Some thoughts for the 4th Sunday of Easter (Year A, 3 May 2010)
As I read and pondered the lectionary readings for this Sunday, I was struck by the contract between them. The reading from Acts speaks of a welcoming community; the reading from the Gospel speaks of a welcoming Christ. And yet, in the 2nd lesson, Peter talks about the suffering one is going to receive for being a Christian.
And as I thought about that, I continued to think about how the church today is going to respond to the issues that society faces today.
Like so many people today, I have quite a few friends on Facebook. Of course, there are members of my family. But there are those whom I went to either high school or college with them or I knew them before Facebook existed.
I share something in common with each of my Facebook friends. But I have found that I do not necessarily share the same beliefs that some of those on my friends list have. I suppose the proper thing to do would be to drop those with whom I do not share a common belief set and whom I have never met.
But then I would only have a distorted view of the world on Facebook. For example, I would not know that I am being persecuted for being a Christian or that other religious groups are receiving preferential treatment. Apparently, I didn’t get that memo. I also didn’t get the memo detailing the various and sundry conspiracy theories that lurk beneath the surface veneer of society.
It is interesting and somewhat frightening to see what many of these will post. But is what more frightening than the hatred they preach, the false information and conspiracy theories that they push is that they claim to be Christian, believing in the power of Jesus Christ as their personal Savior.
And in today’s world, I cannot see how one can espouse a doctrine of hatred and ignorance and claim to be a Christian. Perhaps you can but I don’t share that view of the world. How do you explain someone who proclaims to be a Christian but hates the world? How do you explain someone who attends church on Sunday and is a pillar of the church but who ignores the cries of the needy during the week or even, as I discovered growing up in the South, works against the goals of Christianity during the week?
There are, perhaps three types of Christians in the world today. The first can be called a separatist.
A religious separatist is one who separates their religious life from their secular life. They wear their faith as if it was pure and they will not allow anyone or anything to disturb that purity. For these individuals, if it is not clothed in Christ, it is not part of their lives. They will be at Christian groceries, eat at Christian restaurants, shop only at Christian stores, and listen to Christian music. It is a life separate from others. But they turn off people to the true faith because they, the separatists, cannot relate their faith to the world around them. And when you ask them to integrate their faith into the culture around them, they panic.
The second type of Christian is a conformist. These individuals adapt their thoughts to the world, making sure that no one knows that they might go to church on Sundays. And it is quite easy to see that many of their friends would be surprised to know that they are Christians because there is no evidence to suggest. Religious conformists use religion when it is convenient for them. Christianity is something done on Sundays; Mondays through Fridays, one must be a realist and you cannot be a realist if one is a Christian.
The third type of a Christian is a the transformist. Such individuals seek to make faith a part of the prevailing culture; they use their faith to change the culture, not for the purpose of a self-proclaimed religion but for society. John and Charles Wesley could easily be thought of as transformists.
Transformists understand that you cannot categorize faith, love for God, and love for people into separate and independent categories. Their faith is integrated with their live and their love for God is shown by their love for people. (Adapted from “the Journey Towards Relevance” by Kary Oberbrunner; first published in “A Door That Swings Both Ways”)
For me, those who say that they are being persecuted for their beliefs are quite easily separatists. Theirs is the only world that counts; as I have written before, they see the sanctuary as a protection from the outside world.
And yet today, we do not meet in the sanctuary. The sanctuary now extends beyond the walls of the church into our homes and yards and throughout the world. These must be frightening times for separatists and conformists alike. For the separatists, the outside world which they don’t want to enter their lives is now very much a part of their lives; for the conformists, the lessons of Sunday now become the actions for the week.
If I am not mistaken, the community of believers that formed the community outside Jerusalem did not prevent anyone from entering or being a part of the community. Yes, they did “throw out” some who did not want to follow the rules of the community, but they also realized that some were not able to do that. Theirs was a community of hope and promise.
I am not interested in building a new community; I am interested in making sure that the community in which I live is one in which all can live. I want a community of hope and promise. I know that it will not happen tomorrow or even within the next few weeks. But there will be a time in the next few months when our gatherings will be in person rather than online. It will be a moment when we must decide the future of our faith community.
As I looked at the lectionary readings for today, my focus was on Jesus is the Gatekeeper. For the separatists and the conformists, He stands at the Gate, letting only a select few, locking the Gate to keep the sheep safe. But if Jesus taught us anything, it was that the traditional view doesn’t always work.
Yes, Jesus stands at the Gate but not letting us in but directing us to go out into the world, to transform the world. Locked behind the Gate, we are protected from the ravages of the world, but we cannot begin to transform the world.
God does not expect us to venture into a world unprotected, but He does expect than when it is time, we will leave the safety of the sanctuary. Between today and that time, we must decide if we are going to go in or come out.