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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Christians – Sick or Savvy?

Saint Paul arrested, early 1900s
Bible illustration (Wikipedia)

Let us begin to answer this question by referring to perhaps the most outstanding Saint of all – St. Paul. He writes “I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I would experience the resurrection from the dead! (Philippians 3:10-11 NLT).” In today’s devotional by Jimmy Carter he writes “Whenever we bring the real message of Jesus Christ to this world, we must be prepared for conflict” (Through the Year with Jimmy Carter, page 298). And again he writes “Christ’s life brought out such animosity, conflict, and hatred because he came into a complacent religious world, filled with men and women who prided themselves on their status as God’s chosen people and on their places of worship, and suddenly tore apart their complacency. He destroyed it…. They wanted to hold on to the old ways and keep their smug, self-satisfied, comfortable religion; but Christ would not allow it” (ibid).

In today’s world (indeed, as in Jesus’s time) smugness and self-satisfaction were not only a phenomena hoarded by the religious, but by others outside the strictly religious world who thought very highly of themselves and were comfortable with their superiority over others – especially over the poor and downtrodden, the meek of the earth, and of those holding opinions that could  be thought of as in any way threatening their views of acceptable cultural. By the way it is worth remembering that for their efforts Jesus was crucified and Paul was beheaded.

When Paul writes that he wants to share in Jesus’s death, should he be directed to see a psychiatrist? That overwhelmingly is the response that our culture would offer him--else what is the Baker Act for? Yet, it is clear that an attitude accepting suffering is essential for effectiveness. To accomplish anything worthwhile in this world we must set aside the fear of death as the end-all and be-all of our existence. I have always admired politicians in both local and national politics for this reason—they court death simply by their identity as a public official. As an obvious example, the City Councilman can be murdered because an irate Citizen is unhappy with code enforcement—which enforcement goes against the belief that ownership of property brings unlimited rights (a man’s home is his castle). In other words, all public officials represent authority and we know all too well that there are a host of individuals— some of them unstable and violent— with major issues regarding authority. In this line I recall today’s news in which a teacher was allegedly murdered by a student.

So in asking whether a Christian is sick or savvy in wanting to share in Jesus’s death, we must first look unflinchingly at the world as it is. With this sober and realistic assessment we can only conclude that a willingness to suffer the ultimate sacrifice (as in Christ’s crucifixion) is the only way to be effective and to earnestly strive for integrity. So the question becomes--"Is it sick or savvy to wish to accomplish something significant in life?" Many of us feel that eternal significance alone makes our mortal lives worthwhile. For those of us with such a belief (be it sick or savvy) the inevitable answer as to whether to affirm the spiritual life is not grim but faithful and generous.

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