Monday, July 9, 2018
The Self-Referential Life. . .
The role and purpose of the Church is to bring the means of grace to the sinner -- the Word and Sacraments through whom the Spirit works to release us from our captivity to self and from the bondage of fear. The old self, hopelessly and helplessly condemned, is killed in baptism and a new person created in Christ Jesus for good works springs from this watery tomb and womb. Good works are the opposite of the self-referential life -- the right hand unknowing of the left even to the point where when God points to them the redeemed of the Lord respond in utter disbelief when, Lord?
So when the Church adopts the language of the self-referential life, when we institutionalize this self-referential life and make worship about you, glorify the deity of preference, and place the presence of God in feeling or experience, we rob the people of God of their very baptismal gift and lead them instead into the same old prison of me.
We meet the child with the kind of care that refuses to allow a whimper much less the real tears of a cry. We teach them from the earliest of ages that they are better, smarter, more beautiful, and destined for greater things than any child before them. We defend them against all intrusions of reality about self, limitation, and sin under the guise of protecting them. We refuse parental roles of discernment and place them before the holy screens of our entertainment -- complete with all its adult themes and suggestions. We dress them as they want to be dressed and pad their pockets with enough cash to make them happy and keep them from intruding on our happiness. We tell them at graduation that they can do whatever they want, that their hearts are the most reliable voices to listen to, and that above all they need to be true to self (usually defined as desire). We send them to work in jobs that are judged more by money and satisfaction than by productivity or usefulness to the common good and we tell them that they only have to put up with work so long before they will be free to resume their childhood in retirement. We tell them that marriage is optional but pleasure essential and if husband or wife or cohabiting partner fails to make them happy, or, God forbid, makes them sad, then it is not worth fixing and you may discard it at will. We tell them that children have little to do with love or marriage but everything to do with their happiness and we make those children into products designed to order by reproductive technology. We make the church relevant buy pandering to their desires, giving cover to their sins, making worship into entertainment and the Word of God into self-help text to achieve your goals, and then we give them the opportunity to tell their own story (so that God won't get all the time in the spotlight). We have placed in them the expectation that life is fair, that the world can be made just and good, and that the biggest problems are climate change and what to do with plastics (certainly not sin and death). When they decide life is too much, we tell them that medicine exists to relieve their pain -- perhaps even ultimately. When they die, we gather to tell all over again the ups and downs of their life in stories designed to make us laugh in our sorry -- for if we smile in death it will surely all be okay. Who needs the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting? We have memories.
The Gospel is the opposite of the self-referential life. Jesus is the example of the most un-self-referential life. Those who are baptized into His death and resurrection, who rise to new life in Him as His very own, and then by faith take up their cross, deny themselves, and follow Him. . .they live the new and free life that references Christ above all. The life of faith is defined by John the Baptist -- HE must increase...I must decrease. Until we stop baptizing the old Adam without actually killing him, we will have nothing to offer the world but a soft echo of their own self-referential lives.