Thursday, July 7, 2011
A Word that no longer offends, no longer saves...
Is there anyone of us who has not been told to tone it down, to back off, to shut up? A comedian was just back in Nashville to apologize for his jokes. We live in an age where anything is tolerated but offense. So accommodation and political correctness have dulled the edge of the sword of God's Word in too many churches. It is no longer a sharp knife but is being remade as dull butter knife. But if His Word no longer has the power to cause us to fear, can it have any power to save? Like the careful speech of the diplomat or the university, its words are used more to describe than proscribe. We have taken a powerful and dangerous Word and made it dull, weak, and boring. It is no wonder why folks stop going to church.
But God's Word will not be silenced. It slices and dices no matter how careful we are to dull its message so that it no longer offends. The sword of God's Word is not a sword of peace to throw oil on our troubled waters but the spark to cause conflict to burn. Christmas promised that peace would come on earth but not to earth. The Word of God is not some safety foam sprayed on sin to put it out but the liquid fire that consumes it.
God's Word always offends. It stirs up trouble by speaking out loud the truth we fear to admit. This is the power of the Law. Every sin we have kept captive in the darkened recesses of our closets, God's Word pulls out into the light. But it is not only the Law that offends – the very foundation of the Gospel offends us as well – that sin is so bad only blood and death can pay its bill and relieve us of its condemning power.
God's Word causes conflict in our closest earthly relationships. Faith is a family divider. Blood may be thicker than water but the blood of Christ is even thicker and it cuts across families – between those who believe and those who do not. Everyone of us leaves words unspoken because of this. Yet the Word will not be silenced.
The call to faith is the call to bearing a cross, giving up all to a life ordered by the cross, in which loss becomes gain, defeat victory. This is offensive to a world in which the unholy trinity of me, myself, and I always come first, where what is in it for me is the most important question of life. Those who refuse to find the words of Christ and the Scriptures offensive are deaf to its voice and therefore cut off from its power to save.
If the faith no longer is a scandal and the Word of God no longer stirs up, then we have declawed the Law and turned the Gospel into mere sentiment. No, the Law and Gospel are always offensive to our human sensibilities. The Law that insists sin can not be overlooked, ignored, or treated therapeutically and the Gospel that answers sin with suffering, bloody sacrifice, and death will always be offensive to us until the Holy Spirit turns our fear into faith.
We may walk on eggshells, sidestepping its truth, but the edge of God's Word will not be dulled and the voice of the Gospel cannot be silenced. God will not allow it. Christ was the first word, the voice that spoken in creation, Christ is salvation’s Word by which any will be saved, and Christ will have the final word in judgment. We might hope that the reward of our faithfulness might be a life of ease and comfort but faith always leads to a cross to be borne. This is not the same cross Christ bore but the cross we bear in Him and even because we stand with and in Him in a world unfriendly to Him.
In the end what is most offensive to us and to the world around us is the insistence that the only life that can be gained is the life that is willing to be lost in Christ. The only life that is found is the one that is lost in service to mercy and in confidence of the triumph of a servant love. Whoever loses his life for the sake of Christ, finds it for all eternity. There is no way to make that statement palatable to a world afraid to trust, afraid to let go, afraid to give up control, afraid to admit fear, afraid to confess sin, afraid of death.
We live in a world in which the only people you can offend are Christians and the only faith that you can ridicule is Christianity. In response, too many Churches have tried to soften up the Word of God, have tried to make the faith more palatable to the modern ear, easier to understand and accept, and more instep with the times. But if you do that, you end up with a worthless Word that cannot do anything to release us from our prison to fear and our captivity to sin and its death.
In order for the Word of God to give us something, it must offend us with plain talk about sin and redemption, about life and death, about heavenly values amid earthly treasures. It ends up sounding like absolute foolishness to the wise in this world. It offends the wisdom of the sophisticated and worldly. But it is plain as day to the child who simply trusts without fear, who sees not with the mind that seeks to understand but the heart that is willing to trust.
The Word of God speaks bluntly. It speaks straight talk of sin and death so that its message of life and forgiveness may triumph. When we water down this Word, we end up with nothing left at all. When we soften the Word of God we end up with something empty and powerless to give us what we need, even when what we need is not always what we want.
Listen to Jesus Christ. But do not forget. What He says is understandable only from the perspective of faith, only “makes sense” in the light of what He has done on the cross and revealed in the empty tomb. Today we come with the simple prayer for the Spirit to lead us, to guide us, that we may believe and believing we may have life in Jesus' name. Amen.