I recently read a Huffington Post Article asking the question, “What if kids don’t want our church?” It likened church structures (both organizational and physical) to “family heirlooms” which may have been treasured for generations but no longer fit the goals and lifestyles of the current generation.
There’s a lot I agree with in the article I agree with. In fact, there’s a great deal in the article which I feel. I’ve never quite understood why I should treasure something just because you think it’s “nice.” This doesn’t mean I’m not happy for people who enjoy “nice” things because they are “nice,” it’s just not my cup of tea, so I’m quite happy being pleased from a distance.
I don’t necessarily agree with the take-away from the post, which seems to trash the concept of heirlooms itself as a relic from a bygone era, but the lesson is well-learned nonetheless. Coming generations maintain connections differently than more recent ones – and that needs to be acknowledged instead of ridiculed.
None of that is why I’m writing this post. How’s that for B-movie misdirection?
I’m writing this post because of the comments to the referenced story. Comments which make me despair for humanity. In particular this comment made me want to weep:
If you care nothing for your fellow man, keep going to church.
If you care even less, become a pastor, and profit from your indifference toward mankind while being respected for holding a status for pretending to care.
Now, many Christians (including me) are tempted to be angered and hurt by such a statement. That, after all, is the point of making such a statement in the first place – to hurt others so people could see just how much one hates the target.
So how should Christians respond to statements like the above? I’ve seen see a wide range of responses – smug superiority, outrage, fear, pain, and even compassion. In the comments to articles, which I should just give up for Lent and forever, the most prominent tend to be outrage and smugness. Too often Christians respond with equally hurtful messages along the lines of, “Well one day you’ll find out you were wrong” or “you stupid atheists are the reason God is pouring out judgement on this country.” Nobody wounds others like a wounded person. If I am learning anything about interactions on the Internet it’s this, “Don’t post out of a sense of retaliation.” It doesn’t help.
So how should we respond? Well, this week is Palm Sunday, and I’m preaching out of Isaiah 50:4-9. In this passage the prophet declares how he’d been given the tongue of “one who was learned” so that he might help the weary. Morning after morning Isaiah’s ears were opened so he might continue to be taught for that ministry. He never rebelled or turned back from it.
His obedience, however, came only through a great many temptations to walk a path other than the one God had called him to walk. Just look at verse 6:
I gave my back to those who strike,
and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard;
I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting.
Had Isaiah responded disgrace for disgrace, he wouldn’t be the person he’d been called to be.
Preaching this passage on Palm Sunday is particularly telling. Like the prophet before him, Jesus turned fixedly toward Jerusalem (what Isaiah calls a “face like a flint”) and went to the Holy City. He went to be treated in the exact same fashion, respond with the same obedient response, and in so doing conquer sin and death.
Jesus’ link to Isaiah’s obedience wasn’t only meant for him personally, however, nor is it isolated to his Passion. In fact, in Matthew 5:38-39, Jesus tells his disciples to “turn the other cheek.” That is, to respond to insult by offering to be insulted again rather than retaliate. This is not an easy path, but following Jesus is supposed to be a radically different lifestyle.
So next time you see someone insulting your faith, trying to make you angry and retaliate in some fashion, remember Isaiah. Remember Jesus. Remember what you’ve been commanded to do, and turn the other cheek. Jesus doesn’t need to be defended by our presumed cleverness or angry retorts. He wants us to love others every bit as much as he loves us.