July 25th, 2013
Last Sunday we affirmed the notion that “ideas have consequences” in that any given idea can redound in blessing or wreak havoc in cursing. From the “ideas” Jesus put forth toward the end of his teaching in the temple, we said it mattered what your idea is of Jesus, of yourself, and of what true religion is.
The Q&A following our service took its theme in an unexpected and welcome direction: given how culture is shaped as much by ideas as events and personalities, and given that many of those ideas so firmly entrenched in the culture stand at odds with many of our convictions, how then (to borrow a phrase from Francis Schaeffer) shall we live given that our personal faith has implications for our public life? Lloyd Elam provoked that very healthy and timely conversation during Q&A, and Rachel Kull provided us (on our FB page) only the latest example of the collision of convictions that forces Christians to ask themselves (as we did in our sermon the week previous), “how do we ensure fidelity to the two-faceted greatest commandment of loving the Lord with our entirety and loving our neighbor as ourselves?” [**See below for a pertinent aside to this question which I added to last week’s Backstory only after I first published it]
Both Lloyd’s and Rachel’s examples represent thorny situations for Christians that are bound only to increase with time (which will be part of the substance of this Sunday’s sermon)–situations that will demand clear and compassionate thinking; situations that will inevitably provoke unavoidable hostility; situations in which we’re bound to suffer loss and be tempted to rethink our convictions.
But to Rachel’s sincere question, “what do we do now?” the answer in one sense depends on your station, the givenness of your current situation. There are those poised and equipped to offer alternatives at a societal level. But as we said in the Q&A, the church’s first responsibility is faithfulness to her Lord. The second is this: faithfulness to the community for which Jesus died–the church, the bride, the holy nation, the royal priesthood. Just do a search of all the passages with the phrase “one another” and you will rightly infer how great is that responsibility to live unto one another as Jesus has to His own. This does not mean our responsibility stops at the boundary of the church community. May it never be! But our integrity, credibility, and capacity to speak and act within the culture is directly and inextricably related to our integrity within the church.
That’s why I should share with you something session elder, Richard Davis, reminded me of this week. It’s from an anonymous letter purportedly written to an aide to then Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (d. 180 A.D.) named Diognetus. The author identifies himself only as “Mathetes,” the greek word for disciple, and so it reads like an anthem of the church. You can find the letter in its entirety here, but let me excerpt one part that I think partly answers Lloyd’s and Rachel’s questions.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
Arguments derived from our convictions can and should be made in the public sphere that make a case for certain society-shaping principles and practices. But the greatest argument we can make is the argument from our life together–no matter how it may offend or stand against the buffeting winds of culture. In fact it was Schaeffer, one paragon of apologetic defenses of Christianity, who unashamedly conceded that love is the final and fullest apologetic. Should that kind of love be seen in the church, it may very well, as Emily Comer mentioned, “map to the culture”–that is, resonate within and take hold of the world around us.
Anyone who’s been part of a local church knows that loving one another is no small feat–well nigh impossible. But given the potency this kind of love has, who are we not to ask the grace of God to engender it in and between us?
There’s a meme–an image, phrase, or thought–that has seen a resurgence on the internet since it was first coined nearly 70 years ago near the beginning of WW II.
To rally and steel the British population under constant threat of German barrage, posters were placarded throughout the cities reading:
Well, the phrase has found new life and applications over the last year or so, imported into contexts and issues its original authors never dreamed of.
That’s why it wasn’t surprising that I found another variation of the meme that applies to our text for this week’s sermon:
Yes, it’s an unashamedly pejorative and mocking aspersion toward those whose faith is in the return of Jesus. Given the long and undistinguished list of those who’ve set
precise dates for the culmination of all things, the cynicism is partly understood, if not justified.
But I wonder how many Christians might silently, secretly, even subconsciously harbor anxiety at His return, fearing His divine “gotcha” at being found spiritually asleep at the wheel.
We’re in the most controversial passage in Mark’s account this Sunday: Mark 13. Last week’s text outlined the indictment for judgment; this week’s will outline the sentence.
Our question, similar to what we asked a few weeks ago when Jesus declared a preliminary judgment on the temple: how do we live fully in the now in view of the fulness of the future?
One thing is sure: we can’t live as those with a fastidiousness derived from pretense, as the ridiculing meme portrays. And so we want to argue that to live now in view of then is to recognize:
- that a Day is coming
- what to expect along the way toward that Day
- and what is expected of us until that Day
See you Sunday.
If you would, pray for:
- our women as they gather Saturday night just to be together; if the epistle to Diognetus reflects the fruit of the church’s life together, then gatherings such as this one are part of cultivating that life together
- our discussion Sunday during the 2nd hour concerning the notion of a meeting time alternative to Sunday morning; if you plan to speak, do pray for wisdom. We convene this conversation to hear from you and to ask God’s leadership
- Kevin Calcote as he heads to Chattanooga this week for a conference on Multi-Ethnic Worship; he goes as our emissary and fact-finder
- for the mother of Nathan Vandermeer who is 97 and it would seem in her last days; Nathan asks you pray for his family as the moment provokes conversations about more than life or death, but life beyond it
Peace be with you,
[*Another voice with which I think you should become acquainted is Rosaria Butterfield. Her book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, tells a rather extraordinary personal story. I would be remiss in having us cling to the Greatest Commandment for our guide in this issue without mentioning her unique and poignant perspective. I promise I’m not guilty of plagiarism in choosing the sermon title as “a Crucial Conversation,” but here is Mrs Butterfield’s lecture Conversations that Matter.]