Everything about our Savior flies right in the face of what the culture says is important. The values our culture upholds are counter to everything Jesus stands for. The ideas and philosophies our culture exalts are actually opposed to our Christ and his Kingdom.
Our culture says fight for our freedoms and assert your rights; Jesus willingly gave up his rights and his freedoms for the sake of others. The culture says gain more and more wealth and status and power; Jesus left behind all the wealth and status and power he enjoyed at the right hand of the Father to serve others. Culture says defend yourself at all costs, don’t let anybody mistreat you; Jesus walked purposefully into his own torture and to the cross to die. Culture works hard to establish and maintain boundaries between people of different colors, different languages, different backgrounds and zip codes and tax brackets; Jesus invites all the people of every nation, tribe, and tongue to enjoy a common feast at his one table.
Jesus is completely counter-cultural.
I asked our Wednesday night Bible class this week in what ways the Central church is counter cultural, in what ways do we go against what society says is the proper thing to do? One of the first things somebody shouted out was that we feed the poor, we take care of the needy.
But that’s not counter cultural. Our society applauds those who feed the poor. The popular media produce slick feature stories for mass consumption about people who take care of the needy. Fancy buildings are named after those who minister to the less fortunate.
Somebody else said we proclaim God, we believe in God and profess his name. No, that’s not counter cultural, either. Not at all. This society absolutely upholds a belief in God as fundamental. Basic. I asked if any of the 75-80 people in the room had ever even met anybody who claimed there was no God. Only one woman raised her hand. Believing in God is a very cultural thing here. Very cultural.
The conversation went on and on, and I could write several pages about it. The bottom line is that some of the things we’re so proud of as disciples of our radical Lord don’t hardly make any ripples at all in our society. They don’t stick out as different from the crowd. We’re doing what everybody else is doing; we’re just attaching Jesus’ holy name to it.
We can do better. We can do more.
I mean, we’re still, for the most part, segregating our church body from the ones we’re blessing with food and monetary assistance. Some of us are in a huge multi-million dollar building with coffee bars and cushioned chairs and some of us are crammed in a crowded house across the street. We still betray our prejudices when our conversations are sprinkled with “us” and “them.” Some of us are watching Fox News four and five hours a day and listening to political talk radio, filling our hearts and our souls with angry words and malicious thoughts that oppose the very ideals of love and joy and peace for which our Lord died.
In 413 AD, Augustine wrote in “City of God” that Christians were villified by society because they were so different from what the culture expected. You can go back and read for yourself how the earliest Christians were criticized by the culture: Christians are bad citizens; Christians don’t march; they don’t fight; they don’t build; they don’t help govern; Christians are mixing the classes and races at common meals in common living quarters; they’re destroying the social structures of the society; they’re not patriotic; they’re not loyal to the Empire; they say we are to serve one God instead of the State; they advocate forgiveness toward our nation’s enemies.
Those are the teachings of the Church. Those are the apostolic interpretations of Scripture. And those teachings and that way of life is completely counter to the ways and powers and authorities of this world. It got Christians in trouble back then. That kind of living gets Christians in trouble today. Right here in Amarillo.
(When your Bible class is taking prayer requests this coming Sunday morning, try requesting that we pray together for the Iraqi and Afghanistani soldiers, that God would protect them and return them safely to their families. See where that’ll get you.)
We can do better. We can do more.
Someone Wednesday night pointed out that Central decided a dozen years ago to stay right where we are in this downtown location instead of moving away to a nicer, more upscale neighborhood on the outer margins of the city borders. Ah, yes. Very counter cultural.
Culture looks at deteriorating property values and changing demographics and says, “Get out while you can.” Culture sees declining church attendance and lower contribution numbers and says, “You’ve gotta leave.”
Central saw the very same things and said, instead, “We’ve gotta stay.” Central made the very difficult choice to eschew financial and geographical security, to put off any cares and concerns about attendance and buildings and cash, to fight through very real fears and anxieties of the unknown in order to fully embrace Christ’s mission in this zip code.
I praise God for that. Amen.
And I look forward to that great day when all the barriers have been destroyed here on earth just as they are in heaven. I long for that day when we truly worship our one God together as his children, when we truly fellowship together around that one table. Sooner, rather than later. Right here at Central. A clearly counter cultural vision that would get us in trouble with society. It would cause ripples. It would be noticed. It would be criticized. And it would bring glory and honor to our eternal Father.
We can do more. We can do better.