in what we are willing to give – even to “evildoers” and those who would only mock us even after taking advantage of what we offer without cost, without price, and without strings.

This must mean the Christian community is not intended to be our safe space where nothing bad happens, but the place in which we are energized and from which we are encouraged to move beyond.  To move beyond a “personal” Savior and remember the One who “lived in the midst of His enemies”, never thinking of what He was entitled to or what assurance He could gain only for Himself, but always considering what others were being cheated out of if He were to withhold any portion of Himself.  Not thinking of what will happen to Himself if He put Himself at risk, but rather thinking what will happen to those who need Him if He refused to take that risk. 

Discipleship is costly because it is never about “my” salvation; that having already been attended to when we are restored to The Lord’s favor by His mercy; but we are to be about the redemption of others still bound by the same chains that once bound us.  For whenever we set someone free from whatever it is that binds them, we are ourselves set free.  As a community, if we revel in the prosperity that is our own but are aware of someone still struggling, we cannot say the community is well.  And this is the heart of what living in Christian community is about: the well-being of the least among us.  Their right to nourishment.  Their right to safety and security.  Their basic right to live with some measure of dignity.  No, it isn’t about “works righteousness”.  It is about faith and obedience.  It is entirely about what we are teaching our children and one another about The Lord and the Covenant community. 

If we want safety and security, we can buy a Rottweiler and subscribe to a home security service.  But if it is a better and stronger and more faithful community we seek, if we truly wish to live as Christ lived and be Christ in the world today as the grateful Church must, then we must be unafraid of what might happen to us if we step outside our comfort zones and be more afraid of what will happen to someone else if we don’t.

This is the essence of The Lord’s love for us.  Without Jesus, He would still be the Almighty God and Creator.  With the Eternal Word come to life with us and in us, it is always about what happens to us if He keeps to Himself.

The Lord is great, is He not?


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