Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Let us be yours

The ‘prosperity gospel’ and ‘Christianity as a self-improvement regimen’ make their home in the minds of many Christians of all denominations, even the Orthodox Church. And how can they not? The Church, like the world, is full of humans, those inside just as fallen as those outside, and both sides polishing themselves to shiny splendor, even when sincerely serving the Lord, or serving Mammon. Well did the Lord’s brother, James, write to admonish us not to make distinctions between classes and types of people. ‘Don’t say to the rich man, “Here’s a nice seat next to me up front,” and to the poor man, “You can sit down there at my feet,”’ but perhaps he writes us in vain, for we have learned to observe the letter and escape the meaning. We rather pursue our own interest, even when we condescend to sit near or speak to our obvious social inferiors.

But the Church is forgiveness incarnate. We start by forgiving ourselves even while we are unashamed to parade our wealth, race, learning or good looks before others to impress, entice, humiliate or shame those whom we feel obligated to be ‘nice’ to because Christ said so. Then we forgive them who haven’t made it in life like we have, you know, the failures. I know how it is because I myself am a failed human. I tried my best to follow Christ and become what these others are, righteous, rich, learned, successful, happily married, brimming over with grandchildren, with degrees in the family from Princeton or Yale. It didn’t work for me, but I haven’t given up. I still try my best to follow Christ, only now I know, it isn’t so that I can be crowned on earth. Thankful am I to God for His great mercy in letting me know His Son and the Holy Church He has established. ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God…’

The blessing of God can be the blessings listed in the Bible, in Psalms and elsewhere. It can also be a secret blessing. ‘What kind of blessing is that,’ you ask, ‘if others don’t see it?’ What is the point of being blessed, or for Pete’s sake, even saved, if you can’t boast about it in one way or another? But that is not the kind of boasting that God wants. ‘What! Does He want us to boast? Great! Then let Him bless me more, and I will boast for all I’m worth!’ I don’t know, but the things that I’ve heard the apostle Paul say he boasts about, are not the kinds of things I mentioned above, that the ‘successful’ Christian thinks are his trump card. I knew there was a reason that Second Corinthians is my favorite Pauline epistle. ‘If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness’ (2 Corinthians 11:30). For me, that’s an easy task. Maybe not so for some of the others. It must be hard being so strong.

‘The poor you will have with you always. You won’t always have Me,’ says the Lord Jesus Christ, justifying the wasting of human resources on His person, or is there more to His intention? For He also says, ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of these, that you do unto Me,’ and, ‘Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ What a confusing Jesus! No wonder people get perplexed with His sayings, and move on to seek truth among gurus they can understand, teachers who don’t ask for much, but deliver plenty. So we have it, from the beginning of the Church’s life up till now. Humanity in the rough, unchangeable because we don’t really want to be changed, satisfied to continue as we are because ‘grace has been given, the price has been paid,’ so we can forget to repent, or better yet, repent of imaginary sin to satisfy custom, because we don’t really believe we sin at all.

I wonder if we ever think of what we look like to the world that actually sees us. Perhaps we think of that too much, as we try to keep up appearances with it, to fit in nicely while we still retain God’s favor by church attendance and other pious works. If we belong to a sect or fellowship, we make sure our witness to the world conforms to righteousness, because ‘a city set on a hill cannot be hid,’ and we don’t want to be the cause of the world’s damnation. We show just the right amount of disdain for the world and its filthy practices, so they can see the benefits of following Jesus from our ‘straight and narrow’ lifestyle. If we belong to ‘the Church’ it’s really quite enough to let others know this about us, and come a-running, in our direction, of course, since we have the true faith. We don’t even have to open our mouths, really. Our fasting, bowing, babushkas and beards tell it all.

Lord, help us! 
You descended into Hades to loose the bonds of those who were chained. 
You trampled down death by death. 
You emptied the tombs. 
Call us, Lord! 
Call us out, by name, as You called out Lazarus. 
Let us truly obey You, truly follow You. 
Save us, Lord! 
Let us be Yours.

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