I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice. (John 10:1-5)
Jesus came to call his own sheep to follow him. He didn’t force people to follow him. He invited them to hear, to recognize his voice, and to follow him. There are times when he warned people of the consequences of rebelling against God and refusing to turn to God in repentance and faith, but he called his sheep to follow him. He was a shepherd over his own sheep, not a herder over someone else’s cattle.
How did Jesus call his followers to influence the world?
You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father. (Matt. 5:13-16)
We influence the world by being who we are— not only as individual followers of Jesus, but most importantly, corporately, as the Church. Against the backdrop of an evil and corrupt world, Jesus came to show us a better way, and he established the Church as a community that would show the world a better way. We reject the ways of this world. We pledge our allegiance to a higher Authority, and we point the way to a greater Kingdom. By not making a lot of unnecessary noise but by living in the ways of God in Christlike humility, love, compassion, and servanthood, by learning to “esteem other better than themselves” (see Phil. 2:3), we point to a better way— God’s way— and “those who have ears to hear” (see Mark 4:9) will join themselves to the Lord, and to us, because they will hear the voice of God as they see the character of God demonstrated by the way we live as followers of Christ.
Jesus never taught that we could change the world by jockeying for power, by use of violence, by fighting wars or by forcing compliance to God’s ways through political coercion. We cannot force our beliefs and values on others, whether by war or by the ballot box. Christian values and ethics and a Christian lifestyle must we freely chosen. Our task is to influence, to demonstrate, to pray— in short, to be the salt and light that Jesus has called us to be. The hard way is to quietly demonstrate the character of God through godly living. The easy way is to jump onto the military and political power-plays of our world. God calls us to the hard way, which is the path of greater resistance. When we find this path too difficult, we settle for the easy way, which gives us a sense of power and control, but “the end thereof are the ways of death” (see Proverbs 14:12). God does not honor the path of the pursuit of power through military and political conquest. God’s Kingdom will ultimately destroy the pursuit of power. God’s way is the surrender of power. It is the pursuit of humility and self-sacrificial servanthood. It is the rejection of military and political power-plays. It is dying to ourselves, surrendering our power, “that the life of Jesus might be made manifest in us” (see 2 Corinthians 2:14).
So, we have the larger society, built on principles that do not honor God or the ways of God, and we have the Church, built on principles that are contrary to the kingdoms of this world. Here in the US, what happened is that the larger society became polarized. The Left and the Right got into a tug-of-war regarding who would control the nation. Tragically, Christians took sides. That was a huge mistake. May God forgive us. We took sides because the way of the pursuit of power is easier than the way of surrender of power. By siding with either side of the so-called “culture wars”, we abdicated the way of God. We chose the way of the earthly kingdoms; the very kingdoms that God will eventually abolish. We made the wrong decision. We “traded in our birthright for a bowl of stew” (see Genesis 25:34), and Heaven weeps.
When will we ever learn that Jesus came to call his sheep to follow him, not to pass laws to force those who are not his sheep to live as though they were his sheep, against their will?
If Jesus never told us to force Christian values onto the rest of the world through military or political conquest, what, then, if anything, is the role of the Christian in politics?
To begin with, if we are to have any political involvement at all, we need to stop taking sides in the “culture wars”. We represent Christ, not the Left of the Right. Both the Left and the Right try to control the nation through political power-plays, but the Church should have no participation in these manipulative grasps for power. We must reject the pursuit of power. We must embrace the pursuit of servanthood, love, and Christlike compassion. The Bible does talk about spiritual warfare, but let’s not so easily identify God’s side with either the Left or with the Right. I believe that God is equally opposed to both. The enemy is not the Left. The enemy is not the Right. The enemy is satan. Our warfare is “not against flesh and blood” (see Ephesians 6:12). God has not called us to be arrogant culture warriors who are engaged in a vicious tug-of-war in order to gain control of the nation. We are called to be humble servants of Jesus who see through the errors and the evil that exist both on the Left and on the Right. We need to have the proper stance before we can be properly engaged.
Once our proper stance has been established, then I think we need to consider two options: The Anabaptist option and the “common good” option.
One option is to go in the direction of the Anabaptists and to limit or refrain from political involvement altogether. That is a valid option that needs prayerful consideration. The Anabaptists have a long history behind them, and we cannot dismiss this option too quickly. If the way of God is to influence the world by being salt and light, then it makes sense for followers of Jesus to totally avoid or at least drastically limit our involvement in the world’s power-plays, both military and political.
Another option is to seek “common good” politics. According to this option, the purpose of politics is to promote the common good, not to take sides between the Left and Right. We will side with the Left when the Left promotes the common good. We will side with the Right when the right promotes the common good. We promote what is sometimes called the “Consistent Life Ethic”, which advocates pro-life positions from conception to death, or “from the womb to the tomb”. Here in the US, the American Solidarity Party represents such a position.
Here’s my approach: The purpose of politics is to preserve life and to promote the common good. If Christians feel led by God to engage in political activity, then it should not be to promote the interests of the Left or of the Right or the Christians or of any other special interest group. It should promote the preservation of life and the common good. We have no business trying to build a “Christian America”. God never called us to such a task. Our task is to be salt and light, to demonstrate the character of God through a Christlike lifestyle and demeanor, and, if and when specifically called by God, to wade into the waters of political involvement cautiously, in an effort to preserve life and to promote the common good.
Now let’s talk about the overturn of Roe v. Wade. The purpose of the overturn was to preserve human life. The purpose of Christian support for the overturn was not to advance the cause of the Right in the culture wars. Our goal in supporting the overturn of Roe v. Wade was simply to preserve the lives of babies who have not yet been born. We are moving in the wrong direction if we are now going to use this as a stepping-stone into more and more issues in an attempt to gain control of the country for the Right. That would be a huge mistake. Christians, beware, we dare not let satan lure us into his quest for power. We Christians have an Enemy who is a power monger, who wants to turn us into power mongers. Don’t go for the bait! Our Enemy knows that if he can lure us into his political power-play, the Church will cease to function as the salt and light that God has called us to be. We cannot be salt and light if we cave into the power-plays of this world, whether they be political or military. We disqualify ourselves as representatives of Jesus, we discredit the testimony of Jesus, we trash our credibility, and we drag the name of our precious Lord and Savior Jesus Christ through the mud when we resort to the manipulative power tactics and the arrogant and fear-based political polarization of this world. We lose our hearing before the watching world. We become very poor ambassadors who tragically misrepresent the One whom we were called to represent. We dare not let his happen! Far too much damage has been done already. It’s time to do an about-face. Allowing the Enemy of our souls to drag us further into the mud will be allowing the name of Jesus to be dragged even further through the mud. We dare not let this happen. We need to turn around. We need to repent.
Those of us who are Christians need to be much more careful about what we say and how we say it, for our sloppiness in communication, especially on social media, is leading to gross misinterpretation. For example, when women struggle with an unwanted pregnancy, they need to see Christians as compassionate followers of Jesus who will help them to care for the beautiful child whom we hope they will bring into the world, not as heartless culture warriors who want to use them as pawns in a political battle between Left and Right. When those who are struggling with same-sex attraction are struggling to make the right lifestyle decisions, they need to see Christians as compassionate fellow-strugglers who well help them to deal with their sinful tendencies, as we continue to deal with our own sinful tendencies. This is not what the watching world is seeing. God knows what is in our heart, but what is in our heart is not always accurately reflected in our words. It is the role of an ambassador to communicate effectively. It doesn’t work to say “God knows my heart even if I am being misunderstood by the watching world”. We need to communicate more effectively with and before the watching world so that we will make ourselves understood. We need to be very careful about our “battle” terminology. We are forgiven sinners who sometimes continue to struggle with our sinful tendencies, and we are inviting other sinners to join us in experiencing God’s forgiveness and entering into a relationship with God that will change us forever. The language we must use is that of warm invitation. We are not trying to win a political or cultural battle through manipulation or coercion. We are inviting others to join us as we follow Christ. It’s not enough to believe that. We must communicate the message effectively, demonstrating its validity through our own Christlike character and our lives-in-transformation. Barking battle terminology onto our Facebook posts will be totally counter-productive to what God has called us to be and do. If we must celebrate the overturn of Roe v. Wade on social media, let’s be very cautious about how we celebrate and what we may be unintentionally communicating. We need to be careful and compassionate and Christlike at all times. The world is watching.
For those of us who are Christians, let’s not use the reversal of Roe v. Wade as a stepping-stone into more and more culture war victories. The reversal of Roe v. Wade is not a victory of Conservatives over Liberals or of Christians over those who are not Christians. It is the preservation of life, plain and simple. Let’s not let this be the occasion for the Enemy of our souls to drag us more deeply into the mud, and then to drag the name of Jesus through the mud. Jesus didn’t die so American Christians could win the culture wars. He died to set the captives free. That includes all of us who have come to know him, as well as those who will eventually come to know him through our witness. Many of them struggle with fear of bringing their child into the world. Many of them struggle with same-sex attraction. Many of them are very suspicious of anything that looks like power mongering. Many of them do not understand that we Christians are fellow-strugglers who have been forgiven and who want to invite others to join us in the journey of forgiveness leading to life transformation. Our goal is to invite them to experience God’s redemption and transformation along with us, and to travel along with us as we together bring our struggles and temptations to God. That is God’s way. Let’s not sabotage it by settling for taking sides in culture wars that will ultimately destroy all of us and will not bring any glory to God, no matter who wins or loses.
If we who are Christians are wise and cautious, we may be able to wade into the muddy waters of political involvement in ways that will preserve life and that will pursue the common good, but politics can never change a person’s heart. Only God can do that, and God’s chosen way of doing that is by calling the Church to be salt and light, so that by living out the implications of the Gospel, we show the world a better way. Any other method is an attempt of the Enemy to sabotage God’s plan.
On June 19, 1865, more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed, the last of the slaves, living in Galveston, Texas, were finally freed, and that was cause for great celebration!
Those of us who are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ need to do some serious thinking about what Juneteenth is all about. We need to take off our Conservative and Liberal lenses and try to evaluate the issues concerning Juneteenth from a Biblical perspective, asking the Holy Spirit to give us discernment. We cannot allow the pre-packaged categories of Conservative and Liberal to do our thinking for us, for our identity is neither Conservative nor Liberal, and our allegiance is neither to Conservatism nor to Liberalism. If we are to be consistent and authentic followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, living out an authentic expression of New Testament Christianity, then our identity must be that of being apprentices of Jesus Christ, and our allegiance must be to Jesus Christ alone, not to a political ideology that we may find attractive. I therefore offer the following as an attempt to be neither Conservative nor Liberal, but Biblical. I am trying to ask the right questions and to seek Biblical answers. I know the questions are complicated, and I don’t have any simple solutions to offer, but I do think that we need to dig into the discussion somewhere if we want to respond to Juneteenth in a way that is appropriate to being apprentices of Jesus Christ, so this is my attempt to start the discussion. If you think I am off, I welcome your critique.
Let’s talk about the situation in which the Hebrew slaves found themselves on the day when they were released from Egyptian bondage. They were free, joyful, able to worship and serve and obey God without Egyptian interference, but they were also unemployed, unskilled except in doing tasks that no one else was willing to do, living among a people who were used to thinking of them as their own personal property. Suddenly, the whole society had changed. The Egyptians had to learn how to function without their Hebrew slaves. The Hebrews had to learn how to function without their Egyptian masters. Thankfully God got them out of there quickly, split open a sea for them, gave them Moses as a leader, gave them the Ten Commandments and the entire Law of Moses, a whole sacrificial system, a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, manna, quail, water from the rock, not to mention His Presence in the Tabernacle. God had a solution that saved the Hebrew people from a lot of chaos that they would have otherwise experienced had they stayed in Egypt. Much chaos was averted because God quickly removed them from the situation. The Hebrews were freed, the angel of death had passed over their homes, and that was cause for great celebration! The Egyptians were judged, the angel of death had not passed over their homes, and the sorrowful consequences were great.
Now let’s try to imagine what would have happened if the freed Hebrews had stayed in Egypt— no longer as slaves but as free men and women, still living within the society that had previously enslaved them. That makes the situation far more complicated! While the Egyptians are trying to learn how to survive without their slaves, the Hebrews are trying to learn how to survive without their masters— and both groups are trying to learn different lessons in the same place and at the same time! It would have taken many generations for everything to get sorted out. Even after several generations, it’s easy to see how the Egyptians might think that everything was now OK while the Hebrews would feel that there were unresolved problems that still needed to be addressed.
Now let’s transpose this situation into our American context. The Civil War had been fought. Slavery had been abolished, but freed slaves were living in the same society as those who had previously been their masters, and racism and prejudice did not suddenly disappear overnight. Jim Crow laws kept the old patterns of racism and oppression going. Eventually the Jim Crow laws were abolished, but the old patterns still persisted, perhaps in more subtle ways. The Civil Rights Era made some more progress, but some of the old patterns still persisted. When we talk about institutional racism, we are saying that the problems have not yet been resolved; the old patterns still persist, not only in the hearts of people but also in the structures of our society. Becoming defensive and dismissive of the whole concept of institutional racism is very much the wrong approach. The right approach is to listen, listen, listen to those who are still being ground under the wheels of institutional racism, listen to their stories, listen to their pain and frustration, and then listen for the voice of God. If we listen, we may just hear and understand.
It is possible for a society to repent corporately. Didn’t the people of Nineveh repent at the preaching of Jonah? They even put sackcloth on the animals! (see Jonah 3:8). God holds societies accountable, not only individuals. If a society can repent corporately, then a society can sin corporately. We can’t begin to dismantle systems of racism until we are willing to recognize that racism exists, both on an individual level and on a systemic level. When we acknowledge, then we can confess, repent, and take action. If those in society who don’t know God can’t or won’t repent, then at least the Christians living among them can and should repent— even if they are not personally guilty of the sin of the surrounding society. Didn’t Nehemiah confess the sins of his people, even though he personally was not guilty of the sins that they had committed? (See Nehemiah 1). We can’t take steps to remedy the situation until we admit that the situation exists, and that we are probably in some way complicit with the sins of our nation. If we have seen the problem and have done nothing about it, or if we have refused to admit that the problem even exists, or if we have refused to ask God to shine his searchlight into our own hearts to reveal to us any traces of prejudice or racism for which we must repent personally, then we have been complicit.
To gain some perspective, let’s compare our response to the issue of institutional racism to our response to the issue of abortion. If we who are pro-life Christians are willing to confess “the sins of our nation” regarding abortion, then why are we not willing to confess “the sins of our nation” concerning slavery and the ongoing ripple effects of the sin of racism? Why the inconsistency? Are we putting political ideology over Biblical teaching? I see no other explanation for the inconsistency. As followers and apprentices of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is our task to wave the flag of surrender. We need to be willing to face both the ugliness of our own heart and the ugliness of our societal structures. We need to throw away both our tendency toward defensiveness and our tendency toward hiding behind political ideology. We need to come clean. We need to beg God to show us what He wants us to do, and we need to beg God to give us the ability to do and be what He has called us to do and be. There is no place for trying to preserve our own sense of righteousness, and there is no place for trying to preserve a sense of how great our nation is and has always been. There is no place for these things in the life of an apprentice of Jesus Christ.
Now let’s talk about what is commonly called “institutional racism”. We know from the Scriptures that every human being is a totally depraved sinner. If we human beings are all sinful, then it stands to reason that everything we build will be corrupted by sin. Sinful men and women build sinful structures, because the sin that corrupts our beings also corrupts all that we build and do. That’s why our world is in the mess that it’s in. That’s why we have conflicts, violence and war. Would we expect sinful human beings to build sinless structures? If we as a fallen human race have an inclination toward prejudice and racism in our hearts, if our sin nature inclines us to suspect, even in very subtle ways, that those who are not like us are probably in some sense inferior to us, and if our first inclination is to protect ourselves, not to glorify God by loving and serving each other in the self-sacrificial ways of love, then it stands to reason that we will build structures that will reflect and are corrupted by this sinful inclination, whether we do so intentionally or not. So why are some Christians trying to say that institutional racism doesn’t exist? When people speak of institutional racism, rather than disputing them, we should high-five them and congratulate them for finally catching up to what the Bible has been teaching for millennia. What an odd situation we have here. Secular thinking is recognizing the effects of what we Christians call “sin”, and many Christians are denying that these effects even exist. Instead of denying their existence we should be saying “Yes, racism is real, both in our hearts and in our institutional structures. It’s sinful, there is no excuse for it, Christ died for that sin, and it’s a sin of which we must all repent continually, asking God to search our hearts and reveal to us our wicked ways, both as individuals and as a society”.
I fail to see how the concept of institutional racism contradicts Biblical teaching. We never sin in a vacuum. The consequences of sin affect not only the sinner and the one sinned against but also many other people in the surrounding society. Sin has ripple effects that go farther and wider than we ever realize, and sometimes the ripple effects of sin last for many, many generations. The term “institutional racism” is a secular attempt to label what the Bible describes as the effects or consequences of sin. If we’re uncomfortable with calling it “institutional racism” then let’s call it “the multigenerational ripple effects of sin”, but whatever we call it, let’s acknowledge that it exists. If we refuse to admit that institutional racism even exists, then how can we ever appropriate the Biblical solution of the cross and the resurrection and confession of sin and repentance and faith, coupled with the injunction of Micah 6:8 to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God”? The secular world admits that there is a problem but doesn’t have the solution. Christians have the solution, but some Christians don’t recognize that the problem exists. Sounds like some deception is at work here.
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”. (Psalm 139:23-24)
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. (1 John 1:8-9)
We celebrate Juneteenth joyfully, for the freeing of the slaves is certainly worthy of joyful celebration! As we celebrate, we also need to ask God to show us what work still needs to be done, both in our hearts, and corporately as a society. We need to listen to and learn from each other. We need to ask the Holy Spirit for discernment. Those who are not the descendants of slaves need to try to understand what it’s like to be the descendent of slaves, to listen to them with an open heart and mind, and to gain their perspective on the work that still needs to be done to rid our society of racism and its ongoing ripple effects. We need to have more honest conversations with each other, and we need to be willing to listen with an open mind and heart. We need personal, ongoing repentance of our own sins of prejudice and racism, no matter how subtle, as we ask God to search our hearts. We need to ask God to enable us to examine our society from His perspective, to more accurately discern how the sins of yesteryear have set into motion policies and practices that still exist today and that still need to be addressed.
We who are Christians are called to be “the salt of the earth and the light of the world”, but we cannot be who we are called to be in an authentic way if we insist on letting our political ideologies do our thinking for us. We have the Bible. We have the Holy Spirit. God will show us the way forward, but we must be willing to repent, and we must be willing to put aside our own perspectives and to ask God to show us His perspective. We need to be willing to do this not as Conservatives or as Liberals but as children of God.
To those who are the descendants of slaves, I rejoice that slavery has been abolished! I want to do what I can to help complete the work that has was started on the original Juneteenth, as God enables. Many of us who are not the descendants of slaves want to be your allies in the ongoing work, not just celebrate a holiday in a way that probably misunderstands and misrepresents what the holiday stands for. Forgive us for celebrating a holiday without taking the time to think through its implications. Let’s work together to “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God”. With this understanding and with this commitment, I hope we can now say in a way that is both honest and authentic, Happy Juneteenth!
How do we stop the killing of unborn babies?
How do we stop the killing of innocent schoolchildren:
What’s so complicated about that?
Once upon a time in a faraway land there were two groups of people. One group wanted to pass laws that would save the lives of pre-born children. The other group wanted to pass laws that would save the lives of children after they were born. No one was interested in passing both sets of laws. No one thought that this was strange.
I wrote two little stories about my mom, Rose Scordato, back in 2015. The first one was written in February, about 10 months before she went to be with God. The second was written on Mother’s Day, a few months later. I am posting them on this Mother’s Day in honor of her memory.
Every night, while the sun was setting and the warm summer evening air was causing the palm trees beyond the window to sway, Mom and Dad watched Jeopardy in their Florida condo. Dad would sit in his big recliner, and mom in her smaller chair or on the sofa. Dad would try to guess the answers—or really, the questions. He was usually wrong but sometimes he was spot on. Mom, who speaks broken English, just listened, but probably understood more than she would let on. She would say to Dad, “Richie, these people, they’re so smart”. During the break between the programs Dad would go into the kitchen and bring them back a little snack, maybe a cup of tea or something left over from supper. Mom would get up for a few minutes to stretch her legs and attend to this or that. Then they’d both settle into their chairs again, this time to watch Wheel of Fortune. Dad was pretty good at figuring out the phrases. Mom just listened and was amused, partially by the reactions of the contestants when they figured out the phrases and made a lot of money, partially at Dad’s reactions to the contestants’ reactions. Dad didn’t feel well and Mom worried about Dad, but aside from that life was fairly cozy, comfortable, and predictable. All five kids had married, most of the kids and grandkids were living in other states, so life consisted of going to church, going to prayer meeting, going to Bible Study, having phone conversations with out-of-state family members, having guests over—they loved to share their home with others and were a gracious host and hostess-- and watching Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune. It was an empty nest, but Mom and Dad did what they could to fill it with whatever joy and happiness they could. Family and friends were important, God was at the center, and nothing else really mattered.
Now Dad is in heaven, the Florida condo has been sold, and Mom is living at a seniors’ residence in New Jersey. Every night, as the sun sets and the cold New Jersey wind starts to blow against the empty winter branches of the oaks outside her window, Mom settles into her little chair in her little room and watches Jeopardy. “These people, they are so intelligent”, she says of the contestants, when I visit her on Wednesday nights, and we watch Jeopardy together. “How did they get to be so smart?” When they win some money she is really happy for them, and when they get a wrong answer she is genuinely disappointed. During the break between the programs she munches on something so she doesn’t need to take her medicine on an empty stomach. Then she takes her medicine, downs a little plastic cupful of water, and settles back into her little chair to watch Wheel of Fortune. She tries to guess at the phrases, but because she speaks broken English she’s not very good at it; still, she tries her best. Her life is simple. She goes to church, she goes out to prayer meeting or Bible Study when she can, but she stays in her room a lot, too—there’s not much to do but they do try to keep her busy at the seniors’ residence, and she tries to stay as involved as she can. She tries to keep a good attitude and is usually successful, but sometimes she feels very tired and weary. The kids visit when they can, but some of them are out of state, so she is alone more often than she would like. Still, she tries to fill her little room with whatever joy and happiness she can. Family and friends are important, God is at the center, and nothing else really matters.
When I visit her, we pray together. In her broken English, Mom prays for her kids, for her grandkids, for her church, for the problems of the world… the sincere prayers of a simple woman who lives a simple life and who has learned what is really important. She has learned the lessons that life has taught her, and she has learned them well. Her family needs her prayers, and the world needs her prayers. Her prayers rise up from her little room in New Jersey and reach the throne of heaven, where her Heavenly Father hears, and His heart is moved—and so is mine. I love to hear Mom pray!
Reversal of Roles
(Mother’s Day 2015)
How helpless my mother would feel during those days when I was a child, and I was running a fever or had caught the latest virus or flu from some kid at school, or had come down with the measles or the mumps, and I was feeling miserable. “I wish I could do something to make you feel better”, she would say to me. She would watch me toy with my food, take a very small spoonful to my mouth, try to swallow, and then announce that I wasn’t hungry. “If only he would take a few more spoonsful, maybe he’d feel better sooner”, she must have said to herself. I wonder if she used to lie awake at night hoping that I was sleeping soundly, whispering a silent prayer, hoping that I’d feel better in the morning.
Now I visit my mother who is not well. As I hold her weary hand I say to her “I wish I could do something to make you feel better”. I watch her toy with her food, take a few spoonsful to her mouth followed by a little sip of grape juice, and turn away the rest: “I’m not feeling very hungry tonight. I’ve had enough”. I think to myself “If only she would take a few more spoonsful, maybe she’d regain her strength”. As I try to fall asleep at night I wonder if she’s sleeping soundly, and I whisper a silent prayer, hoping that she’ll feel better in the morning.
Reposted from last year:
We had such high hopes. We thought that the Long Awaited One had finally come. We could sense it when we were with him. Something about being with him made our hearts beat faster. We knew he had a special relationship with Ha Shem that no one else had. He understood the heart and mind and will of God, he understood the ways of God, and he was so eager to teach us and to show us! He wanted us to know God the way he knew him, as his Father! When he spoke, there was not only rock-solid confidence and uncompromising authority in his voice, but also profound love and deep compassion in his eyes, unlike anyone we had ever met before. He taught us how to walk through life without fearing the future, for he knew that God’s plan was unfolding— and somehow, he was at the center of it! By being with him, somehow we were at the center it! We were sure he was God’s Anointed One. We could feel it in our bones, and we could see it in his eyes. How his eyes sparkled when he spoke about God as his Father! He was the One who would usher in the coming age, the tikkun olam that was spoken of by the prophets — we were sure of it!
Remember when he sent us out, two-by-two, to proclaim the Kingdom of God in all of the surrounding villages? Remember when we came back and gave him our report? Remember how excited he was— he even saw the evil one as lightning falling from heaven! Those were amazing days, to say the least! The things that he taught us made our hearts beat faster. When we were with him, the things that we saw with our own eyes and heard with our own ears made it impossible for us not to see the fingerprints of God all over his life and all over his teaching. When we were following this man, it felt great to be alive! Life was an adventure! The present was exciting, the future was secure, our joy was full, our hearts were overflowing. How great it was to be alive, walking the streets of Galilee with Yeshua! How we loved being with that man!
And then they killed him. No, they didn’t stone him, the Jewish way. That would have been too kind. They crucified him, the Roman way. They had to make it as drawn out and as shameful and as excruciatingly painful as possible. And now he’s gone. How can we go on without our friend? How could we have been mistaken about his identity? Is there no coming tikkun olam? Were we believing in myths all these years? Has Ha Shem forgotten us? How can we have hope when there is no hope? As far as we are concerned, yesterday, on that cross, when Yeshua died, hope died. How can we go on? Truth be told, we don’t want to go on. We have no reason to go on. Hope is gone. Hope died on Friday. Today is Saturday, and we suddenly have nothing to live for, nothing to hope for, nothing to die for. It all happened just that fast. He’s here one minute, gone the next, and with him, everything we had ever hoped for— all gone in an instant. And now he’s in the tomb, and the tomb is silent— and the silence is a very loud silence. The silence is deafening!
I guess we could go and visit the tomb, but what good would that do? Remember, it’s the Sabbath, so we can’t walk very far, and it’s the Passover, so we don’t want to defile ourselves. Besides, we’re supposed to be at home with our families celebrating the Passover— but the angel of death did not pass over Yeshua, and Elijah’s seat is still empty. We could reminisce, but that would just make us feel more sad and more hopeless. Where do we go from here? What happens after the Passover? What is the “new normal”? We could go back to our old jobs and our old routines and pretend that it was all just a dream, but we really can’t do that, and we really don’t want to. We can’t go back to what no longer exists. The world has changed, and we have changed— or so we had thought, but now we don’t know what to think. We sit here in silence. There’s nothing else to do.
Saturday is the day of silence; the day of pause; the day of waiting for we know not what. It’s the day of suspended animation. It’s the day when the world waits. It’s the day when the world holds its breath. It’s the day of the drumroll that we think we may hear rumbling faintly, many miles off in the distance— but no, that must be our imagination. Nothing good is going to happen here any time soon.
What can we do on Saturday? We can learn to be silent. We can learn to lament. We can learn to pour out our souls to God in utter honesty, as King David did in the Psalms and as Yeshua did in the Garden of Gethsemane. We can learn to listen to what is really going on in our own hearts and minds and souls. We can be honest. We can face our deepest fears and doubts. After all, God already knows how we feel, and there’s no reason to hide ourselves from ourselves when there’s nothing left to lose. You can’t get much lower than rock bottom.
What can we do on Saturday? We can listen for the still, soft voice of God, as did the Prophet Elijah. We can strain our ears to hear what God might be telling us. It’s easier to hear when the world around us is silent and there is nothing left to distract us.
What can we do on Saturday? We can learn to be less like Martha and more like Mary, as Yeshua taught us. We can’t surround ourselves with a flurry of activity and noise in a frenzied effort to keep ourselves occupied, distracted, too busy to think and feel. That doesn’t work when there is nothing left to do or think or feel. All we can do is sit and wait— sit at the feet of God and try our best to listen— but isn’t that exactly what Yeshua told Martha and Mary? Didn’t the “comforters” of Job sit with him in grief and silence for seven days and seven nights? Didn’t the psalmist say “He makes me to rest in green pastures”? Perhaps God is making us rest. After creating the heavens and the earth, didn’t Ha Shem Himself rest on the seventh day, the Sabbath?
Dreams die on Friday, but if we are listening for the voice of God, new dreams and new hopes can begin to be stirred on Saturday. Nothing very solid, no “aha” moments, no amazing revelations from the heavens, no lightning or thunderbolts or visions in the skies, but the smallest stirrings of the faintest hope of new beginnings. That may be all we get on Saturday, but that is enough. A little flicker of hope is all that we need. Even if we can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, at least we can begin to suspect that the light is out there somewhere. Maybe we’ll see it tomorrow.
Didn’t the psalmist of old remind us “You have allowed me to suffer much hardship, but you will restore me to life again” and “Sorrow may last for a season, but joy comes in the morning”? Is it possible that we can have joy again— maybe not today, but eventually? We remember what Yeshua taught us on that last night when we were all together— could it be that it was only two nights ago? He taught us “In this life you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world”. Something is stirring. A still, small voice is speaking. The smallest flicker of hope is being born. Dare we believe it? Dare we trust it? It’s not over. When we cannot see the hand of God, then we must learn to trust the heart of God— and the heart of God toward us is good. Yeshua taught us well, and he was right. The heart of God toward us is good.
Sometimes the voice of God speaks the loudest when everything else is silent. Sometimes we hear the voice of God most clearly when we are lamenting in silence, too sad and too stunned and too weak and to numb to be able speak or to fix or to repair or to distract or to blame or to argue or to defend or to criticize or to rationalize or to analyze or to strategize or to give an opinion or to even have an opinion. That’s when we learn that today is not the end of hope. It’s the day of waiting. It’s the day before the day of new beginnings. It’s Saturday.
And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go your way into the village over against you: and as soon as ye be entered into it, ye shall find a colt tied, whereon never man sat; loose him, and bring him. And if any man say unto you, Why do ye this? say ye that the Lord hath need of him; and straightway he will send him hither. And they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door without in a place where two ways met; and they loose him. And certain of them that stood there said unto them, What do ye, loosing the colt? And they said unto them even as Jesus had commanded: and they let them go. And they brought the colt to Jesus, and cast their garments on him; and he sat upon him. And many spread their garments in the way: and others cut down branches off the trees, and strawed them in the way. And they that went before, and they that followed, cried, saying, Hosanna; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord: Blessed be the kingdom of our father David, that cometh in the name of the Lord: Hosanna in the highest. And Jesus entered into Jerusalem, and into the temple: and when he had looked round about upon all things, and now the eventide was come, he went out unto Bethany with the twelve. (Mark 11:1-11)
We had it all wrong. We thought he was riding into town to gather an army. We thought he was going to conquer the Romans and restore our beloved Israel to its own people. We thought he would push the Roman oppressors out of Jerusalem, then out of Judea and Samaria and totally away from the region. We were ready to march with him. We were ready to fight for him. We were ready to pick up arms. We were ready to make him our general, and eventually our king. Oh, how we wanted him to declare war against the Romans! Oh, how we yearned for him to issue a call to arms! We would have gladly left our families, our fields, our occupations in a heartbeat! Why didn’t he pull together an army? Why didn’t he march into Jerusalem, kick out the Roman leaders, and establish himself as king? Surely we would have followed him. We were a potential army, an angry mob without a leader. He was a leader without an army— only a rag-tag group of fisherman, a doctor and a tax collector. Why couldn’t we have joined forces? We would be the army, he would be the general— or so we had hoped— and so we waved our palm branches and chanted our chants and cheered our cheers and sang our battle hymn of the republic while he rode into the city on his silly donkey. “Make Israel Great Again”, we chanted over and over again, but it was not meant to be. He entered into Jerusalem, he went into the temple, he looked around, he got back on his donkey, and he and his band of twelve went out to Bethany. Bethany? That’s such a small town. You can’t round up a posse of soldiers in Bethany. There’s hardly anyone out there, no guns or weapons, no stash of cash, no shakers and movers— just a bunch of sleepy old farmers and bored teenagers and a few sleepy old cows and maybe one or two old horses. Revolutions start in Jerusalem and Rome. Revolutions do not start in Bethany.
We had it all wrong. We thought that every problem in the world could be fixed by power. The big fish swallow the smaller fish. We fight for what we want, and the strongest man wins. That’s just the way it works. But this man had a very different way of looking at things. He taught things like “Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth” and “Do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also” and “If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too” and “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles” and “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” and “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you”. Generals and kings and the powerful people of this world don’t talk about such things. And what about all this talk about love? We weren’t interested in loving our enemies; we were interested in destroying them before they destroyed us. It became clear that this man wasn’t going to help us to achieve our agenda. All this talk about love and servanthood was getting in the way, and the people were starting to buy into it. This man could undo the very revolution that we were hoping that he would establish, and so we set the wheels into motion that would eventually lead to his crucifixion by the Romans. We partnered with our enemy to stamp out the one whom we both rejected. No, we did not love our enemies, the Romans, but we needed for them to add their political power to our religious power so that we could stamp him out together.
We had it all wrong. Looking back, we realized that we were the ones who had been brainwashed by the ways of this world, and Jesus had it right all along. We had thought that by combining political power with religious devotion and blind patriotism and military might, we could bring about God’s kingdom, but oh how wrong we were! How could we have been so blind? We crucified the Son of God. In our zeal to use God to bring about our own agenda, we murdered the Son of God. Now we realize that we are all Judas.
Looking back, now we realize what was going on. He had to die as an atonement for our sins, as prophesied by the great Prophet Isaiah. He had to rise from the dead as conqueror over our real enemies: sin and death. He had to ascend into heaven, to be seated at his rightful place at the right hand of God the Father. He had to come back again to the earth, to establish his kingdom upon the earth, as had been promised to our forefathers. Yes, Messiah will rule from the throne of David, the Kingdom of God will come to the earth, but it will happen in God’s way, and in God’s timing, and according to God’s principles, not the principles of this world. His kingdom will be characterized not by military might but by meekness, and by not resisting our enemies with a show of force, and by turning the other cheek, and by giving away our belongings rather than fighting for our rights, and by carrying a soldier’s gear for an extra mile, and by loving our friends enough to die for them, and by loving our enemies, blessing those who curse us, doing good to those who hate us, and praying for those who abuse and persecute us. Now we understand the words of the great Prophet Micah: “And he shall judge among many people, and rebuke strong nations afar off; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more”.
We had it all wrong. We were chanting the wrong chants. We were singing the wrong songs. But now we understand. Now we repent. Now we believe. Now we realize that God has forgiven us, his enemies, for all that we have ever done wrong, including the murder of his very own Son! God has forgiven us, and we are eternally grateful. Because of this, we are learning how to forgive each other, how to love each other, and how to love and forgive our enemies. We are being prepared to live as citizens of His coming kingdom. Now we realize that he sent his Son to die for those who crucified him. We are his grateful followers, and our joy knows no limits, but we had to admit that we were wrong before we could receive the love and forgiveness that would transform us into citizens of his coming kingdom. Now we sing a different song.
Twenty years ago today, the unthinkable happened. I remember the horror of hearing that an airplane had crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center. At first we thought it was an accident, but when another airplane crashed into the other tower, we realized that we were under attack. Then a third airplane hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania, and we started to wonder how many more airplanes would be crashing. I remember getting a phone call from my sister saying “America is under attack; you need to leave work and come home right now”. I remember watching the news that night on TV, and seeing the horror as thousands of people began running through the streets of New York City, trying to get away from the area of the World Trade Center as quickly as possible, while the rescue workers were trying to rush in. I remember the fear as people waited to hear from their loved ones, and the sorrow when some of them started to realize that their loved ones would never be coming home. I remember the sorrow and the pain. Now is the time to take stock of where we’ve come since then, what lessons we’ve learned, and what lessons we still need to learn.
On September 11, 2001, we learned that we are much more vulnerable then we ever realized. Similar to the feelings generated by the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and to the feelings generated by the COVID pandemic, we felt vulnerable. Nothing feels safe in a world where airplanes intentionally crash into buildings killing thousands of people. Nothing feels safe in a world where terrorists hold that much power. America and all of humanity had to come face-to-face with the fact that we are all far weaker and far more vulnerable than we had been telling ourselves.
In my opinion, our response to the events of 9/11/01 was both good and bad.
Good— Many people gathered in churches and homes to pray. Many people realized that it was time to pray. We (temporarily) acknowledged our weakness. We (temporarily) realized that we desperately needed God.
Bad— The prayer meetings slowed down after a few weeks. Once the initial shock started to be alleviated, the prayer meetings stopped.
Good— People banded together. There was a sense that “We’re all in this together”. Most of us knew someone who knew someone who was killed when the towers came down. We (temporarily) learned to “weep with those who weep”.
Bad— We developed clearly-defined in-groups and out-groups. The in-groups were the patriotic Americans and the conservative Christians. The out-groups were all Muslims and many Americans who were of a less patriotic and more liberal and progressive bent. We were quick to draw a dividing line between the “good guys” and the “bad guys”— “us” and “them”.
Good— President Bush helped us to not see ourselves as defeated, passive victims but was able to rally us into bounce-back mode.
Bad— President Bush waged a war against terrorism that could never be ended. (When Bush gave his speech several days after 9/11 I remember thinking to myself “If we wage a war against terrorism, how are we ever going to end it? How will we know when the last terrorist cell has been defeated? And why is he bringing the wonder-working power of the blood of Jesus into a speech about waging a war?”).
Violence begets violence. War begets war. Every act of aggression guarantees that there will be an act of revenge, which will trigger another act of aggression, which will trigger another act of revenge. The cycle of aggression and revenge never stops. What one side sees as an act of revenge the other side sees as an act of aggression— like two children who refuse to stop fighting because they both insist “He hit me first”. There is no way to end it. That is the way that war and violence work. That is the way of this world. This God-rejecting world sees no other way to solve its problems than to shoot guns and to drop bombs.
Perhaps this unending cycle of aggression and revenge will never end until Messiah returns to the earth. Perhaps the planet has chosen its course and will not relent until the Day of the Lord— but that doesn’t mean that Christians should go along with it. We shouldn’t be cheering the Enemy’s tactics.
Jesus said “For all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword” (Matthew 26:52). Jesus knew and taught that when we go to war against another, we bring war against ourselves.
Jesus said “Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust”. (Matthew 5:43-45).
Many Christians ignored these teaching of Jesus in the aftermath of the events of 9/11/01. We should have led the world in loving our enemy, but we could not. We were too angry. We were too offended. We were too hurt. We were not able to love our enemy. There was too much pain. We were not able to forgive.
God knows our weakness. He knows that it is hard to do the right thing when we are in extreme pain and sorrow— but now it’s twenty years later. We need to deal with this now or it will continue to return to us, haunting us at every turn.
I am not expecting the United States of America to forgive Al-Qaeda and to act like nothing happened, but I am asking myself and my fellow Christians to search our hearts. What are we harboring in our hearts? Does our remembrance of the events of 9/11/01 fill our hearts with anger and desire for revenge, or do we beg God to help us to love and forgive our enemies? What do we really want? Peace or war? Yes, there will be no peace until Messiah returns, but what do we want? Do we join in with the rest of America in a spirit of anger and a thirst for revenge, or do we act according to who we are: A counter-cultural Church of the redeemed, who represent Christ on earth, who are leaning to love and to forgive those who don’t deserve it, just as Christ loved us and forgave us, though we don’t deserve it? Are we showing the world Christ Jesus, or are we showing the world an odd blend of American nationalism and patriotism with a little Christianity sprinkled in?
Jesus called us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. This means that we have to be different from the rest of the world. They hate; we ask God to help us to love. They seek revenge; we ask God to help us to forgive. They seek war; we seek peace. Peace may not be possible until the Messiah returns, but peace represents who we are. It should be the condition of our hearts. If the coming Kingdom of God is a kingdom of peace, and if the Church has been set up by God as a billboard pointing to the coming kingdom, then we should be a people who seek peace and not war; we should be a people who seek forgiveness and not revenge. Otherwise we are not being who we are. We are not being who God called us to be. Jesus would call us light that has been hidden under a bushel, and salt that has lost its saltiness. When we march with the rest of the world instead of marching against it, we betray our calling as representatives and ambassadors of the coming Kingdom of God.
“Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Some day God will set the record straight, but that is his job, not ours. God know the hearts of all people, and only God can judge righteously. We don’t need to worry about vengeance, as that will be taken care of by the only One in the universe who has the right to vengeance. We don’t dare ask for vengeance upon others while we plead for God’s mercy over ourselves. Sinners who deserve God’s wrath don’t pray down God’s vengeance on other sinners who deserve God’s wrath. Instead, we trust God to do whatever is right, and we pursue the things that Jesus taught us to pursue: Loving our enemies and forgiving those who persecute us. This is what makes us the Church. This is what makes us ambassadors of the coming Kingdom.
Remembering the events of 9/11/01 should not make Christians more patriotic, more nationalistic, and more filled with anger and the desire for revenge. That is the world’s way, but that is not our way. God calls Christians to march in a different direction.
We need to learn to say with King David “I am for peace: but when I speak, they are for war” (Psalm 120:7). A descendent of David who is greater than David will come to reclaim the throne of David, and He is the Lamb that was Slain, the Prince of Peace. We will spend eternity worshipping the Prince of Peace. We need to be becoming now what we will be forever.
Vulnerability is not a bad thing. It is a good thing. When we acknowledge our vulnerability, we place ourselves rightly before God. A surge of American nationalism and patriotism and a show of military strength is buying into the lie that we are strong and not vulnerable, that we can solve our own problems through military might and political power, that “they” are bad and “we” are good, that we automatically have God’s favor because we somehow think that we are a Christian nation and that God will bless our military and political chauvinism. This sets us into a collision course with God and His ways. This positions us to become the enemies of God Himself.
Jesus said “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away”. (Matthew 5:38-42). This is not the American way, but it is the Jesus way. We’ve got to make a choice. We can’t have it both ways.
The scene is horrific. 20,000 people packed into an airport— angry, frightened, desperate people, all with the same cry: “Get me out of here!”. Children crying because they can’t find their mothers. Families pushed apart by the crowds, unable to find each other. “Will we ever find each other in these crowds? What if we end up on different planes taking us to different countries? What if we never see each other again?”. People getting on whatever plane taxis up next, having no idea of which country will be their final destination. Wherever it goes, that’s their fate. “Kids, just get on any plane; wherever it takes you, it’s got to be better than here. If we get separated and if we never see you again, we pray you’ll have a good life. If you end up together, take good care of each other. Wherever you end up, behave yourselves, remember everything we’ve taught you, remember to say your prayers, and don’t forget us”. Stampedes inside the airport. Stampedes outside at the gate. People being trampled by the crowds, some trampled to death. Plane after plane takes off, like an old black and white World War II movie, but the people keeping flooding into the airport, coming in faster than the planes can carry them out. “What if we miss the last plane? What if we are stuck here? What will happen to us?” 20,000 human beings, all of whom had plans for tomorrow, now lost and confused, as sheep without a shepherd, all hope of a better life tomorrow quickly fading with every airplane that takes off, leaving them behind.
Tragedy unfolds in Kabul, and the world feels helpless. What can we do? What can we say? The people in the airport feel helpless, as the watching world feels helpless. There is one thing we can do. We can pray.
Lord, we pray for the masses of people who are inside Kabul airport, and for those who are waiting outside at the gate, trying to get in, and for those trying to make it into Kabul from the surrounding areas, and for those who want to make their way to the airport but have no means of getting there. You are there with them. You walk among them. You feel their pain. We pray that a sense of your peace would fill that airport. You who made order out of chaos when you created the world, come into Kabul airport and turn chaos into peace. We pray that a calm awareness of your presence would fill the atmosphere of that airport. Help the people to know that you love them. Help them to know that you know their fear and their heartbreak. Help them to know that you feel their pain. Help them to know that you care. We ask you to reunite family members who are looking for each other. Help the crying mothers and crying children to find each other. Guide them onto the right airplane that will take them to the right destination where they will find compassionate people who will care for them. Make it possible that there will be enough planes so that every last person who wants to leave will be able to do so. Still the stampedes. Calm the crowds. Give hope to every hopeless heart that tomorrow will be better than today.
Lord, we pray for those who are unable to leave. We pray especially for the women and children. May the new regime not treat them harshly. May they be treated with dignity and respect. May they be able to live their lives without fear of oppression. Give them dignity and strength and courage. Help them to know that many around the world are standing with them.
Lord, we pray for the persecuted Christians in Afghanistan. Give them wisdom, strength, discernment, courage, and a deep awareness of your presence. Help their light not to be snuffed out. May their light shine brighter as the day draws darker. Send them helpers and protectors who will speak up for them when they cannot speak up for themselves. Keep them safe. Encourage them when they are weary. Preserve their lives.
Lord, we pray for those of us who are on the outside looking in. We pray for ourselves, the watching world. Help us to not feel powerless. Remind us of the power of prayer, and of prayerful action. Help us to be both compassionate and effective. Show us how to pray and what to do. Make all the wrong things right, and use us as tools in your hands. In the words of Francis of Assisi, make us instruments of your peace.
In Jesus’ Name,
Organized Christianity has lost its identity. Christendom has lost its way. To the extent that Christ has been replaced by Christendom, we no longer know who we are.
Christianity was once defined by its orthodoxies. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church were defined, at least in part, by the creeds that they affirmed and by their opposition to “the other Church”. After the Protestant Reformation, the Protestants and the Catholics were defined, at least in part, by their opposition to each other. As Protestantism splintered into competing denominations, each denomination become defined by its opposition to the other denominations. Christianity became defined by competing claims of “We are right and you are wrong”.
Defining ourselves by what we oppose is not a good idea, because it gives us nothing to affirm. It gives us something to hate, but nothing to live for and nothing to die for. It makes us cranky cynics who protest everything and affirm nothing. We fight, therefore we exist. If all we have to pass on to the next generation is something that we oppose, then we will have given the next generation nothing that is of value. The tendency to define ourselves as being the opposite of what we hate is one of the reasons why Christianity evolved into Christendom. Christendom is Christianity that seeks to hitch itself to political and cultural power because it has forgotten who it is and why it exists. It’s the agenda that says that if we attach ourselves to the powerful, then we may gain some of their power. If we attach ourselves to something or someone powerful, whether it is an empire or a nation or a movement or an ideology or an institution or a president or a king, if it succeeds, then we succeed, but if it fails, then we fail. Christendom is Christianity that tries to be in charge of society. It’s Christianity that refuses to be pushed to the margins. It’s Christianity that insists on being at center stage, under the floodlights, surrounded by an admiring audience of the rich and the famous and the influential and the movers and shakers of this world. It’s Christianity that seeks to gain control of the masses by means of political and cultural domination.
What happens when Christendom dies? Do we desperately try to revive it? Do we abandon it and move on to something else? Both are wrong answers. When Christendom dies, then that is the opportunity for true Christianity to re-emerge.
Who are we? We are followers of Jesus. Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this, than a man lay down his life for friends” (John 15:13). There is nothing power-hungry about a man who gives up his life for his friends, and who invites others to do the same. Jesus said “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). There is nothing power-hungry about a man who denies himself, and invites others to do the same. Jesus said “If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). There is no quest for power here. Jesus came as a servant, and invited his followers to be servants, following his example. Jesus went on to say “You know that they which are accounted to rule over the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and their great ones exercise authority upon them. But so shall it not be among you: but whoever will be great among you, shall be your servant: And whoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. For even the Son of man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:42-45). These are not the words of a power-hungry man who desired to start a power-hungry movement. Jesus may have been the author of what we now call Christianity, but he was certainly not the author of Christendom.
Hear the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard that it has been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say to you, that you resist not evil: but whoever shall smite you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue you at the law, and take away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And whoever shall compel you to go a mile, go with him two. Give to him who asks of you, and from him that would borrow from you turn not away. You have heard that it has been said, You shalt love your neighbor, and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:38-45). Those are not the words of a man who seeks power. His followers should be anything but power-seekers.
According to the Gospel of John, “Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come that he would depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” (John 13:1). Jesus went all the way to the cross. He allowed sinful men to nail him to a cross. He allowed his enemies to kill him. He was doing it for them. It was for their sins that he died. He paid the penalty for their sins because he loved them— the very ones who killed him. Were those the actions of a man who was hungry for power? He surrendered his right for justice, his right for a fair trial, his right for life itself so that his enemies could be forgiven, so that they could have eternal life, and so that they could be loved by his Father. That is how Jesus lived and died, and that is how he calls his followers to live and to die. This is the way of Jesus. This is not the way of Christendom.
What will happen when Christendom falls? The Left and the Right will rush in to try to fill the vacuum. The capitalists and the socialists will rush in to try to seize the moment. Numerous religions and spiritualities, both new and old, will be competing for the attention of the masses. People will find some way to try to satisfy their spiritual hunger, and they will have many competing voices from which to choose. They will grab whatever seems to be the coolest. They will grasp for whatever it is that glitters the most. They will listen to their most influential voices. They will assume that the people whom they admire the most will know what they are talking about. They will assume that whatever seems attractive at the moment must be true and right— at least true and right for them. This is happening now, and will only accelerate in the days ahead.
How should those of us who are Christians respond? The worst possible response would be to try to revive Christendom. Christendom has become the enemy of Christianity. Let Christendom die. Its death is long overdue. Trying to hitch ourselves to power (whether on the Left or on the Right) will destroy our witness for generations to come. No one will take us or our Gospel or our Jesus seriously. We’ve got to stop trying to be the loudest voice with the most power. Instead, we give up our power. We give up our privilege. We stop trying to run society. We repent for allowing ourselves to be sucked into this world’s power-hungry way of doing things. We repent for being very bad ambassadors who have tragically misrepresented Jesus. We repent for dragging the name of Jesus through the mud, all in the name of Christendom. We lay down our weapons. We surrender our quest for power. We allow ourselves to be marginalized, as Jesus and his small group of humble followers were marginalized. And from the margins, we quietly and humbly follow Jesus. We learn to forgive. We turn the other cheek. We become humble and kind and gentle and Christlike. We learn to love, to give, and to bless those who oppose us. We become attractive to those who seek truth and beauty and goodness, and we become despised by those who love the pursuit of power and the pleasures and privileges of this world. Those who are drawn to the light will join us. Those who run from the light will despise us. The goal is not to control society. The goal is to follow Jesus from the core of our being, in humility and sincerity and truth. That is the only kind of “Christianity” that will draw people to Jesus. It is the only expression of Christianity that is worth living for and dying for. It’s what Jesus came to live for, and it’s what he came to die for.
Jesus didn’t shed his precious blood on the cross so that Christendom could rule society. Let Christendom die, so that followers of Jesus will have nothing to hide behind. Let Christendom die, so that followers of Jesus might live lives that are so authentically Christlike that others will want to join us as we follow Jesus. The voice of Jesus is heard most clearly, not when we yell the loudest, but when we take our rightful place at the margins of society and learn to be suffering servants who love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. At the end of history, it is not the powerful who will have the last word. It is the Lamb of God, who gave up his life for those who hated him, and despised him, and betrayed him, and mocked him, and killed him. The Jesus way is not the way of power, but the way of surrender and the way of servanthood. Happy are we if we are called to follow in his footsteps.
When I was a Catholic I remember repeating the words of the liturgy of the Mass every Sunday: “Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy of us; Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us; Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace”. May we be very grateful to our Catholic brothers and sisters for keeping that refrain alive for so many generations. May those of us who are Protestant join in the refrain. Christendom is all about the quest for power. True Christianity is all about abdicating power and following in the self-sacrificial footsteps of the Lamb who was slain. This is the only expression of Christianity that is worth saving.
Who are we? We are followers of the Lamb who was slain, who seek to become more and more like him every day as we walk out the lifestyle of our faith with great authenticity and deep gratitude, as we trust in his death and resurrection and wait for his return, as individuals, as local churches, and as the global Body of Christ. That’s who we are.
About Joe Scordato