For me, one of the best quips floating around the internet these days is the one that says, “Live your life such that the Westboro Baptist Church will want to picket at your funeral.”
There are an awful (I picked that word with great intentionality) lot of declarations being made in the name of Christianity that would cause me, a person who both claims to be a Christian, and as a priest is what some would call a “vocational” Christian, to disavow all connections to the faith. The above mentioned group, those who would burn the sacred books of faiths our own Scriptures indicate God’s favor toward, those who would attack any group or individual for the purpose of taking their life in the name of God, are but a few broad strokes of such troubling actions.
I appreciate, and add my voice to those who decry such actions. I am, however, concerned that those of us who are decrying those actions are more focused on that than we are on saying, “No, that is not Christianity as I understand it. It is not the Christianity I find in an examination of our holy writings.” Yes, their behavior is offensive to the highest order. Yes, I (we) want no part of it. No, our dialogues (with each other ’cause I don’t think they are listening), declarations and counter-protests will never sway them from their stony ideology. But, and here’s the rub, we are not being very intentional at getting the word out to say, “Hey, you are not throwing us under the bus with their mis-representation of Christianity.”
As a part of the Scriptures used for weekday services this week, I was reacquainted with a part of the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel that has stirred me for years – Ezekiel 36:22-28. From the prophet we hear: “Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act.” (Remember that we who call ourselves Christians are part of the continuation of the House of Israel.) Now if you’ve read much of the prophets’ writings you would reasonably expect that the people of faith are about to get whacked because they have screwed up (again), having put their own agendas and idols ahead of God. But, it takes a different turn: “It is not for your sake… but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came” that God is going to act.
Still not looking good, you say? Yep, but here is what goes down:
The great name of God is going to be reclaimed: the one we ourselves profaned amongst others. And God is going to put the Divine holiness on display before their eyes, get this, through us. From nations and all countries (Looks like we won’t all look alike/sound alike/be alike doesn’t it!), God says, “I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean …. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. … and you shall be my people, and I will be your God
I want to be a part of that. I want that because I, and I believe each of us, have stony parts of our hearts. I’d like to give them up to a heart of flesh. A heart of flesh, to me, has need for good judgment, but no need to be judgmental. A heart of flesh knows the pain of being wounded, and therefore is intentional in efforts to heal others’ wounds. A heart of flesh sees in the eyes of others the longing for deepest meaning, even when others cannot see it in themselves, and patiently offers them companionship in their seeking and longing. A heart of flesh takes seriously the mandatum, “Love one another as I have loved you.” It was, it is, a love found in sacrifice, not conquest. Christians do not have to save the world, nor do they have to save others. In fact, they can’t. That was Jesus’ job, and from the cross he tells us, “It is finished.”
We are to love. (Not a sanguine I’m okay, you’re okay, anything at all is okay existence. That is not the love that Jesus lived and called us to emulate when saying, “as I have loved you.”) This is the New Spirit. It is time that we embrace it with vigor and declare it with intention. The “new spirit” of love is the heart of Christianity. If we do this, invite other to see and share in this… people will still picket and judge, but few will believe it as being under the banner of Christianity.
God’s declared plan in Ezekiel is to do a bit of Divine showing off – look what I can use to demonstrate my holiness — by using the most unfit starting material possible: us. Don’t you want to be a part that!