Tag Archives: western culture

Post-Resurrection Christians in a Pre-Christian World

 

Text:     Luke 3: 1-6

 

Charles Dickens began his novel about the French Revolution:  A Tale of Two Cities, with the words:    “These were the best of times, these were the worst of times….”

Luke, the gospel that is every historians favorite, might have began his gospel with similar words.     If we could go back and see how life was lived in those times we might agree that they were “the worst of times”, while the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, signaled the coming of the  “best of times” with the inbreaking of the Kingdom of God on earth that he proclaimed.

Into the  “worst of times” came John the Baptizer—-preaching a “message of repentance” to prepare for the coming of the Messiah.  We might ask how  a “message of repentance” prepared the way for Jesus?    Was it because people were so bad and sinful?    No—–it is because we misunderstand the word “repentance” these days.   We have come to understand it as “feeling sorry for having disobeyed God” or “regretting the bad things we have done.   That was not the meaning of repentance in John’s day.   In the Greek the word is metanoia— and it’s meaning is “turning around”.    John was urging people to be willing to turn around and go in a different direction—the direction Jesus was coming to proclaim— to turn toward the Kingdom of God.    The Kingdom of God was breaking in on earth—-this Kingdom is not “heaven” or “pie in the sky bye and bye”—-the Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed was a new way of living—-a very different way of living.   We see glimpses of   the way of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed  throughout  the gospels .   Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God set  the business of living in this world in the conventional way on its head in many ways: 

  In God’s Kingdom, Jesus said:

  • Blessed are the poor”—-not the rich.
  • Blessed are the meek”—-not the powerful. The meek will inherit the earth instead of the conventional expectation that the powerful and rich will do so and then pass it on to their heirs.
  • Blessed are the peacemakers—-they, not the army generals as in Jesus time, will be called children of God
  • You have heard ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you Do not resist an evildoer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.”THE KINGDOM OF GOD IS WHAT THE WORLD WOULD BE LIKE IF GOD RULED IN EVERYONE’S LIFE.

These are descriptions Jesus gives and many more of the way life in the Kingdom of God will be different.

The gospel writer, Luke, carefully dated the coming of the Christ by referring to who ruled at the time.   Let’s start our examination of “bad times in Palestine” by looking at those who ruled:

  • Emperor Tiberius:   The stepson of the great Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus. He was never accepted by other Roman leaders because he was not considered a natural heir. He was neither well-loved nor respected.
  • Pontius Pilate:   had risen from a “middle-management” position to become procurator of Judea in 26 A.D.   He had a gift for antagonizing his Jewish subjects. He knew his hold on Judea was tenuous, so Pilate made up for that weakness by periodically unleashing his soldiers on the citizenry, crucifying hundreds at a time of those who challenged him.   He was feared and despised.
  • Herod Antipas:   A dangerous ruler, designated “King of the Jews” but ruling only with the power of Rome behind him.   He spent a lot money on building cities and pagan temples to impress the Romans—levying high taxes on the Jewish peasants to pay for them. . A paranoid ruler—-feeling everyone was out to get him—he murdered many of those around him he suspected of treachery or even those who spoke out against his evil ways such as John the Baptist whom he beheaded at this wife’s request and gave the head to her on a platter.
  • Caiphas and Annas:   Caiphas was Annas’ son-in-law and together their loyalties lay more with maintaining their shared place of power and wealth they had won from the Romans who appointed them rather than loyalty to God and God’s people.

These rulers in these “worst of times” for the Jews ruled over a culture that:

  • was organized into political entities that included city officials, territorial governors, and heads of state—-all of whom drew their support from the high taxes levied on the peasants
  • Was organized around the worship of many pagan gods.
  • Was designed to support the political and economic power of those who were rich and powerful who lived by different rules and standards than the common people.   Among those rich and powerful were the temple priests and the Pharisees and Sadducees.
  • A culture where about 1 to 2% the population of the Empire were rich and powerful; those who worked for and supported them about 5%  and the other 93% were peasants living a subsistence life or below—just enough to barely live on and survive.   [When Jesus taught his disciples to pray saying—–“Give us this day our daily bread” and “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” he was speaking of the two most constant worries of the peasant class—-food and freedom from debt. If you had no food, you starved.   If you couldn’t pay your debts, including your high taxes, you were thrown in prison and if you had land it was seized by your creditor to satisfy the debt.
  • A Culture where the religious structure and leaders worked in concert with the political/governmental power of Rome to maintain their wealth and power and carry out their temple agenda that kept them wealthy.
  • A culture where many people were lost and perished every day—a violent culture.

 

DOES IT SOUND FAMILIAR?   The similarities to our country today are apparent:

  • We also are a country where the rich and powerful live by different rules and standards than the common people and where those with money and power have become popular status figures.
  • A country where 10% of the people have 60% of the total income with the other 40% of the money divided among the other 90% of the population.
  • A country that worships many pagan gods—-we just call them by different names—-money, power, pleasure, comfort, sports, etc.
  • A country where people with no conscience kill and rob on a daily basis.   Where life is cheap.   A country whose children kill and maim their teachers and fellow classmates. A country where multiple murders are committed in movie theaters and at marathons. We live in a country where violence is commonplace.
  • A country where the wealth of a Beverly Hills exists in stark contrast to the filth and poverty of a Watts in the same city of Los Angeles.
  • A country where the lonely and the aged, the poor and the mentally challenged, the children with no access to health care and not enough to eat, the homeless, and the misfits of society remain largely unseen and uncared about.   Programs to help them, such as affordable health care and extension of Medicaid benefits are the first ones cut from government budgets or discarded for political reasons.   We reduce food stamps and aid for struggling families in order to reduce the federal deficit—–while huge corporations that contribute to re-election of our legislators continue to receive tax breaks and other benefits they do not need.
  • We live in Kansas—-also a place where children go to bed hungry, without health care, and are homeless even though both parents work—-but for indecently low wages that can’t support their families—and we still support those who have made the lives of these vulnerable people worse and fail to speak out about the lack of fairness and the injustice of the wage system that gives business CEO’s 250% higher wages than those who work for them.
  • A place where religious leaders are too often in close collusion with political and governmental powers in order to get their limited negative agendas taken care of legally.
  • This is a country ruled more and more by men and women whose only aim is to do whatever is necessary to stay in power, whether right or wrong does not matter, —-like modern day Herod’s and Pilates

THE SPIRITUAL LEADERSHIP GROUP OF MY CHURCH RECENTLY DISCUSSED OUR NEED FOR A VISION FOR THE CHURCH.   SURELY PART OF THAT VISION MUST BE A VOICE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS LIKE THAT OF JOHN THE BAPTIST SAYING “TURN AROUND FOR THERE IS A BETTER WAY THAN THIS WAY OF GREED AND SUFFERING THAT YOU ARE WALKING”—-IT IS THE WAY OF JESUS AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD THAT JESUS PROCLAIMED.” 

  IT IS THE MISSION OF OUR POST-RESURRECTION CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY TO PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM OF GOD THROUGH WHAT WE DO AND WHO WE ARE AS GOD’S PEOPLE.    We need to show them that better way through the lives we lead as Christians. .

There are many people wondering in the wilderness of drug abuse, of broken relationships, of too little income, of homelessness.   There are those who have given up hope and struggle from day to day to fight down the urge to end their lives.   There are those filled with anger who want to strike out at the world that abuses them and uses them.   These wanderers in the wilderness are young and old, rich and poor, male and female, all skin colors; but they all feel vulnerable in a world that seems to have gone crazy. They are trying to raise families in this world where even the schools are unsafe for their children. They are not aware of the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed.   They are waiting for someone to show them, not tell them, a different way—-a way that will give them and their children hope and happiness and a new beginning. They are waiting for us to show them by our lives how to follow the Great Commandment of Jesus:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and your neighbor as yourself.   That is a vision for the church—-To live the Great Commandment in the community that surrounds us.

For people are wandering around in this wilderness today, having lost their moral, emotional and economic way—–yearning for something better and not quite knowing what that something better is.   They are yearning for Jesus to show them the way—-a different way of living that leads to a society where all of God’s people are treated equally, fairly, and lovingly.   Jesus proclaimed that way.   He lived that way.   THE CHURCH IS JESUS’ BODY AND NEEDS TO SHOW THAT WAY TODAY.    AND WE CAN’T JUST “TALK ABOUT IT” WE NEED TO “WALK THE WAY!”

Listen to what one of the Millenial Generation wrote to you and me….Post-Resurrection Christians……

Do you know, Do you Understand

That you represent Jesus to me?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you treat me with gentleness,

It raises the question in my mind that maybe Jesus is gentle, too?

Maybe he isn’t someone who laughs when I’m hurt?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when you listen to my questions and you don’t laugh,

I think, “What if Jesus is interested in my questions, also?

 

Do you know, do you understand

That when I hear you talk about arguments and conflict and scars from your past

That I think, “Maybe I am just a regular person

Instead of a bad, no-good person who deserves abuse?”

 

If you care, I think maybe God cares—

And then there’s this flame of hope that burns inside me,

And for a while, I’m afraid to breathe

Because it might go out.

 

Do you know, do you understand

That your words are His words?

Your face, His face to someone like me?

 

Please be who you say you are.

Please, God, don’t let this be another trick.

Please, let this be real.

Please….

 

Do you know, do you understand

That you represent Jesus to me?

 

Where’s the Tether???!

Sometimes I think the morality of  our western culture, especially in the United States, resembles zero-gravity—everything not tied down is coming loose.   Some have called this a “zero-morality” culture, with no tethers to hold us back from the abyss of despair and meaninglessness.   We are adrift in this world like an astronaut without a tether in space.  A large share of our culture has lost the tether of the church  and God’s word  that in previous times has  guided us and we  now rely on ourselves to make decisions.     Those decisions, made on the basis of our self-interest,  leave us  in a stormy world without a mooring—a tether.   We seem to be spinning out of control with nothing to guide us.   

As we are left to our own devices, the Seven Deadly Sins appear to guide our decisions and actions.   Remember them?   Gluttony, Greed, Envy, Idleness, Lust, Anger and Pride These seem to be hallmarks of our culture in the U.S.

  1. GLUTTONY.  Gluttony means a lot more than just sneaking off too often to sample the 11 secret herbs and spices at KFC.   Gluttony, at base, is doing anything to excess.    It is an approach to life that knows no boundaries and honors no limits.   Gluttony turns our appetites into our rulers—that appetiite might be food—it might be power—it might be sex—it might be money—it even might be golf.    We see this in a culture of wanting more and more and more—-more clothes, more “totys”, more cars, larger houses, etc. etc.   More than we will ever need!
  2. GREED.    Closely related to gluttony, greed is what we used to call “avarice.”   It is not so much the love of possessions as it is the love of possessing.   As we exist in a money-driven culture where the bottom line is what is most important  and profits are more important than people—-Greed is at the bottom of much that is wrong with our culture.   We live in a culture that values money over people.   Money over right and wrong.   Always wanting more and more because we place value in our culture on what we own, not who we are.   Money is power-–money and power are “tighter than ticks together.”   In business, we see money as causing immorality, cheating, and lying to get ahead in business and in our lives.
  3. ENVY.  Envy is what happens when we constantly compare ourselves with others.    It is the basis of backbiting (tearing down someone else to build ourselves up), gossiping, bigotry, and vanity.   When envy rules our lives we are always feeling insecure and our insecurity is compensated for by making those we envy seem less and less so that we feel superior to them.
  4. IDLENESS.  Idleness is sluggishness of spirit that “believes in nothing, cares for nothing, seeks to know nothing, interferes with nothing, enjoys nothing, hates nothing, finds purpose in nothing, lives for nothing and remains alive because there is nothing for which to die” as Dorothy Sayers once wrote.   The idle person expects everyone else to take care of  him or her and will not move a muscle to take care of themselves.   The old version is SLOTH.
  5. LUST.  Lust is the perversion of what is good into something that is evil, based on our selfishness.   At the base of Lust and driving it is selfishness and the ego.   Someone has said that an acronymn for EGO is “Edging God Out”.   Lust is extreme selfishness in action.
  6. ANGER.   W.C. Fields once said, “I am free of all prejudice, I hate everyone equally.”   Anger is the harboring of grievances that demand revenge and develop into hatred.   It is a seething rage that circulates through our bodies into our post-modern culture in ever increasing amounts.   It comes out in murder and rape but is also present in attacks on minority groups, the poor, the homeless.   Our culture is filled with anger and that is behind all the violence that occurs in it.   Read the newspapers and decide just how much anger there is in our world.   Pent-up anger comes out in deadly ways all the time—every day.
  7. PRIDE.    The last, but definitely not the least!   Someone has defined pride as “people getting drugged on the fumes of their own ego.”  I recently read an example of this in a person saying to another person “but enough about me!  let’s talk about you.  what do you think of me?”   Pride is when our own ego is in control of all that we say and do—-IT’S ALL ABOUT ME.”     There are all kinds of ways that pride emerges:   it may be a “need to-control” pride.   It may be a “self-centeredness that comes through low self-esteem.  Religious pride is the worst kind of pride.  I read somewhere the saying “Have you ever seen a prodigal come home to a Pharisee?”   Religious pride turns away the very people that God calls to.

WHAT IS THE ANSWER?    WHERE CAN WE TURN?   WHERE IS A TETHER THAT WE CAN GRAB ONTO AND HELP OUR CULTURE AND OUR OWN LIVES AVOID SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL?   I suggest the TETHER is  found in these words of Jesus:   “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength AND YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.   This is the tether that we need to firmly grasp and that  needs to be thrown to a culture that is spinning out of control.   Love of God and of neighbor  is what we need to base our decisions on.   Try it!   Proclaim it!