Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, February 25, 2018:

First Reading: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

Psalm: Psalm 22:22-30 (Psalm 22:23-31 NRSV)

Second Reading: Romans 4:13-25

Gospel: Mark 8:31-38

In this week's Gospel, Jesus gives us fairly stark terms about what it means to be a Christian, and it's worth thinking about, in our world where Christianity has become so distorted and used to justify so many questionable activities.

Over the last 50 or so years of the 20th century, many people came to see Christianity as just one more way to self-enlightenment or self-improvement. Many people combined Christian practices with Eastern practices, and most of them showed that they had precious little knowledge of either.

Or worse, people seemed to see Christianity as a path to riches. We see this in countless stories of pastors who took money from parishioners and, instead of building housing for homeless people, built mansions for themselves. We see this in the megachurch which is held up as an optimum model, the yardstick by which we smaller churches are measured and come up lacking. The bestseller lists are full of books which promise a Christian way to self-fulfillment or riches, while books of sturdy theology will never be known by most readers.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is one of a multitude of theologians who warns us against this kind of thinking, of what Christianity can do for us. He calls it cheap grace, this salvation that doesn't require us to change our comfortable lives (or worse, tells us to expect more comfort). He says, "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate. Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a person must knock" (A Testament to Freedom 308).

Jesus reminds us again and again that Christians are to strive NOT to put themselves at the center of their lives. Taking our Christian lives seriously is sure to put us on a collision course with the larger world. Christ warns us that we may even lose our lives. I suspect that he means this on several different levels, yet it is worth reminding ourselves of how many martyrs there have been, even in the late-twentieth century, people who were murdered because they dared to take Christianity seriously and called on corrupt governments to change their practices or went to places where the rest of us are afraid to go to help the poor of the world.

If we don't put ourselves at the center of our lives (and what a countercultural idea that is!), then who should be there? Many of us deny ourselves for the good of our children, for our charity work, for our bosses. Yet that's not the right answer either.

God requires that we put God at the center of our lives. Frankly, many of us are much better at putting our children first or our students or our friends--but God? Many of us are mystified at how we even begin to do that.

Maybe it is time to return to that practice that surfaces periodically.  Years ago, people wore bands around their wrists that had these letters:  WWJD.  What would Jesus do?  It's a good question to ask as we move through our days. 

Imagine it this way:  if Jesus moved into your extra bedroom, how would your life change?  Would you watch the same TV shows?  Would you load up the family and go to church each week?  Would you have a family meal where you talked about where you saw God today?

Once God is at the center of our lives, then we are more well-equipped to care for the world. When we spend every spare minute watching broadcasters scream at each other in what passes for news shows, we are not emotionally equipped to deal with the cares of the world. But with God at our core, we can be God's hands to do God's work in the world.

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