Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Call and the Cost - Austin

"They will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish."

Those are Jesus' words, and from my perspective, some of the most challening he ever spoke. In a culture of feel-good Christianity, they aren't verses you will find taped to many bathroom mirrors for someone to memorize while they shave or apply makeup. They aren't verses quoted frequently in the majority of North American churches. And as I contemplate them, I suspect I understand them on a very shallow level only.

Paradoxes fascinate me. The beautitudes are probably my favourites. But this seeming contradiction comes from the same teacher who gave us the beautitudes. That gives credibility and authority. It demands a closer look.

Luke 21:12-19 NIV
"But before all this they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them. But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. All men will hate you because of me. But not a hair of your head will perish. By standing firm you will gain life."

Eugene Peterson's The Message, says it this way:
"But before any of this they'll arrest you, hunt you down and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat because you carry my name. You'll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I'll give you words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters.
"You'll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There's no telling who will hate you because of me. Even so, every detail of your body and soul--even the hairs of your head!--is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it--that's what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry, you'll be saved.

What do we do with Bible verses that don't suit feel-good, comfortable Christianity? Rewriting our Bibles is one possibility. That requires the assumption that we are the ultimate authority. If we are the ultimate authority, then it necessarily follows that Jesus isn't, so his words, however fascinating, don't really count.

Oh--BUT-- we call him The Son of God. Even in our feel-good Christianity we call him that. Doesn't that come with authority and credibility?

We don't have to look very far to know that in some countries of the world today, people are behind bars for the "crime" of believing that Jesus is in fact The Son of God, and for sharing that belief. If we look a little farther, we find fresh graves in some of those countries where people have been killed for that same "crime." How do the spouces and children of those people understand the second part of that scripture passage? "Not a hair of you head will perish." I'm pretty sure their understanding goes deeper than mine.

Jesus warned repeatedly that the cost of following him would be high. He repeatedly gave a stark and gruesome call. "Take up your cross and follow me." The cross, in his time and culture, was not a beautiful gold pendant. It was a bloody, cruel instrument of the most brutal death imaginable.

I own a 2007 edition of Foxe, Voices of the Martyrs, 33 A.D. to Today. A historical treasure, and a treasury of intense and costly belief, it's not my favourite reading. Yet it is filled with stories of people who dared to believe that death was not the end. They dared to believe Jesus' words could be taken literally. They dared to accept the high cost of his call, and trust that he would also make good on his promise--even after death--that not a hair would perish.

Maybe I need to get out of my comfort zone. Maybe my Christianity is a bit too much me-centered, and too little Christ-centered. That's the strange thing about paradoxes. They almost always challenge me, sometimes more than my comfort zone wants.

1 comment:

Peter Black said...

Brian, a sobering message, with reassuring promise. It seems you always call us to look more deeply to find greater clarity.
Thank you.

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