Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Guest Post: In Christ?

My earlier posts on the controversy surroundings sermons by Sen. Obama's former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has resulted in several comments—both on this blog and to me privately. One frequent commentator here, Chrys, work an extensive response that I thought worthy of inclusion on the front page. The title, "In Christ?" is my editorial addition.

As always, your comments and questions are not only welcomed, but encouraged.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory


In light of recent events, many have described the often harsh judgments of preachers on both the left and right as prophetic. I am not so sure. They do not appear to resemble the spirit or character of Christ – and we know that however their words may appear to us, the prophets were moved by that same spirit. If anything, the proclamations of most popular preachers are of a piece with the imprecations of the "sons of Boanerges":

When His disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But He turned and rebuked them, and said, "You do not know what kind of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them." And they went on to another village. (Luke 9:54-56)

That we so readily support or at least defend preachers who say such things says a great deal about us. That we can not see the difference between their proclamations – which often express our own sentiments – and those of Christ says even more. I believe that the saints, knowing the Spirit of Christ, would know the difference. I suspect that this is because they know the words of Christ "from the inside." That is, the saints can say "amen" to the words of Christ – above all in their lives. I have begun to realize that perhaps we really do not understand His words as we claim we do. More often than not, it seems that we seek to use them for our own ends or try to tame them by turning them into interesting concepts rather than simply following them. If this is so, it must call into question whether we can really call ourselves Christian.

Consider: Jesus said "Blessed are the poor . . . those who mourn . . . the meek . . . those who hunger and thirst . . . the persecuted." The apostles and saints agreed with His words and showed it in their lives. They honored His words by following them. By contrast, I cannot really claim to understand what He means. In moments of honest reflection, I recognize that I do not really agree with them in principle and am not even close to following them in practice. For example, I view poverty of every kind is an unmitigated evil. Mourning, persecution, hunger, thirst – these are to be resolved as soon as possible. Problems, yes - evils even. Blessings? No. Though I have heard interpretations that seem to make sense, the muted notes that these trumpets sound could not summon me to enjoin the battle in even my most amenable moments. Supposing they could, I am far from clear how I would put these revised notions into practice. Most often, the bright and untamed words of Christ are reduced to the shadow of a preschool maxim: be nice, don't hit, be patient. It leads me to wonder, then, if the preachers peddling this weak brew understand the transforming words of Christ any better than I do.

If we do not follow the way of Christ and cannot understand the words of Christ, let us acknowledge that His way and His words – and the Spirit that informs them – remain largely alien to us. You may disagree with this assessment and claim to understand what He meant. To me, this is more frightening still (if that is possible). If we dare to say that we do indeed understand them, then we have left ourselves no excuse and must be prepared to explain why we have not begun to follow them.

Our behavior would seem to leave us only two options – we either do not agree with what Jesus said or we do not understand what He said. Either way, we need to be honest about where we stand: we are not following Him and we do not understand what He meant because we do not yet share His mind nor His Spirit. Like James and John, we "do not even know what kind of spirit (we) are of." This is certainly cause for fear. At the same time it may be cause for hope, for the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom which may, if we follow it, lead to life.