Numbers 21:4-9 or Lamentations 3:22-33
1 Timothy 2:1-6 or James 1:22-27
St. John 16:23-30
Prayer on the Sunday of Rogate
O Lord God, heavenly Father! Through Your Son You have promised us that You would give us whatever we ask in Your Name. We beseech You: keep us steadfast in Your Word. Grant us Your Holy Spirit, Who rules and leads us according to Your will. Protect us from the devil’s kingdom, from false doctrine and false worship; protect us also against all misfortune in body and life. Give us Your blessing and peace, that we may experience Your gracious assistance in everything, and praise and glorify You as our gracious Father here in time and there in eternity, through Christ our Lord. Amen. Johannes Eichorn, 1511-1564
In that day you will ask in My Name.
It is impossible to mention in the intercessions of corporate worship all the persons who are committed to our care, or at any rate to do so in the way that is required of us. Every Christian has his own circle who have requested him to make intercession for them or for whom he knows he has been called upon especially to pray. These will be, first of all, those with whom he must live day by day.
This brings us to a point at which we hear the pulsing heart of all Christian life in unison. A Christian fellowship lives and exists by the intercession of its members for one another, or it collapses. I can no longer condemn or hate a brother for whom I pray, no matter how much trouble he causes me. His face, that hitherto may have been strange and intolerable to me, is transformed in intercession into the countenance of a brother for whom Christ died, the face of a forgiven sinner. This is a happy discovery for the Christian who begins to pray for others. There is no dislike, no personal tension, no estrangement that cannot be overcome by intercession as far as our side of it is concerned. Intercessory prayer is the purifying bath into which the individual and the fellowship must enter every day. The struggle we undergo with our brother in intercession may be a hard one, but that struggle has the promise that it will gain its goal.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (Harper San Francisco, 1954) p. 85-86.
- Prayer on Palm Sunday. Gebets-Schatz. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Lutheran Prayer-Treasury: Thursday Morning-Blessing (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Prayer on the Sunday of Cantate (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Apostolic Intercession Generates Authority? (kenwinton.wordpress.com)
Under Islamic law, Muslim men can marry Christian women, but Christian men can’t marry Muslim women. So when it happens, if the government doesn’t do it, often Muslims will carry out privately what they believe to be the will of Allah by punishing the Christians.
Ahram Arabic website reported that clashes broke out between protesters and security forces at Saint George’s Church in Beni Suef, with eight people injured and 11 arrested.
Angry Muslim protesters attempted to storm Saint George’s Church in Al-Wasata city in the governorate of Beni Suef on Friday.
Tensions erupted in the city recently after reports that a 21-year-old Muslim girl had disappeared, with her family accusing a Christian family in the city of forcing her to convert to Christianity and facilitating her travel to Turkey with a Coptic Christian man.
Local Islamist groups had given the Christian family a deadline to return the girl, which expired on Friday, reported Ahram’s Arabic language website.
Security forces fired teargas grenades at angry protesters, who attempted to storm the church following the Friday Muslim prayer, and arrested five people for throwing Molotov cocktails at the church.
Security vehicles and forces are reportedly surrounding churches in the city.
A number of traders have already closed their shops, particularly Christian jewelers who fear they will be targets.
The media keeps saying it was a good thing when the dictator Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. Even though a variety of “Islamists” have a great deal of power in Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood has taken power, we’re supposed to think this is “good.” Because it’s a movement toward democracy and self-determination, two things that are always “good”. Self-determination is supposed to result in “equality,” which is also “good.” All right-thinking Americans know these things.
We don’t hear too much in the media about the Coptic Christians who keep finding their businesses, houses, and churches on fire, or about the Christian girls who are abducted from their families in Egypt and “converted” to Islam so that they can be married to a Muslim man while under the age of majority. (If the Christian girls have converted to Islam and married a Muslim man, it is difficult for Christian parents to get their children back, lest they try to force the child to “renounce” the Islam they supposedly converted to. According to some readings of this verse from the Quran, the penalty for apostasizing from Islam is death:
Sura 4:89 (Muhsin Khan trans.)
They wish that you reject Faith, as they have rejected (Faith), and thus that you all become equal (like one another). So take not Auliya’ (protectors or friends) from them, till they emigrate in the Way of Allah (to Muhammad SAW). But if they turn back (from Islam), take (hold) of them and kill them wherever you find them, and take neither Auliya’ (protectors or friends) nor helpers from them.
Then the bombing happened in Boston. Everyone was told not to jump to conclusions. (What conclusion could anyone jump to? Apparently there was a lot of potential for jumping to conclusions, although the conclusion everyone was likely to jump to wasn’t stated. Nor was it discussed why people might be liable to jump to that conclusion. Nor was it discussed whether people had any good reasons to jump to this conclusion.)
After all the US Military Academy just issued a paper warning of the great threat posed by homegrown right wing terrorists, such as neo-nazis, the Klan, radical pro-lifers, and Focus on the Family. ( The Family Research Council is a lot of things, but I would never have guessed that Dr. James Dobson or his associates or admirers were likely to detonate pressure cooker bombs, or grab rusty Kalashnikovs and RPGs and hole up in caves in the Colorado Rockies, descending periodically to make sure that no women were wearing short skirts and no kids were listening to music that was not made by Michael W. Smith. If Dobson had been more like that I probably would have thought he was cooler when I was a teenager. I would have much more gladly attended a Promise Keepers event instead of being dragged there by my dad in the 90s if they had made us wear camo and spent the day teaching us guerilla tactics and how to make bombs while memorizing bible verses. Sadly, it was just a lot of middle aged fat white men who cried a lot. )
But apparently there was grave danger that, bunch of goose-stepping fascists-in-waiting that we are, Americans were going to leave church on Sunday morning and run through the streets throwing improvised explosives at anyone who might look Muslim, even though we didn’t find out that they were Muslim yet and of course could only be miserable bigots if the thought even crossed our minds.
Lo and behold, contrary to everyone’s wildest speculations, the Boston Marathon was bombed by professed Muslims, although we are supposed to quickly say, “of course, this really has nothing to do with Islam.” Right. Islam, after all, is far more peaceful and forgiving than any Christian since Jesus has managed to be. Only a bigot could even consider any other possibility.
Interestingly enough–you probably didn’t hear about the fact that the evangelical lobbying group “Family Research Council” had a gunman break in and start shooting people around a month ago. Well, they did.
Guess what? The shooter was not a Christian or a far right-extremist. He wasn’t even an Islamist!
He was a guy who found out that the Family Research Council was an anti-gay hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. In other words, you could say, “a liberal”. A right-thinking American. A man so inflamed with passion for the most victimized of all victims–homosexuals–that he decided to send about a dozen evangelicals to their graves with a Chik-Fil-A sandwich mashed in each intolerant face.
So this John Brown-like defender of holy equality went in to their offices shooting. His plan was to kill as many as possible and dishonor their corpses with the chicken sandwich preferred by 9 out of 1o potential Christian terrorists. (You remember, the owner of Chick-Fil-A said that he didn’t agree with homosexual “marriage” and Chik-Fil-A was boycotted in cool cities that probably didn’t have any Chik-Fil-A’s anyway. And right-thinking Americans all over facebook defriended facebook friends who posted anything pro-Chik-Fil-A. It was almost like deja vu all over again.. Salem Witch Trials, abolitionism, the temperance movement. Puritanism in all its incarnations in American history always is able to find the evil that stands in the way of a truly godly social order. And it is always in something definite and concrete that the puritans don’t mind getting rid of.)
Normally we would have to say that this guy who shot up the FRC was a right thinking American. He was on the right side of history. However the terrorist attack on the Family Research Council is slightly embarrassing.
Christians, however, should note the commonalities–
Whether you’re a Syrian Orthodox Bishop kidnapped by Chechen terrorists in the glorious democratic Syrian Revolution,
Or a an orthodox priest captured by Islamic terrorists who doesn’t even make the news in the west at all,
Or a born again Christian who thinks that the government should not treat the pledge of two men or women to have some kind of union (more or less open, sexually) as though it were the same as a man and a woman pledging to be joined for life, to have children (if God wills) and devote their lives to raising those children:
your life is less important than the dogmas the media is trying to impress on the masses. Your lives, Christians, are worth less than the importance of getting people to think a certain way. For the media and for the Zeitgeist and the devil who manipulates both, your life, like all human life, is really nothing. But ideas are everything, far more important than human beings. Human beings exist or don’t exist and few people notice. But if everyone believes something–or the vast majority of people do–that becomes reality, at least as far as people are concerned.
So, it’s so important that everyone believe that “equality” means what the media people now say that it means than that a few Christians are shot or killed as a result of the propaganda against them. “Equality” means that even the moral law written on peoples’ consciences by virtue of their humanity, and the moral law that is evident from nature to reason, is a force of oppression. Rather than being simply a fact, it is just one mythology that can be just as easily replaced by the myth of “equality.” Making this version of equality the new moral truth is so important that it justifies classifying the Family Research Council as a hate group along the lines of the Ku Klux Klan. (Unfortunately for the FRC, real hate groups tend to hide the identities of their leaders and headquarters, and they also tend to be dangerous. They really need to get in more bar brawls and practice stomping heads if they’re going to succeed with this “hate group” label.)
So, if a couple of Ned Flanders types get shot in the name of gay marriage…Well, we know that Ned is probably completely incapable of violence and may even be a nice guy. But the idea of “equality” is more important than the lives of a few non-violent, nice guys. Homosexual “marriage” (a fascinating example of “newspeak”) is more important than the lives of a few Flanderses, or Duggars, or Tebows, or Dobsons, or whatever(Well, what do you expect? Do you think the guy’s going to go on a killing spree at a nazi skinhead clubhouse?)
“Hate Group” is an interesting slur. It’s supposed to describe what the groups do, but it seems like it is actually a directive masquerading as a description.
“These are hate groups, which means both that they hate and/or that you are required to hate them or be hated yourself.” If you are labeled a “Hate group member” and are shot and wounded (or killed)–if a terrorist attack is carried out against you–the media will hardly even cover the story, much less demand that the Southern Poverty Law Center take any responsibility for the crime, as they would do in nearly any other similar situation with different players.
If you are a Christian in the middle east–even a bishop!–don’t expect the US media to pay any attention if you are arrested or killed. It’s unfortunate that this happened to you, but it would be far more unfortunate if Americans started to think that Chechen Islamic Terrorists are not unique to Boston, or if they started to think that maybe Islam itself has something to do with the regularity of attacks like these, or if they started to question whether the United States ought to be supporting insurrections that are fought by large numbers of guys whose end goal is not democracy but a theocratic Islamic empire.
Or if Americans started to wonder whether “equality” and “non-discrimination” are really, always, without exception “good”. Maybe it’s good if we discriminate against Salafis who want to see the entire world united under a black flag.
Maybe it’s good if we can recognize that Islam is not an Arab form of Methodism.
Or that homosexual unions are vastly different than marriage, not simply because of who one is attracted to, but because marriage is supposed to beget and support and nurture the next generation. Whereas fornication of the heterosexual or homosexual variety is completely unconcerned with the offspring which are (as far as I can tell) one of the main reasons why we have sexual organs in the first place. Indeed, one could easily think that that is the CHIEF purpose of sex organs and of sex itself, given that sex organs have a tendency to produce children a lot of times when the tendency is not impeded.
Maybe it’s good if we can discriminate between the Family Research Council and the Hammerskins of Northern Illinois.
Christians in America: don’t expect people to care about your human rights. Expect them to call you a hate group, come and shoot you, and then blame you for it. If people are too afraid to say in the media, “Look, Islam promotes violence and holy warfare in a way that Christianity doesn’t,” even when it’s obvious, don’t expect them to say anything (or even pay much attention) when you are killed or kidnapped or wounded. If people are too afraid or too blind to state the obvious in the media–ie Islam has a tendency toward violence not present in Christianity; sodomy resembles marriage the way an embalmed corpse resembles the living person–don’t expect them to care when Christians are unfairly treated or start to become the victims of violent attacks. Don’t be surprised when after this happens they blame you for it.
How can they do differently? If you’re terrified of being vilified for saying the wrong thing, what’s going to happen when physical safety is at stake?
Below is a news story about the Orthodox Bishops who have been kidnapped recently in Syria.
When we’re in the gulag, hopefully Christians in countries where they’re free to worship won’t forget about us, but at least will pray for us.
Prayer on the Sunday of Cantate (5th Sunday of Easter)
O Lord God, heavenly Father! Through Your Son You promised us the Holy Spirit, that He would convict the world concerning sin, righteousness and judgment. We beseech You, enlighten our hearts, so that we recognize our sins, and through faith in Christ attain the righteousness which endures forever. In every sorrow and distress, whenever the devil mounts his charge against us, let us seize hold of this comfort—that Christ is the Lord over the devil, death, and all things, and that He will in the end will deliver us from every evil and give us everlasting blessedness. Amen. Johannes Eichorn, 1511-1564
- Prayer on Palm Sunday. Gebets-Schatz. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Lutheran Prayer-Treasury: Thursday Morning-Blessing (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- A husband’s prayer after his wife has delivered a stillborn child (1752) (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- Prayer to overcome addictions (smoking, sex, pornography, alcohol, drugs or gambling) (bummyla.wordpress.com)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 16:16-22
April 21, 2013
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
What is Jesus talking about?
What does He mean “a little while”? Is two thousand years a “little while”? No one has seen Him in that time, except for crazy people and liars. And maybe a few saints.
Two thousand years is not a little while. And don’t tell me “A thousand years with the Lord is like a day.” I’m not the Lord. With me a day of pain can be like an eternity. Many of you are better than I am, but I know it’s true for you too.
Sometimes you just about give up trying to understand what Jesus says. When everything is going more or less okay, we can all live with not really understanding what He’s saying. But not when trouble comes. Then we want Jesus to tell us what’s going on, to speak clearly.
But He doesn’t seem to do that. The twelve disciples were anxious because they knew that Jesus was going away from them. They knew that bad things were coming. But what were they supposed to do? When would they see Him again? It seemed like Jesus wasn’t being very clear. This was not a good time to be unclear.
We have this experience too. When we’re little someone takes us to Sunday School. We learn that Jesus died for our sins on the cross, that our sins are forgiven, and that when He comes to judge the living and the dead He will give us eternal life.
Then we get a little older and we learn a whole lot more. And sometimes we are able to find enough comfort and strength in it to endure the pain that comes to us for a “little while.”
Much of it is just the daily pain of temptation to pretend like you’re not a Christian in order to avoid conflict. Kids and teenagers are tempted to do and say things they know are wrong in order to fit in, and to hide the fact that they believe in Jesus in order to avoid being made fun of or losing status.
Adults have a similar problem. Even if you are open about being a Christian it’s easy to just avoid interaction with people who aren’t Christians, to write them off instead of actively seeking their salvation and blessing.
But “a little while” comes to us in the callings God has given us in dramatic ways. Parents grieve as their children get into trouble. Children mourn and ask God “How long?” when parents neglect them or their homes are full of turmoil and fighting instead of safety.
As citizens we grieve when tragedies befall our country, as in this latest terror attack in Boston. We have sorrow when our rulers do not rule wisely and justly.
But the worst kind of pain is when tribulation comes to us and what we have learned about the Triune God does not appear to help, or it no longer makes sense.
What about when you or someone you love wants to change but can’t break free of an addiction to drugs or alcohol or something else? Where is Jesus then? Do we just tell a repentant addict, “You must not really be sorry for your sins–or else you must not really believe in Christ”?
Or the person whose life has been chaotic—who may have been abused, or who suffers from mental illness, and who come to church seeking salvation and help from Christ, but just can’t seem to get their act together?
When we find ourselves helpless before some sin, or constantly fighting to keep our heads above water?
This kind of anguish is the worst, because we begin to feel in our hearts that God has forsaken us, or that we never had Him in the first place. It is really the anguish and torment of hell breaking in on us.
If you have God and are certain that He loves you and is pleased with you, all other pain can be endured. With every other kind of suffering, God promises us that it will not last forever—it will come to an end.
But the loss of God is the loss of everything. If God is for us, who can be against us, says Paul. But if God is against us, who can be for us? Who can help us?
Thanks be to God! God is not against you.
“ a little while, and you will not see me; again a little while, and you will see me.”
The two different types of seeing.
“Your sorrow will turn into joy.”
Like water into wine. The very suffering that grieved you will become the cause of joy.
Jesus’ death on the cross, the disciples’ shameful denial—became the source of joy. Our hour of suffering and our failures and sins are turned into joy, because it is ur sins and helplessness that make us thirst for Christ. He thirsted on the cross for our salvation when we were not thirsty. As our hour comes and we have Christ taken away from our eyes (or the feelings of our hearts), we acquire a thirst for the same thing that Jesus thirsted for–our salvation.
When our hour of tribulation comes, it will last only a little while
This will happen not by our doing but because Christ promises it. We do not make it last a little while. It lasts a little while because Jesus promised it. The disciples did not comport themselves well during Jesus’ passion. They fell. It wasn’t because of this that the hour lasted a little while only, but because Christ brought it to an end according to His promise. They experienced the loss of Christ, despair, hell. Then Jesus returned to them and gave them joy.
“No one will take your joy from you.”
This is the story of our lives as Christians.
Through the cross Jesus overcame the world
After our suffering and struggle with sin Jesus gives us everlasting joy through the Gospel.
“It is done.”
Then even when we don’t understand, we begin to be unafraid because we know the ending and outcome. Christ is risen!
So shall His love give us above
From misery and death set free
All joy and full consolation. (483)
The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
- He is Our Meat and Drink Indeed. St. John 10:11-16. Misericordias Domini 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- “Whoever Does Not Receive the Kingdom of God Like a Child Will Never Enter it”. Sermon on Infant Baptism, Wed. after Judica 2013 (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
- The Gates of the City are Always Open – Sermon, Quasimodogeniti 2013. (deprofundisclamaviadtedomine.wordpress.com)
For freedom Christ has made you free. Therefore, stand firm and do not again become subject to a yoke of slavery. Galatians 5:1
When someone hears himself being admonished by these glorious words, with the salvation or damnation of his soul at stake, he becomes frightened and makes a commitment immediately, unless he is well armed and well grounded against this. For it cuts like a sharp razor and penetrates body and soul. Luther, The Sermon on the Mount. Luther’s Works: American Edition, vol. 21, pp. 252-253.
When I left home, I was 17. I moved as far as I could away from the Chicago suburbs. Then I came back and went to the University of Illinois for a year. Halfway through the second semester I decided that the reason I was so miserable was because I lived in Champaign, Illinois.*
*for further information on this you can begin your research here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_uVDoYdYS8w
So after no small amount of mental and emotional anguish for both me and my family, I dropped out of U of I and ended up back in Seattle.
Strangely enough, I did not end up happier in Seattle. In fact I was more depressed and miserable. I would get into why, but that would take a long time. The point of this story is not to tell you about how bad I used to be (or still am) but about the way the devil can destroy a person who has become convicted of sin. That is, if the gospel is not preached to the convicted person immediately.
The Lutheran Confessions talk about this. But it takes experience to understand what the Confessions are talking about. And even if you’ve experienced it, it takes the Holy Spirit to give wisdom to you so that you don’t hammer and crush people who are already convicted of their sins.
The Apology of the Augsburg Confession (On Justification, parts 36f.):
Lastly, it was very foolish for the adversaries to write that men who are under eternal wrath merit the remission of sins by an act of love, which springs from their mind since it is impossible to love God, unless the remission of sins be apprehended first by faith. For the heart, truly feeling that God is angry, cannot love God, unless He be shown to have been reconciled. As long as He terrifies us, and seems to cast us into eternal death, human nature is not able to take courage, so as to love 37] a wrathful, judging, and punishing God [poor, weak nature must lose heart and courage, and must tremble before such great wrath, which so fearfully terrifies and punishes, and can never feel a spark of love before God Himself comforts].
C.F.W. Walther, the “founding father” of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, quotes Luther to this effect in The Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel:
“The doctrine of the Law, then, was given for this purpose, that a person be given a sweat-bath of anguish and sorrow under the teaching of the Law. Otherwise men become sated and surfeited and lose all relish of the Gospel. If you meet with such people, pass them by; we are not preaching to them. This preaching is for the thirsty; to them the message is brought: ‘Let them come to Me; I will give them to drink and refresh them.’ ”
…“The Law cannot restore the soul, for it is a word that makes demands upon us and commands us to love God with our whole heart, etc., and our neighbor as ourselves. The Law condemns every person who fails to do this and pronounces this sentence upon him: Cursed is every one that doeth not all that is written in the book of the Law. Now, it is certain that no man on earth is doing this. Therefore, in due time the Law approaches the sinner, filling his soul with sadness and fear. If no respite is provided from its smiting, it continues its onslaught forcing the sinner into despair and eternal damnation. Therefore St. Paul says: By the law is only the knowledge of sin. Again: ‘The Law worketh nothing but wrath.’ The Gospel, however, is a blessed word; it makes no demands upon us, but only proclaims good tidings to us, namely, that God has given His only Son for us poor sinners to be our Shepherd, to seek us famished and scattered sheep, to give His life for our redemption from sin, everlasting death, and the power of the devil.”
After almost becoming a garbage-eater and swallowing the Holy Ghost, feathers and all, together with food out of a dumpster, I read Walther’s book, and that was what made sense of things for me and brought me back to the Lutheran Church. You can imagine my surprise and dismay upon going to seminary and hearing Walther ridiculed on a regular basis. But that’s another story.
No one is able to learn theology without experience, i.e. suffering. So it’s no surprise if aspiring theologians at seminary, having not been through enough of a sweat-bath yet, do not appreciate the importance of the distinction between law and gospel. That’s why I’ve managed to portray Jesus as a terror to already repentant sinners—even after having experienced the misery of seeing Christ as a “new Moses.”
Anyway, back to the garbage eaters.
Suffice it to say that during this period I was far from God and entangled in a lot of delusions and lies. And I was suffering. Towards the end of this I started to think that I was going to lose my mind permanently.
Somewhere in this time period—it would have been in the spring—March, April, early May, 1998, I was walking down Broadway in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. This is where I was attending Seattle Central Community College. I went there for a year so that I could get residency in Washington state and begin the following year at the University of Washington without having to pay out of state tuition.
That’s when I ran into this really nice guy who had a long beard and a bicycle. He started talking to me about God or Jesus. Now I was not particularly interested in talking about God or Jesus, and I let him know.
In fact, I was pretty annoyed that everywhere I went, it seemed like people always started talking to me about God or Jesus. Or they would act like I was a Christian. I remember I was in some class where we had to write a paper describing some painting of our choice in the Seattle Art Museum. For some reason, I decided to do mine on a painting of the flagellation of Christ. I was talking about it with some girl from the class, and she said something like, “You’re kind of obsessed with Jesus. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I mean, that’s just you.”
That really bugged me.
I didn’t want to talk about Jesus or God because, very simply, Jesus got in the way of me doing and being what I wanted. It wouldn’t have bothered me if Jesus had been just one god among many, or offered one more cool form of spirituality as an option among the many that were on sale in Seattle.
Seattle was not an atheist, secularist place. Hippies and dreadlocked rastafarians were everywhere. They were all “spiritual.” Neo-paganism and Wicca and shamanism were everywhere. Hare Krishnas were regularly on the sidewalk handing out literature. Scientologists stood and offered to give free personality tests. (I took one. They said I was too screwed up to be a scientologist.) Buddhist temples were not hard to find in Seattle (although the real Buddhists didn’t advertise as much.)
Then you had nearly every church on every corner with a rainbow flag out in front and a sign that said “Open and Affirming,” letting you know that the Christian churches by and large were just presenting themselves as one more option in the religious smorgasbord. They were cool with alternative sexualities and didn’t want to be associated with the patriarchal, exclusivist Christianity of the past.
Even Muslims had their niche. At the one place I went to get gyros all the time, they always had signs up decrying the abuse of the Palestinian people by the Israelis and advertising invitation to Islam classes. And even though Islam really is exclusive, it too was acceptable in Seattle, because it had the cache of being foreign. Or not being Christian.
But Jesus was not acceptable in Seattle, unless He was an icon or an image associated with another time and place.
If He was proclaimed as He is, someone who speaks to us today and makes claims upon us, He was laughed at at best. If you gave away that you actually believed in Him, you became a strange creature. Lots of people would hate you. Others would look at you with pity or disdain or strange fascination. This was in about 1997, 1998. At least among the people with whom I hung out.
But Seattle’s issues with Jesus were one thing. The issue was—I was hostile to Him. I wanted to be left alone. Jesus made claims on me. That was the real issue. I knew Jesus would not permit me to act as if He was one God among many. He could not be a deep religious thinker whom I, as an intellectual and a poet, chose to follow as someone whose teaching suited my taste.
It wasn’t just moral restrictions that were the issue. Primarily it was that Jesus claimed exclusive access to God. Salvation came only through Him. And that meant it wasn’t that I just wouldn’t be able to do this or do that if I was a Christian. If I was a Christian, everything would belong to Jesus. I would depend on Him completely and belong to Him; I couldn’t pretend like I didn’t believe in Him when He would have been an embarassment. If people hated Him, I would have to be hated. And that was most of the people I hung around with.
If people I didn’t like were Christians, I would have to love them and be associated with them. (And there were hardly any Christians I liked.)
It wasn’t any one particular thing that I didn’t want to give up. It was that I would have to give up everything; whatever Jesus wanted me to keep I would keep, whatever He wanted me to lose I would lose.
I didn’t want this and couldn’t tolerate it, and yet it still bothered my conscience somewhere that Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
So, as I was saying, this hippie-looking guy with a long beard and a bike, wearing what appeared to be an apron, was talking to me about Jesus. Somehow I gathered that he had left all of his possessions behind with a group of other people in order to follow Christ.
Now this, I thought, was cool and worthy of respect. At least if the guy was going to be a Christian, he wasn’t going to be a bourgeois, fat, materialistic, Republican “Christian.”
I told him something to the effect of, “Well, when I was a kid I was raised to believe in Jesus. But I don’t want to follow Christ. “ Maybe I said something like, “Maybe one day I’ll want to.” And then the man, who, I emphasize at this time seemed extremely genial and kind, said something like, “Well, there’s a lot of heartache found in pursuing the world.”
That stuck with me. I was living that. Consciously, it seemed like nothing was more unlikely than that I would ever be a Christian. .
Fast forward to the summer.
During the summer quarter I started taking classes at the University of Washington. During this same period I had undergone a radical change in direction that might be described as a “conversion experience.” [Not that a “conversion experience” is necessarily the same as actual conversion to Christ.] What this amounted to for me was that I quickly and drastically changed direction. I started reading the bible and praying zealously. I quit hanging around with my old friends, started going to church, and trying to engage with what I was studying and writing as a Christian.
It was a period of high anxiety. I was by no means stable and I had doubts about how this was going to turn out.
Key to all of this was the conviction that the reason I had been so depressed, so close to nervous collapse, and had such difficulty functioning, because I had been running my own life instead of doing God’s will.
How did I come to that conclusion? Because I was desperate.
I figured that the reason Christianity had not “worked” before was because I had not been fully committed. Now I tried on a daily basis to have a will completely committed and surrendered to Christ.
I still remembered—and believed—the doctrine I was taught as a kid—at least that part that we are justified by faith in Christ alone apart from works.
However, I reasoned that if I had wandered from Christ so far as to deny Him, that proved that the faith in Him that I thought I had as a child was not saving faith at all. Works don’t save, but they prove that faith is living. I also remembered and believed that from my childhood religious training.
Because I had experienced and lived the outright hostility toward Christians that was common among people I hung around, I thought about martyrdom. I wondered whether I would be able to be faithful to Christ even if I faced death for it. My constant question to myself was, “Am I ready to forsake everything for Christ?” If I could answer “yes,” to the question, then I could be assured that I had true faith in Christ. If there was hesitation, then it was to be feared that my faith was not real, saving faith.
Right around this time I was walking through Red Square on the UW campus. It was a bright sunny day. Suddenly I looked and saw the same bearded guy who had talked to me a few months earlier. Surely that was providential! I went over to him and said, “Hey, do you remember me? I became a Christian since we talked last.”
Then he stared at me and said with a completely different demeanor than he seemed to have had the first time we met: “Have you gotten involved with the worldly church?”
Just as Luther describes in the quote up at the top—those words cut me “like a razor.” I felt cold fear, like he had just uncovered the truth about me.