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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Role of Christians in the World

I stumbled across Fr. Stephen Freeman's blog is Glory to God For All Things. He wrote about the role of Abraham interceding with God for mercy on Sodom and Gomorrah and contrasted it with the tendency among some Christians to pray for God's Judgment and destruction (on others). His approach to the Bible, at least in what I have read, seems to resonate with my own understanding. It is worth looking at.

The other day in MP we read from James, the famous "faith without works is dead" line was the 'loudest' verse in my meditation. It reinforced something I discussed in Bible study last week. In my experience, Protestants tend to quote Paul (especially Romans and Galatians) and Catholics tend toward the Gospels (though James is popular as well).How one approaches this issue is not going to be based on the Bible. In other words, the Bible does not explain to the reader how the Bible should be read. It does not spell out which texts are the "beginning point" from which the other texts are to be read and understood. In the end, different traditions and different people create their own "canon within the canon."

Fr. Freeman's reflection on Abraham laid out an argument that our vocation in the world is intercession for God's mercy. I think he made a fine case (with the limits of a short post). One can certainly see that the vocation of Jesus was connected to such a purpose (He came to save sinners) and by extension the church retains that calling as well. However, in a world of "culture wars" and endless political conflicts, it is also easy to see how a "win-lose" mentality from the culture would infiltrate into the spiritual realm. As such, we end up reading the Bible with that frame of reference and those assumptions. There are plenty of wars in the Bible, and warrior images (both physical and spiritual) abound. In a win/lose culture with a strong emphasis on competition (our culture) it is easy to see how the interpretation is shaped by the assumptions and values of the reader. [if my comment section were easier to get to I am sure there would be plenty of strong cases made for numerous approaches]

Jesus told His ancient Jewish audience, "You are the Light of the world!" What if that were our starting place? Would it impact how we understood our place? Paul said make prayers and intercessions for those in roles of leadership (which meant an unfriendly and decidedly pagan Rome). If we emphasize that rather than "this faithless and adulterous generation" might we also find our understanding of vocation shifts?

I had hoped by now I would be firmer in my understanding of things. I have been at this for four decades after all. Yet I find I am constantly shifting focus and changing direction (within obvious limits, I believe in Jesus and embrace the orthodox faith and creeds). It is just that "what should we do in the meantime" (until Jesus comes back) is not always crystal clear. Prayer, Scripture study, proclamation and service (especially of the needy) are obvious. Jesus at the center of understanding who God is. Church affiliation and worship attendance. Trusting God alone for all things, yet acting in obedient fidelity. Receiving the gift of salvation even as we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Loving God and neighbor (and enemy). Being generous. Truth be told it is not terribly difficult to come up with a substantial list of things to be and do.The problem is the details and the concrete expression of such things.

Each person must answer the question for themselves. In the end, we are accountable to God for our decision. We are even more accountable for our integrity in living out that understanding.We must remain in dialogue with the larger church (across time and space), and we must never kid ourselves that our views are incomplete and a particular, limited, incomplete and sometimes erroneous expression. So our decisions are made in humility with an openness to the fullness of the faith.

I like the idea of Christians being friends to the rest of the earth. I like the thought that we have come to preach--most importantly through our lives--to the world the Good News of God's coming reign. I like the idea that we should pray for others, especially those we find despicable. That we should remind folks that we are to be held accountable (Jesus will come to judge the living and  the dead) and that our last, great hope is His mercy and forgiveness (trust/faith saves). I am sometimes drawn toward a more combative approach, but win/lose paradigms tend to produce lots of losers. In Christ, losing (dying on the cross) was winning. I also know that tomorrow I will have a slightly different angle on it all. Which in a sense is okay, because I do not have it right, yet. Nor do you, friend! So let us continue the journey...

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