“A lot folks think they are generous because they give free advice.” There seem to be plenty of this going around, especially as it relates to Christianity and the state of the Christ’s Church here in the 21st Century. Everybody seems to have some opinion whether they are Christian, religious, or an atheist. And always, the advice seems to have something to do with the theme that the Church needs to change.
But just a week ago the images of 21 Egyptian Christians (Coptic Christians) were beheaded for being “People of the Cross.” (http://sarahbessey.com/call-pray-persecuted-church/). That was it. No other reason unless you want to say it was because they would not renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. But these 21 did not see a need to change. The Voice of the Martyrs has documented that the 20th Century was the most dangerous century for Christians. Somehow we have missed these realities. Unless you are a missionary or a soldier, it is not likely you will witness the horrors of religious persecution of Christians in our world. In fact, our society goes out of our way to dismiss and justify murders and martyring with more murder and martyring as if somehow that makes it all okay.
We should be outraged. We should be outraged over these deaths. We should be outraged at the death of all who die at the hands of murderers and thugs. We should be outraged over the death of those who die from preventable diseases, those who die because they have lost housing and are exposed to the elements and those who are without food and clean water! We should be outraged because where ever we point our finger, three fingers are pointing right back at us. These 21 did not change. No, they gave up. They gave up their very lives for something of greater value.
“Whenever you do it to the least of these, you did it to me,” were the words Jesus spoke ever so clearly and convictingly in Matthew 25:31-46. Like you, I do not like to hear them referencing my life, either, but there comes a time we must face it, we too play our part in the evils that take place in the world. We do need to give up our delusions of grandeur and we do need to give up our high horses too.
You can fight for whatever rights or justification you want but Jesus gave up more. You can say you deserve your safety and your place in your company, that you’ve earned it but Jesus gave up more. You can affirm your faith in God and give ten percent but Jesus gave up more.
1 Peter 3:18-22
18For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, 19in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, 20who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were saved through water. 21And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers made subject to him.
“Jesus suffered for sins once for all,” writes Peter. I know that sin is rather “old fashioned” these days; something reserved for backwoods, uneducated hick preachers it seems. Fine. Let’s take a nod from modern essayist and reluctant agnostic, Henry Fairlie who among other things points out that, “Sin is the destruction of one’s self as well as the destruction of one’s relationship with others.” (The Seven Deadly Sins Today). Dismiss God completely if you’d like but sin still reigns, and based on Fairlie’s definition, I see little end in sight for the reality of sin. Unless...unless Peter was right. Maybe Paul too?
Once for all. Not some. Not who we like. Not who we choose. Rom 5:14-15 GNB But from the time of Adam to the time of Moses, death ruled over all human beings, even over those who did not sin in the same way that Adam did when he disobeyed God's command. Adam was a figure of the one who was to come. (15) But the two are not the same, because God's free gift is not like Adam's sin. It is true that many people died because of the sin of that one man. But God's grace is much greater, and so is his free gift to so many people through the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ.
Why don’t we get this? I think, it is our own pride. Pride in our self-reliance, a false self, a self that is dying, a self we are being called to give-up. The desert monks of the first centuries saw pride, in the form of judgementalism, to be just about the worst sin. So at what price are we to give it up? Our sins Peter says, our “unrighteousness.” Peter's contrast in verse 18 is as clear a contrast as any in existence. To be righteous (or just) is the word DIKAIOS which indicates one is conformed to the WILL of God. It could well be another way of saying one IS God. (That is in keeping with there is only one who is righteous. Those who are termed righteous are those who receive the righteousness of Jesus which he exchanges for our unrighteousness. It does not mean that we become God).
I am not this. You are not this. Jesus is this and in the the mystery of the cosmos, Jesus gave up his DIKAIOS and he has willingly taken our ADIKOS (unrighteousness). Our lives will reflect this change. Those who surrender their unrighteousness; who acknowledge the wound of sin, must show evidence of doing righteous actions. 1 John 2:29 points this out as John observes, “If you know that Christ has God's approval, you also know that everyone who does what God approves of has been born from God.”
Rather than thinking of just what it is you’re giving up, Lent is as much about what Jesus gave up. Here is where it gets tough, I think. Jesus doesn’t regret what he gave up for you and me. It is not something the Christ regrets. The love of God is cruciform, by nature, Jesus shows the love God has for us by sacrificing for us (see Michael J. Gorman’s “Cruciformity). Can we say the same?