Monday, June 11, 2018
The struggle of God's Yes. . .
Christianity is a positive religion -- positive about who God is and where all things came from and our place within it all. While sin is a decided "no", the Lord has not allowed sin to have the final word and therefore neither can the Church. In response to the broken and contrite heart, God's "yes" of forgiveness intervenes to rescue the lost. This is not because of some inherent worthiness or nobility within the person but simply and wholeheartedly from the love that was willing to suffer and die to make this "yes" possible.
The world is caught between a posture of redefining what is sin and what is not and holding the sins of the past against everyone who has trespassed against the holy causes of the modern day. Consider the #metoo movement and its long reach decades into the past to mark the character of individuals whose accomplishments would have been lauded in another time. Consider how a so-called Lutheran seminary in Pennsylvania could forgive nearly everything of its new president but her youthful connection to a group that suggested sexual attraction could change. Consider how a world that insists upon rights for all is so quick to dismiss the rights of the child in the womb. To suggest that Christianity is negative and the world is positive is to miss the contraction and the lack of redemption the world offers to those who have violated the holy contract of right and wrong (at least for this moment).
In contrast, the Church enters this whole conversation with a word largely forgotten by the world -- absolution. Sin is recognized the sinner called to repentance not to isolate or eject him but to connect and restore him. The central arena of Christian truth remains in the context of absolution. The forgiveness of the unworthy and undeserving is made possible not by the atoning acts of the guilty but of the redemptive love of the innocent Son of God. So the cause of forgiveness is laid not upon the guilty but upon those who have suffered offense. The goal is not to cement the wrong and the division that results but to break down the wrong and heal the division with the balm of absolution. The mandate of the Savior to His Church is to forgive as you have been forgiven, enshrined in the most universal prayer so that it cannot be set aside even in piety.
The Church is and has been a positive force for the sake of the family, for the cause of children, for the education and training of people so that they are able to provide for themselves, for the causes of the widow and the child when neither had many rights, and for the establishment and maintenance of community in a world that has born the poisoned fruit of individualism (to the extreme). The Church has been on the forefront of the aged and the orphan, of the sick and mentally ill, and of the cast out and cast offs the world could not tolerate. While suffering so often with the technology that did not always understand or offer good remedy to the causes of suffering, the Church has identified and prospered not among the elites but among the poor and downtrodden. The Church has been both patron of the arts and music while at the same time working among those at the lowest level of society and the most vulnerable.
The current popular perception of Christianity has largely been negative because it has been born of a world in which government exists to do what the Church had done and in the midst of a social justice agenda that has allowed no dissent. In the face of this, one might expect the Church to stick with the negative. Yet as the pro-life march has shown, the Church continues to rally for the positive causes of life in a world which views it as a settled issue. In a world in which the world uses sexuality, gender, climate change, and the like as photo ops for the elite, the Church is still at work in places where suffering allows no luxury and where real oppression silences any challenge.
So don't allow the world to steal the headline and falsely characterize the Church as a negative agency in a religion dominated by God's "no". We know not this Christianity! We know the faith that heralds God's "yes" of grace and mercy to a world insistent upon a most intolerant tolerance that treats virtue as a trend defined by the moment. As a pastor I am most frustrated when our own members have bought into the fake news perspective on Christianity and the Church and fail to see the good work that is done quietly and yet profoundly week after week on behalf of guilty sinners, those living in the shadow of death, the broken and their broken families, and the hopeless who find it hard to trust anyone. We do not offer simply food or money or the empty promise that we feel your pain. We are there at work in ways that the world refuses to see reclaiming the world for God's Kingdom through the real power of the means of grace and the fruitful lives of good works that bear witness to this faith. Your pastors and your congregations and your fellow Christians are all in the army of the Lord conquering for eternity with the power of the love revealed most profoundly in the cross and the glory glimpsed in Him who came not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many.