Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Where we are, we are

“Where we are, we are”

Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7
2 Timothy 2:8-15
Luke 17:11-19

“If we have died with Him, we will live with Him.  If we endure, we will also reign with Him.”  2 Timothy 2:11-12a

As one of the nastiest political campaigns many can recall is mercifully coming to an end, it grieves me that many may already be resigned to their worst fears; that things will not turn out the way they should, that the nation will never be the same again.  What is most grievous is that few are “for” anything, but are rather “against” many things.  Think about how, rather than extol the virtues of a preferred candidate, many are reduced to comparing vices in trying to decide not who is better but which would be worse!

There are some things we’re stuck with as nothing more than further evidence of a long-fallen world drifting further from The Lord, but I also think if the Church’s attention is primarily directed toward trying to reclaim what we may believe to be ours to claim, we are deceiving ourselves and cheating our children – and, consequently, the Church - of a truly prosperous future in The Lord’s Covenant. 

We cheat ourselves and deceive ourselves by denying what is written in the Scriptures for the faithful, in which we are encouraged not to reclaim what we only think we’re losing, but to navigate together in faith “what already is” while encouraging one another to look forward in truly joyful hope to “what is yet to be”.

It is true there are some things we will never be able to change, but what is equally true is that NO ONE will get their own way – and we as individuals must make peace with this.  This is not the appropriate mindset for a Christian anyway; it is the very sort of mentality that has closed many churches, permanently damaged relationships, and destroyed any witness that may have had half a chance – because ultimately, those who do not get their own way would rather see a church – and perhaps this nation - burn to the ground than to give even an inch toward anything resembling unity and sense of collective purpose.  As it is written, “pride goes before destruction” (Proverbs 16:18).

What we often fail to appreciate, let alone embrace, is the certain reality that Christians are charged with and baptized into one thing: to become and to share the Gospel as the Body of Christ; to live and to do collectively just as Jesus Himself would do.  When we refuse to do even that because we’re too busy or it just “ain’t my thang”, what is left for us but to fight and argue over things that have no bearing on the Church’s mission and witness?  As has been said by people much smarter than I, if we are not focused on doing what is right, we will only focus on what is wrong. 

There are still some who refuse to turn their backs on the witness of the Church, working their fingers to the bone, giving all they can; and still, just as Jesus encountered the lepers in Samaria in which ten were healed of that dreaded disease, there may be only one who will bother to say ‘thank you’ for what is offered faithfully.  Yet, like our Lord, we must persevere in faith because we (hopefully) can better appreciate what is coming much more than we hate what is happening.

We are – or should be – a people of great hope, no matter how dark the clouds may seem; the very hope Paul was certainly speaking into when he wrote, “[I am] chained like a criminal, but the Word of God is not chained” (2 Tim 2:9).  Paul knew he could not change his circumstances, but he also knew he could control the way he thinks and lives – not to engage in the current circumstance which would likely evoke feelings of hatefulness and resentment, even fear (look at us now!).  Rather, Paul was fully engaged in the hope that should regulate the life of the faithful – all for the sake of the Word of The Lord.  Nothing less.

Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles carries a great deal of meaning not only for those who have lost everything but also for those who live in fear of losing what little they may think they have.  ‘Go on about My business’, says The Lord.  “Build houses … plant gardens”.  Don’t engage in the culture, but live right where you are.  Don’t think about where you were, don’t lament where you are – and for Heaven’s sake, do not dread tomorrow!!  And do it all as faithful witnesses to a much Greater Truth.

What stands out in Jeremiah’s letter, however, is not the tone that seems to require that The Lord’s people settle for anything.  Instead, consider what Jeremiah’s words mean to the people of Judah as The Lord encouraged them to “take wives and make babies” … “take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage” … “multiply” right where you are

At first glance it may appear as though Jeremiah is encouraging Judah to mix and mingle in that Babylonian culture.  Marry a local girl or boy.  Get along with the world you’re stuck with, and learn to go with the cultural flow.  However, it has often been said that the only fish that go with the flow are the dead ones.  Going with the flow is not at all what Jeremiah is encouraging The Lord’s people to do! 

Even as they appear to be defeated, as things are not going the way they would like for them to go, as NO ONE is getting his or her own way, The Lord’s people are being called into something much greater than what is right in front of them.  But what they faced in Babylon is what they also faced in the wilderness as a test, just as we are being tested today.  It is as Moses encouraged the people of Israel to never forget that 40-year trek in the wilderness: “The Lord led you … to test you in order to know what is in your hearts, whether or not you would keep His commands” (Deuteronomy 8:2).  Not just what we may be feeling in our hearts, but how we express outwardly what is in our hearts.

As a matter of being tested, how are we doing?  Are we working and living diligently according to this culture’s standards?  Or are we learning more about living and growing in community with one another according to The Lord’s Covenant?  Are we “multiplying”?  Or are we diminishing? 

We all know the sad answer, of course, but we must also take stock of what else is being diminished along with our numbers … our witness.  Somewhere along the line, theology and faith became only about “me and Jesus”.  Along with this narrow viewpoint came a “clubhouse” mentality that has hijacked the Church’s witness and turned it into preferential choice.  Much like our politics, the dominant question is ‘what’s in it for ME’? 

And all the while we are picking and choosing as we are pleased individually, we are fighting amongst ourselves over personal preferences rather than focusing on the one and only reason for which we of the Church are even called to exist: The Gospel.  This, and only this, is what the Church is about.  Living the Gospel, being the Gospel, and sharing the Gospel.  But if we are defensive and think we must protect what we only think is ours, we will never move ahead.

I cannot help but to think about last night’s Razorback game.  Alabama is #1 in the nation and for good reason; they are a formidable force to be reckoned with.  It did not take long for them to dominate the game; and as a result, the Razorbacks were constantly on the defensive even when the offense was on the field.  There were some bright spots, but our quarterback had a very hard time getting anything going because he was being almost constantly overwhelmed.

I am no coach nor can I critique a team or a game, but I see the team much like the Church as the Body of Christ functioning as St. Paul encouraged the Church to function as one - “yet with many members”.  The quarterback could not do what he is very capable of doing because the other members of the body were not functioning as they should.  They were being constantly pushed back.

Thinking about how we often feel swimming against the “tide” of the dominant culture (no pun intended), we may sometimes feel like we are being overwhelmed.  For every single step we seem to gain going forward, we get pushed back two.  The culture is gaining ground offensively because the Church is constantly put on the defensive. 

But we must endure as The Body because of the Promise that is before The Body.  We may end up bruised and bloodied by the time it’s all said and done, but we are assured that “if we endure, we will also reign with Christ.”  We will not overcome this culture, and what we only think we are fighting to gain is not ours to gain because we are “co-heirs” with Christ Jesus to something much greater than we will ever see in this life.

We are the people of The Covenant – now and later.  And if we live and work together faithfully and endure to the bitter end, we will hear our Lord call out to us, “Get up and go your way.  Your faith has made you well.”

Glory to You, O Lord.  Amen.

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