Sunday, December 28, 2014

Facebook Jesus

I must offer a couple of caveats before I get too far along. First, as the name of this blog declares, I am unapologetically Anglican. For me, it is the best way to live out my faith. It has a depth and breadth of faith and spirituality that allows me to worship the Lord, grow in my faith and serve the Lord. Plus, as a priest, there is sartorial splendor to it that just adds to the whole worship experience. The other caveat is that I am very guilty of everything I am going to criticize here. It is that awareness that brought me to this point.


I confess I am on Facebook. I further confess that I check it regularly to see what is happening in Vern world. I have many friends on Facebook and appreciate reading about what is happening in their lives, if they even post at all. Many are really acquaintances though. Without Facebook I probably would not know anything about them. With Facebook, I have limited contact, very superficial really. Very few of my Facebook friends I would rank as close friends. I know some people on Facebook that have several hundreds, even thousands of friends. Yet, when they are in trouble, in need of help, they have only handful (if that many) that they can truly count on. This is a commentary on the sad state of affairs of society today. We possess thousands of friends who are arm’s length friends at best.


And this brings me to Jesus. Too many people have this type of relationship with Jesus. They have him as a Facebook friend but they do not have him as Lord and Savior. They check in to see what he is doing without it affecting their lives. Occasionally, they may even hit the like button for something he said but it will little impact on what they are doing. They will check their page when they have time, respond if they feel like it, and basically go about their business. In many ways this reminds me of the recent Twitter barrage about bringing our girls back after they were kidnapped by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Lots of efforts put in by fingers on iphones but no real change in the circumstances for those girls. Lots of efforts and little results, good intentions without impacting anything.


I can only imagine how disappointed Jesus is at all of his Facebook friends. They miss the point of Jesus saying, “I have called you friends.” (John 15:15) In the previous verse Jesus sets out the parameters for being “his friend.” “You are my friends if you do what I command.” (John 15:14) Being a friend of Jesus is much more than just pressing a button to accept his friend request. Too many times we accept this as sufficient. Yet, Jesus wants, dare I say it expects, much more. We settle for so much less than the very best Jesus has to offer. What we do not realize is that we jip ourselves by settling. We give him just enough to make ourselves feel good without ever wondering what he requires. We settle for about an hour a week and no more, without getting involved and going deeper. We prefer performances rather than his presence, productions rather than participation.


The biggest consequence of all of this is the impersonal quality in all of our relationships. We rationalize that we are keeping in touch by sending a message or posting on Facebook. I did this at Christmas and now need to repent of it. I devalued my relationship with some people by just sending them a greeting online. Yes, I did make some effort to contact them. What I really should have done was send a Christmas card – personalized of course – or made an old fashioned phone call. A phone call allows you to hear their voice, to interact in a more personal way. Is the reason the Church is failing in its mission because we can no longer recognize the voice of Jesus because we do not take the time to listen, to engage, to talk to him face to face? I feel guilty sometimes when I have to text my son to get an answer from him. He is just upstairs in the house but is preoccupied with his computer and headphones. It is effective but not too personal. I guess the Church will produce more fruit once Jesus learns to Facebook us back or text! This will just perpetuate this crisis in the Church though.


I do not think that Facebook is of the devil. But I see the devil exploiting it to make us complacent in our faith and ineffective in our witness. Jesus does call us his friend and we can call him our friend. But Jesus is more than that. Jesus deserves more than a platonic relationship and a couple of presses on keys to keep in touch. Jesus is our Lord and Savior. He wants – he deserves – more of our time and effort. Let us turn Facebook Jesus into Jesus Christ, Son of God, Lord of Lords and King of Kings. This New Year, make Jesus more than just a friend.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

TGIBF (Thank God It’s Black Friday)

There’s a big sale day coming this week. Many people will do outrageous things just to save a few bucks on gifts that they want to give to others at Christmas (or keep for themselves!). People will trample others in order to get to those deals. Every year we hear horror stories about some tragic incident that certainly doesn’t demonstrate the supposed meaning of the season. In those situations we put aside common courtesy or peace on earth goodwill towards men in order to obtain those precious gifts we delude ourselves into thinking we need. But I digress.

Black Friday is the day after Thanksgiving Day. The name derives from the economic fact that many retailers come out of the red and into the black based on holiday sales. The holiday sales season traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving. There are other explanations but this one seems to be most plausible based on recent history.

But there was another black Friday about 2000 years ago. It was possibly the first black Friday. It didn’t happen the day after Thanksgiving as we know it. It did happen the day after Jesus instituted the “Lord’s Supper” which many people know as the “Eucharist.” In Greek, eucharist means “thanksgiving.” So, there may be historic precedence in Black Friday occurring after Thanksgiving. This Black Friday is commonly known as Good Friday. It is not biblically unreasonable for it to be referred to as Black Friday. Matthew 27:45 states: “From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land.” (also Luke 24:44-45) This fulfills what the prophet Amos foretold in his utterances 750 years before Christ. “In that day,” declares the Sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight.” (Amos 8:9) It really was a black Friday.

For Christians it was also a Good Friday. As Christians, we are Easter people, people of the resurrection, which took place on Sunday. But you cannot have Easter without Good Friday. As a famous sermon was named, “It’s Friday But Sunday’s Comin!” We do not focus on the violence of the cross – although that is very important – but we focus on the empty tomb. Yet, the empty tomb only comes as a result of death on the cross.

While I must acknowledge that all analogies breakdown at some point, I do believe we can see similarities between the modern Black Friday and the black Friday 2000 years ago. First and foremost is the bargain we receive through Jesus’ death on the cross. It costs us nothing to accept what Jesus did for us. On that cross he took all of our sins – past, present and future – upon himself and he gives us his righteousness. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) This has been called the “Great Switch.”

When you place this on the scale of deals available on any Black Friday, this one is exceptional, fantastic, out of this world. We do not pay a thing for this deal. Our wallets stay in our pocket. No charge is added to any credit card, as if we could afford to pay for it at all. This cost Jesus Christ everything. We don’t have to camp out for weeks in advance or get up before dawn to take advantage of this offer. We don’t even have to leave our homes. You won’t see this deal advertised in newspaper fliers or on billboards (much to the church’s shame). When you compare this to other Black Friday markdowns, this one is extraordinary. Whatever is purchased on the current Black Friday will wear out or become obsolete sooner than we care to admit. What is gained at the other Black Friday will last through eternity. Now that’s a deal!

However, we cannot dismiss the fact that this deal will cost us everything, our whole life. While we cannot earn it or do anything to obtain it. But upon acceptance we must commit the entirety of our lives to this transaction. As the words in the Communion service states: “And here we offer and present to you, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice.” So yes it does cost us something. There are no discount coupons or bogo’s here. This is serious business between us and God and in his kingdom nothing less than all we have and all we are will do.

While I do not want to go too deep into this and loose the point, suffice it to say that, as Christians, we celebrate a Black Friday. In fact, in God’s economy, any day can be your Black Friday. As Paul told the Corinthians, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) You do not have to wait for the calendar or day timer to register Friday. But this week, especially Black Friday, let us remember what was purchased for us on that other Black Friday. After a day of thanksgiving, what could be more appropriate?

Friday, October 3, 2014

St Francis, Where Art Thou?

October 4th is the feast day for St. Francis of Assisi. Since I am not Roman Catholic, there are many saints – capital “S” saints - days that I do not celebrate. Even so, Francis is a good day to celebrate.

Francis was an interesting person. He renounced his wealth, affluence and worldly possessions. He is reported to have run out of the church naked after leaving his clothes behind because they came from his well-to-do father’s money. Later, he started his own religious order for which he is best known today. He is reputed to have said, “Preach the gospel and if necessary use words.” This would have been a strange saying for someone who started an order that included preaching. He created the first Christmas crèche or Nativity scene. This happened long before political correctness made it offensive to some to display the birth of the Christ child in public. He is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. It is because of his being the patron saint of animals that the Blessing of Animals service is conducted on Francis’ feast day.

The Church – big “C” – is missing an exciting opportunity for evangelism by ignoring this day. So many people love their pets – some more than people! I know what a loss our two silly puppies would be to our family. Why? It is because they are part of the family. They normally mind better than the kids. They have no laundry to be done for them. They keep their bedrooms clean. Their food costs are a lot less. In many respects, they are better behaved than the kids. The truth is that we love our pets.

In addition, they are part of God’s creation. After God created all the animals the Bible says, “And God saw that it was good.” (Genesis 1:25) All creatures are worthy of having the blessing of God. There was a movie entitled “All Dogs Go to Heaven.” I do not think this untrue. In fact, dog spelled backwards is God! I was asked once if there were animals in heaven. After a thoughtful pause, I replied, “There must be or where else would the four horses of the apocalypse come from?” (Revelation 19:11) I’m not sure snakes make it though. They were cursed at the Fall. (Genesis 3;24) Blessing animals seems logical and thoroughly biblical.

I had always envisioned the Blessing of the Animals service to be a big deal. It is a wonderful safe way to attract people to the church. People may not come for themselves but many may come to receive a blessing for Fido or Rover. Imagine inviting the whole K-9 unit from the local police force. Advertising their presence would lend an air of a community outreach event to the proceedings. Allow the local pet rescue organization to set up shop with some of their adoptable pets. They could be introduced to a whole cadre of prospective pet owners. This is the kind of community outreach that can reap benefits.

Of course, the will have to be a sermon during the course of the “service.” This would be true to the order that St. Francis started. Ruminate on these themes for the sermon. If you focusing on adopting a pet you can point to the love, care and concern it takes from the potential new owner. Then, point the people to these same themes in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our adoption into God’s family and our becoming children of God. Another perspective would be to remind pet owners of their love and devotion their pets have for them and the love and devotion they have towards their pets. Then you can remind them that God feels the same way about them and sent Jesus Christ to prove it. Both subjects allow the gospel to be preached without beating people over their head with the Bible. One of the drawbacks at any service where animals and kids are present is to keep to short and to the point. Use this as an opportunity to invite people to join you for a regular Sunday service. After all, if you treat their pets right, you will certainly treat them right too! Then they can hear a more complete gospel massage.

My fear is that as we let “out of the box” chances slip away we limit our prospects for reaching those outside the church. And we do so at our peril as a church. How hard is it to invite your neighbors to something as innocuous as this? They will hopefully see the benefits for their beloved pets. How could blessing them hurt? Yet it is a wide open door. Allow them to see that the walls of the church are structurally sound to withstand their visit. Invitations to events like this take the edge off of approaching friends about coming to church. Congregations need to think more evangelistically and come up with creative ways to help depopulate the kingdom of hell. Blessing the animals in memory of St. Francis is not the only way. Think of all the sermon fodder you can obtain from St. Valentine’s Day. This is in remembrance of man who gave his life – he was beheaded - for his commitment to Jesus Christ. Or think about St. Patrick. Celebrate his day with more than just green beer or corned beef and cabbage! Patrick was sold into slavery in Ireland as a child. He escaped and decided to return to Ireland to bring them the gospel of Jesus Christ. Both of these feasts have lost their original meaning and thus their potential impact on an unbelieving world. As we attempt to draw people back to their true meaning, they will hopefully see the depth of commitment to Jesus Christ that those being commemorated demonstrated. Maybe we will be able to impress on them that this “Jesus thing” is something real, something active, something life changing. Who knows? It may even encourage our life and witness to Jesus Christ as we hear and celebrate those who are part of that great cloud of witness that goes before us. Thank you Francis for your witness and testimony and the opportunity you allow us to have to tell others about Jesus Christ.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Who’s in the Audience?

I was reminded the other day of a precious promise from the Bible. I was listening to the discussion on the Christian radio station about knowing that God was always with us. When I hear things like that I am always drawn to the Collect for Purity which is read at almost every Anglican Communion (Mass, Eucharist) on Sunday’s. It states in part, “For to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hid.” While I know Jesus knows all and sees all, I think part of this statement is true because Jesus is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. (Proverbs 18:24). Jesus' close proximity to those who know him, love him and serve him brings comfort, strength and assurance. Jesus’ departing words at his Ascension were, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) The can be no denying this fact. We are always in an audience of one.


That promise stuck with me most of that day. I was pleased to know that I was never alone. I drew immense comfort from this. That is until I realized that with this promise, this blessed assurance, there comes a responsibility. This is the opposite side of the same coin. If Jesus is present with me all the time, every time, wherever I am, that means I am never alone. There is never a time when I can get away with something because Jesus won’t see me. Just because other people are not with me does not mean I am free from the responsibility of being, acting, striving to be Christ-like. This became a profound reality for me very quickly.


At my other employment I have to deal with difficult people on a regular basis. I am used to it. In fact I am so used to it that I am becoming jaded and somewhat irreverent when they are not around. I really did not realize how far I had backslidden until I remembered that Jesus was with me all the time. As one of those difficult people left my office the other day, I said under my breath, almost inaudible to even me, something not very flattering about that person. I guess I have done that a lot lately without even being aware of it. This time I became acutely aware of it because Jesus reminded me he was there. I realized that even though no one else had heard what I said, Jesus did! Immediately I got image in my mind of Jesus covering his ears, closing his eyes, disappointed in my actions. He looked like two of those monkeys: see no evil and speak no evil both at the same time. I was instantly convicted. He reminded me of the many passages of Scripture that speak to what I had just done. I was certainly not proud of myself. We are always in the audience of one.


Here are two of the passages he brought to my attention. Proverbs 29:20 states: “Do you see someone who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for them.” This verse can bring a smile to your face when you think there is more hope for a fool than for you. I know it did for me. I had no idea what that person was going through other than the imposition they were placing on me. Instead of seeking to offer comfort, understanding or support, I basically cursed them when they left. Jesus’ rebuke of my verbal assault was justified. It did not make me feel good either! Being a fair weather Christian is easy. It is not hard to pretend in public, to put on the good, pious Christian mask. But as Paul encouraged the church at Colossae, “live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work.” (Colossians 1:10) Life is not just lived in public but before an audience of one. And, make no mistake about it; my actions did not bear good fruit. It was not a good work and any fruit coming from it was rotten, tainted and worthless. I should know better. If I did not then, I do now.

The one thing about Jesus rebuking you is that he does not leave off with a reprimand. He offers you a solution, a positive way forward, something to change about yourself to make your life more in line with his will and purpose. So, he prompted me to another verse of Scripture. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44) Some people make it so hard to love them. And these difficult people are not really persecuting me. They just aggravate, disturb and inconvenience me. I know those are not the same things. But I think from Jesus’ point of view these are distinctions without a difference. We can try to rationalize that they are not really our enemies. They do not want to see any real harm come to us. They certainly do not want to end our lives – at least I think not. As such, we really do not have to pray for them, much less love them, right? Jesus sets the bar so high, impossibly high. If we find people aggravating, disturbing and inconvenient, then we should love and pray for them. Our job, our duty, our goal is to present Jesus Christ in a favorable light whenever possible. We should attempt to do this most especially when no one is looking, except Jesus himself.


I know there are times when I will not live up to the expectations of Jesus Christ. But I also know there is never a time when I should not try! Jesus’ teachings are difficult and hard to adhere to. If they were easy, everyone would do them and we would have no need for a Savior. Even in my meager attempts, I know that I could – I should – try to do better. If only because I am always in an audience of one – the ONE!

Friday, January 3, 2014

“Can’t Touch That” (Simple Math)

I guess God has presented a theme for me as I begin the New Year. I have several devotionals that I read (almost) daily. One has me reading the opening of St. Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. This is a powerful indictment of society overruling the precepts of God for their own enjoyment and amusement. There is a lengthy list of things that God considers “sin” and yet people keep on participating in them. When I put that alongside a pull quote from another devotional I can see dimly. Patrick Morley wrote: "The American gospel has evolved into a gospel of addition without subtraction. Many believe we can add Christ to our lives but not subtract sin. We change our belief without changing our character. A changed life is one that added Christ and has subtracted sin - that attracts a world weary of empty words. Jesus is the answer. Our obedience is the proof."

This makes me wonder and it is so convicting as well. It got my little pea brain to ruminate. What subtractions have I made to accommodate the presence of Jesus Christ in my life? How much have I compromised the commands and promises of the gospel message to make room for my “beloved” sins? There are some – probably too many – that I have rationalized that, if God is the loving God he claims to be, he would allow me to have, to participate in, because they make me happy. But are they good for me? In this life, they may actually be neutral: they neither harm not benefit me. Yet, if they are contrary to the decrees of God, there is no way on God’s green earth they could benefit me!

On television lately, they have been airing many advertisements about the St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. The children on those ads tug at my heart strings and cause me to at least pray for them and thank God that I have been blessed with healthy children. Many of them did not do anything to cause these horrid diseases they are suffering from. They haven’t lived long enough to cause sustained damage to their own bodies. They are way too young to ignore the Surgeon General’s warning on the side of certain products. In these times of mental calisthenics, I wonder how I would handle some kind of devastating news about my health. How would I react to my doctor admonishing me to stop doing some habit or I will die. Or, suppose he told me that, if I wanted to live, I would have to eat liver three nights a week. Now, it may seem I’m making light of a serious situation but I’m not. I really hate liver, even to the point of gagging the last time I tried it. This is how much I dislike – because my grandmother always told me don’t hate anything – liver! Yet, I think I would acquire a taste for this life giving meal if it was my only choice. Or, suppose the doctor told me that my eyesight was failing and I would have to stop reading books altogether? I can’t tell you how quick I would pull out the old cassette player and my New Testament tapes and wear them out until the new cd’s arrived. What I am saying is that life threatening issues will have to be dealt with. Yet too many people ignore the Surgeon General’s warnings and God’s too.

Now, take this calamity to the Church. As Morley so correctly mentions, we may be good at addition but we are not so good at subtraction. God wants both. While I don’t want to mention the peril unbelievers may suffer for their ignorance, I am acutely aware of the risk many in the church are subject to. We do not take seriously God’s admonitions against, well everything. Our feel good mentality will not allow us to speak about people’s transgression. How many people hear the word “sin” mentioned in church on an average Sunday? I dare say that Joel Osteen doesn’t even know how to say the word. If we don’t talk about it, if we ignore it, it must not exist, right?

Why do we allow this to happen? Here is where the second pull quote becomes relevant. It is from CS Lewis. “We are like ignorant children who go on making mud pies in a slum because we can’t imagine God’s offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. We settle for so little.” Some deny that God’s ways are best for us. Others choose to ignore what God says. Either way, we do so at our peril. And the church is complicit in this situation. We focus on addition. The question is always, “Have you found Christ?” We never ask, “Have you repented of those willful things in your life God speaks against?” We have tried to have one without the other and then cannot understand why the church is ineffective and docile. This is becoming harder as the church itself allows its leaders to do and say all kinds of ridiculous things. Here is a very brief sample. The so-called bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, DC said: “if someone were to discover a tomb with Jesus remains in it the entire enterprise would not come crashing down.” (Marianne Budde) Or this jewel from the former archbishop of South Africa Desmond Tutu: “If God disagrees with me about the sinfulness of homosexual behavior, I’m prepared to spend eternity without Him, because Satan would be the preferable alternative.” As I recollect God has not given us ten suggestions. I have not read in God’s Word God saying, “I think maybe” or, “if you want to.” If he did he would not be God.

It is at this point that I find GK Chesterton’s comments so insightful: "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." I think I have heard the Great Physician lately calling to me, “STOP! THAT WILL KILL YOU!” I feel him nudging me and encouraging me to follow the warning labels all around. I was never good at math. I never cared what “X” equaled. But this is simple math. And I love simple: KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid! I have the addition. Praise God for that. I need the subtraction. I need to take away the stuff in my life that hinders my relationship with God. I need to get out of the slums and get to the seashore. Only God can do that through simple math and our reading and following the warning labels. Make 2014 the year of simple math. God will show you how.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Who’s Rules Anyway?

I must confess that I was inspired by the election of Pope Francis. His words and actions seem to embody Jesus Christ and his humility is refreshing from a former “prince” of the church. Even though I am not Roman Catholic, and have no intention of ever crossing the Tiber to become one, I think Francis will be a blessing to all Christians worldwide, including Anglicans.

Due to the nature of Francis’ elevation and the historic resignation of his predecessor, the politics and intrigue of the papal selection were unusually heightened. Since Benedict abdicated instead of dying, as every pope for the last 600 years has done, the pundits and propagandists had a field day for over a month. Their wagging tongues and sharp pencils generally attacked the Roman Catholic Church with their version of what ails the church and how to fix it. Most of the media focused on how out of date the church was and how it must modernize and join the rest of us in the 21st century. The two main issues were gay marriage and the ordination of women. From their perch in the cheap seats next to Bob Uecker, without the church getting on-board with these progressive issues, it was destined to be cast on the dung heap of irrelevancy. It appears that the church did not cave into the hysterics and has chosen a man who will uphold the orthodoxy and doctrines of the church.

Watching all of this as an interested bystander was fascinating. It raised several matters which got my attention. Thus, I have entitled this article, “Who’s Rules Anyway?” There are so many implications on so many levels but I will just explore a couple.

The one I had the most trouble with was the gay marriage issue. The teaching of the church has remained constant on this subject for over 2000 years. This does not include the Old Testament which begins at creation with one man and women. What makes this juicy is that by redefining marriage as society or a small minority of that society dictates makes people believe they can improve on what God has instituted. How arrogant for the creatures to tell the creator how things ought to be! That would be like Pinocchio telling Geppetto what he should do, how he should act. It is hard to imagine how in the world people can think they can tell God how to act and what to bless.

The first argument that is always raised concerns love. If God is love they suggest, he would want me to be able to marry the person I love. We tend to think that there are no boundaries or restraints on who we love, how we love or what we can love. Even without exploring the implications of this slippery slope, it is not hard to see how far this mutation can lead us away from God. God’s love is so much higher, purer and perfect than human love (or lust). God just doesn’t love, he is love. It is not an action he engages in it is his who and what he is. God is pure unadulterated love. Who knows more about love than the One who is love? Our fallen humanity can never have a concept of God’s true love.

Same sex marriage is also a life issue. God, who is the author of life, has proscribed relationships that foster life. This is more than just about pre-creation, it’s about health.  It is hard to deny the statistical fact that gay men live, on average, 12 years less than their heterosexual counterparts. Women average about ten years less. There is also a higher chance of suicide, drug abuse, depression and other physical and mental ailments associated with same sex desire. How can society encourage a life style that is so evidently pro-death? The God who created all life, who raised Jesus Christ back to life, is anything but pro-death. He is decidedly anti-death. He is pro-life! It is hard to imagine him, under any circumstances, supporting any institution that leads to premature death. When Jesus said that he came that we might have life and have it abundantly, I am fairly certain he had in mind a quantity and quality that is diametrically opposed to this. True love supports life, not destroys it.

Many supporters of same sex marriage will claim that this is a social justice issue. You will hear them whine, “If heterosexuals can, why can’t we?” At this point answering, “Because God said so,” offers little solace or help. That answer just does not sit well with them. Like little children they feel they are being denied or cheated because they do not get what they want. Good parenting requires saying “no” quite often, especially when it is in the best interest of the child. When I was young – and I must admit I still want this today – I wanted to eat candy for all of my meals. I think God allowed Reese’s Cup to be invented to tempt me beyond what I can handle! But, then as now, a steady diet of those delicious peanut butter cups would do great damage to my health. I would not be getting the proper nutrients my body required and the sugar alone would rot my teeth. Sometimes a “no” means love. Love means saying no and not indulging whims just because the child feels they are getting a raw deal. Here again, who is more just than God Almighty? He invented the principle and the practice and instituted the action.

The church inspires strong loyalties and those can be tough to overcome. During the pre-papal election coverage, I heard a lot of people spewing about “their” church. These people forget that the church is a voluntary institution and they are free to belong or not to belong. I think it really is the height of arrogance to try to tell something as big and as old as the Roman Catholic Church how she should act. In my wildest imagination, I would never think to the join the Rotary Club and try to tell them what they should be doing and why. That is the definition of the tail wagging the dog. What I would do is try to find a group whose principles and ideals I agree with and join them. Instead of constantly rowing against the rest of the boat, I would be rowing with them and making more of an impact in the process. If the Roman Catholic Church does not meet your expectations, find a church that will. (This goes for any church or denomination.) I realize this opens up a whole other can of worms about “true” churches etc. but we will save that for a later date. Freedom of association also means freedom from association.

These are just a couple of observations from the papal election. I dare say they are unique to the Roman Catholic Church or to me. There are many tails out there trying to wag the dog. The biggest dog of all is God. The distortion of reality is huge. The presumption is overwhelming. God is God because he is God. He has instituted desirable behavior for his creatures. Throughout history, we have perverted God’s pattern. We have revised Psalm 100:3. The verse states: “It is he who made us and not we ourselves.” We have made it much more palatable: "It is we who have made him and not he himself.” Both versions have implications for the way we live. The only question is, “Who’s rules anyway?”

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Sympathetic Pains

I’m not a big fan of sympathetic pain. I suffer from it. If you tell me you have a tooth ache, I will feel pain in my own mouth. Stomach, head ache, any other ache, I suffer the same thing. This may make me more compassionate and caring but it can be a real pain, literally. When my wife was pregnant with our son I had real issues with her morning sickness. Maybe that is why we didn’t have any more children. At this time of year my malady becomes acute when I think back on all that Jesus went through for me on Good Friday.

I love Holy Week. I am thankful – grateful – for all that Jesus endured on my behalf. His suffering was my gain. When we read the biblical accounts of the Passions Narrative, they seem to be sanitized. They do not adequately portray what Jesus actually underwent at the hands of his tormentors. With the release of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,” the actual brutality of Jesus’ suffering jumps out of the screen with such force it knocks you over, if not out. I do not know how anyone cannot suffer some form of sympathetic pain watching those scenes. It is gory and grotesque. When I viewed the film – and mind you, I could only stand to see it once – I was graciously spared from the full impact of the whipping part. I was summoned to answer the phone at the portion where Jesus was flogged. I returned at the point where Mary was wiping up the blood. Even that was too much for my fragile constitution. That movie indelibly etched the true nature of the Passion in my mind and the minds of millions of viewers. Then, each year those images are reawakened in my mind as I remember our Lord’s Passion.

The question remains, though, will the events that are portrayed in that movie have any impact on your Good Friday? For me, suffering from sympathetic pain, it does. Even writing this I am getting prickly feelings on my back just thinking about Jesus being scourged. If I take the time – which I probably will not – I could feel sensations in other areas of my body too. But these little sympathetic pains bear little resemblance to what Jesus truly suffered and endured. His pain was real. Mine is only a figment of my imagination. His blood was real. His torn flesh was real. Jesus can sympathize with the pains and our true condition we have in life because he has suffered real true pain too. These are not sympathetic pains but actual true suffering. And on the cross, when he took on all of our sins as the sacrificial Lamb of God, for the first time in his life, he knew what it meant to be cut off from intimate fellowship with God. We are used to it, he was not. For us it is normal, for him it was rude awakening. He came to return the possibility of that full relationship with God for us, and to us. It was at this point that Jesus exclaimed, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” The closeness of their relationship was ripped away from him just as brutally as the skin on his back.
While Jesus Christ can sympathize with us, we can never sympathize with him. Even in our most pathetic efforts to understand what he went through we come up short. The implications of what he did echo through eternity, praise God! We tend to minimize or sanitize what Jesus endured. We seldom try to fill in the details in the biblical account left out by the gospel writers. We rarely engage our imaginations to even partially enter into his suffering and pain. I was overwhelmed several years ago when I came across a medical doctor’s diagnosis of what Jesus’ body was going through during all of this. He explored all of the possible ramifications of the brutal beating, the crown of thorns, the cross bar of the execution cross, in addition to the hunger, thirst and myriad other physical ailments that were occurring. After perusing the medical record I was astounded at how Jesus even lived long enough to make it to the cross. Needless to say, for the faint-hearted like me, this was somber reading. But Jesus had a mission to complete and nothing short of the cross would accomplish the purpose for which he came.

To enter fully into Easter, we must go through Good Friday. We need to understand what Jesus accomplished on Good Friday. That is where we find its meaning, not in sympathy but in actuality. We don’t stay on Good Friday because we are resurrection people. We cannot minimize what was accomplished on that fateful day Friday 2000 years ago. With my sympathetic pain, all I can say is that I would not have survived. I am eternally grateful. I am also eternally grateful that the cross wasn’t the last word! The empty tomb is the last word. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory? Where O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:54-55) Or as Tony Campolo wrote about, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin!” Alleluia. Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia.