Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Almost Christmas, Not As Happy As We Think
Alabama Methodist bishop Will Willimon, formerly the chaplain at Duke University, recounted a conversation he once overheard between two Duke students where the first told the second how he was a Christian, to which the second replied, "Well, whatever works for you." "You don't know much about Christianity do you?" the first student said. "It doesn't work for me. If anything Christianity works on me, changing me into somebody I don't always want to be."Interesting approach. The first thought that occurred to me was that Christianity being about "making life easier" makes truth less important. And then I wondered how much we have contributed to our own demise, since of course, the current ideas of relativism so deeply reflect a concern about utility instead of truthfulness. But that is not where Harrell is headed:
Bishop Willimon went on to talk about how here in America, everything is so much about usefulness; or as he put it, whether or not something folds out into a bed. In order to make Christianity useful, he said, we reduce it down to sets of simple principles as if Jesus' main mission had been merely to make life in first century Judea easier.
But then you read Jesus' words and you realize that ease of life was the last thing he had in mind. "Realize that if the world hates you," he said, "it hated me first. You do not belong to the world because I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you too."
Yet I'm intrigued with how for some Christians, the answer to such comparably painless persecution is not "rejoicing for being counted worthy to suffer for the name," but rather getting a Supreme Court justice nominated who will be sympathetic to Christian causes. It's as if the idea is to weave the gospel so tightly into the fabric of our culture that being a Christian will become natural and normal and not so countercultural, not so otherworldly.Does this mean we do not engage with culture for the sake of being persecuted? I don't think so, I do not think God intends us to seek persecution, but I do think it radically changes our approach to society. We approach as a missionary, not a member. We approach with humility, not demand.
I want Jesus to work for me instead of on me; yet he continually disturbs and assaults my soul so as to shape it back into his image. I think of the radical implications of being a genuine Christian and do wonder why anyone with a brain would follow Jesus. But then I think of his words of life and wonder how anyone would not.
St. Paul wrote, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and share in his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, that I may attain the resurrection from the dead." I want that too. So I pray for some small measure of courage that I might submit to the gospel and not be ashamed of it; some small measure of courage that I might take up my cross and follow.
IF it is not about you, or me, persecution is inevitable.