Friday, August 7, 2009

Becoming Visible

In Church on Sunday morning the Pastor is supposed to be somewhat invisible so that the office shows. In the world the Christian is just the opposite -- he or she needs to become visible as a bearer of the kingdom through word and action. This is our baptismal vocation. We are to be Christ to the world and in order for that to happen we need to stand out from the world. But how do we do that?

It seems we have some choices. Some Christians stand out for themselves and their accomplishments. What they display as light to the world is their own personal righteousness. They draw attention to me - granted that they say it is the new me in Christ - but it often revolves around behavioral changes. Look at me -- I don't sin like I used to... as much as you do... maybe not at all... I worship and pray and serve and tithe... This is the Pharisaic option which Jesus cautions about when He tells us not to display our piety before people in order to impress them. In a previous age, these folks might have made a better impression upon the world but today it only intensifies the suspicion and the efforts of the world to pop their perfect balloons.

Some Christians stand as the conscience of the world. These people are often the naysayers who continue to complain about the world, who lament the terrible state of things, who are quick to point out problems, failures, and sin...but not so quick to speak hope in the Gospel. To the world these people are narrow minded, judgmental, and unloving and the world has no trouble dismissing them and their witness.

Some Christians blend in to the world. Their worship looks like the world, their gospel sounds like the world, and the church has the ambiance of the mall. These Joel Osteen types do a great job packing them in but what do they offer? In many cases it is a pop psychology style of Christianity which turns the purpose of the faith and the wisdom of the Word into five easy ways to be happier, to get ahead, to find health, to be at peace, to make your marriage better, to raise better children... It is full of the immanent but empty of the eternal. Jesus is not so much a Savior as He is Helper and the Church is like a self-help group where we all come to terms with our darknesses and focus on our lights.

Some Christians hide from the world. I fear that some of the home schooling movement and some of those attracted to Christian schools are looking for a way to hide from or to hide their children from the world. They want only to be distant lights to the world and do not engage the world or culture in any significant way. Their lives and their worlds often revolve only around their church, their church friends, and their church activities. They have little impact upon the world.

Some Christians are not fighters but lovers. They have turned the gospel into acceptance of every cause, justice replaces justification, and doing good means fighting oppression and intolerance in all its forms. They have embraced every ism along the way and are on the cutting edge of the move to embrace and incorporate everything from green earth causes to gay/lesbian/bi/transgendered issues as THE work of the kingdom. The impact they make is unrelated to what we read about in the Gospels.

I offer an alternative. Christians are to shine not with their own righteousness but with the righteousness of Christ. They point not to themselves but to the Lord. They raise up not themselves but the Christ in me. They faithfully proclaim the story of the cross and empty tomb. The confront sin and speak the Law to it but they love the sinner with the same passion that Christ has loved them. They see the poor as the opportunity to serve the Lord by loving them and their needs as their own -- as God did for them in sending His Son. They forgive not because the people deserve to be forgiven but purely as an act of grace -- they way God has forgiven them. They feed the hungry, fight on behalf of the unborn, give care to the weak and elderly -- not to do good but because of Christ and to show forth Christ's love to the world (Him who ate and drank with sinners and who embraced those whose illnesses and handicaps had labeled them unclean and unapproachable).

These Christians meet Christ where Christ has promised to be -- in the living Voice of His Word, in the living Water of Baptism, and in the living Bread and Cup of the Sacrament of the Altar. They delight in the mystery of His grace and of His presence -- not as something to unpack and understand but to trust and experience in the liturgy that has marked the march of God's people into His presence for nearly 2,000 years. Their story is Jesus' story -- not because it is like Jesus' story but because Jesus' story has become their own by baptism and faith.

The world does not know what to do with such Christians. It is strangely drawn to them, but does not understand them. It wants to dismiss them but it fears such a powerful spirituality is so great that they cannot afford to ignore it. It is other worldly and yet these Christians live in the world, delighting in the joys it can offer but not overwhelmed by them. It is the Light of Christ that shines through His people... and this light... this love... this faith... this hope makes a huge difference for the sake of the kingdom... thought its progress and its success are not measured on graphs or statistics... rather by the promise that His Word which He sends forth in His people shall return to Him empty handed but accomplish every purpose for which He sends it... Soli Deo Gloria

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