Monday, June 22, 2015

The first thing to remember. . .

Twenty years ago or more I got a note from Fr. Richard John Neuhaus telling me about the launch of a new journal, First Things.  In the first editorial of the first issue Neuhaus wrote:  The first thing to remember about politics is that politics is not the first thing.  You could always count on him to write a memorable phrase.  Others have taken up on that theme and I will not duplicate their efforts here.  What I would do is to see how that sentence applies beyond the realm of politics.

The first thing about _______ is that ________ is not the first thing.  You can fill in the blank with the specific area in which what usually claims primacy is, in fact, not the first nor the highest priority.  If we apply this to the same sex marriage debate, it would remind us that marriage does not begin with nor is it defined by two people who desire to be married.  That is the great fallacy of the modern debate.  We have quickly skipped over too many things to end up with simply the desires of the two (could there be more than two?) who desire to be married.  If we begin and end with those who desire to be married, then the end of the debate is already near and there is no conspicuous reason why any and all who possess the desire should not be given their justice and allowed to marry.  And that is the point.  Marriage does not begin nor does it end with those who desire to be married.  It begins with the will of the Creator, with the shape of male and female, with the social order of the family, with love that is not mere sentiment or feeling, and with sex that is not merely the legalized lust of the pleasure seeker.

The first thing about _______ is that ________ is not the first thing.  In the debate over right and wrong in the shape of desire, we too often begin with the desire itself.  We have surrendered the moral high ground to instinct or passion and we are left only with the people and what turns their cranks.  In doing so we Christians have forgotten that sex is given not for pleasure but for reproduction.  In ancient days in school we learned about the reproductive system -- perhaps the only system of the body that is not required to function to sustain the individual's life.  Even in raw definition the system had a different purpose than mere pleasure and the instinct was governed and controlled by will.  I wonder what they call it today in biology?  For in practice sex is not about anything but sex, pleasure its main goal, and love and marriage but mere antiquated arenas no longer required of the modern and the free.

The first thing about _______ is that ________ is not the first thing.   In worship we have begun with what people want, what works (packs them in), and what pays the bills.  Once addicted to the reinvention of worship week after week, we cannot afford to disappoint the people who may stop showing up if we stop providing them with the entertainment they seek or fail to inspire them to get what they want out of this life.  We easily forget that it is entirely possible to be successful with the masses and an abysmal failure with God on Sunday morning.  Since God's approval does not easily equate to full pews (pardon me, chairs) or full offering baskets, you can guess whose vote counts most.

In the end this is the domain of the Spirit (remember Pentecost).  He brings to remembrance all that Jesus said and did so that we are not captive to the moment or to desire or to the flow of culture.  He anchors us in Christ whose death and resurrection has become our new starting point.  And then He directs us to the future that none of us counted on -- the life that is beyond death's grasp or the power of the gave.  Just as we are anchored in a past that changes everything, so we are directed to a future unknown and unknowable apart from Christ whose death and resurrection have made it possible.  We are not who we were, we are not our own, we were bought with a price, we belong to Him.  How many times and in how many different ways does Paul make this statement?  The role and work of the Spirit is to bring to remembrance the past that Christ has done so that we can be directed to and even begin to anticipate the future Christ has made possible.

The first thing about today is that today is not the first thing.  This is the core of it all.  Sin has left us with a past we either run from or a past we seek to prolong or recreate.  In either case, it is impossible for us to escape from or repristinate yesterday.  That is our prison.  That is the lens through which we see today and it is always less than we want.  But the past that the Spirit makes known is the past that enables us to confront yesterday's darkness and to see beyond yesterday's glory.  That is Christ's death and resurrection.  At the same time, we meet a new future none of us dared imagine or could hope for unless and until Christ forged this tomorrow for us.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

Always Christ at the center. He is the only 'thing' that is the First Thing. Thank you.