Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why Getting Christianity Right is Important to our Witness

Isaiah 58:9b-10 (NRSV): Getting Christianity Right
9b If you remove the yoke from among you,
   the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10 if you offer your food to the hungry
   and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
   and your gloom be like the noonday.
Getting Christianity wrong can be catastrophic. It is too easy to be a tyrannical judge, finger-pointer, condemning inquisitor, or modern-day Pharisee. Unfortunately, this is the negative type of “Christian” behavior on display throughout some popular Christian internet sites. Fr. Thomas Rosica, in his acceptance speech for the 2016 Distinguished Communicator Award, says:
Many of my non-Christian and non-believing friends have remarked to me that [Christians of all denominations] have turned the Internet into a cesspool of hatred, venom and vitriol, all in the name of defending the faith!
Some time ago, for instance, I posted a positive comment on another person’s vetted YouTube video. My comment, moreover, both agreed with the content of the video and advocated for a loving acceptance of all those who seek Christ in the church. The onslaught of internet “flaming” from staunch “Christians,” however, condemned my comment with pseudo-name calling and a denunciation of my view. The commenters advocated for a more “pure” church rather than an inclusive one. This is one of the many examples I have seen reflected in Christian internet groups. The online world can be brutal and, as Fr. Rosica states above, “a cesspool of hatred.”
But what about getting Christianity right? The good in the world, if we look for it, certainly outshines the bad. People all over the world bring positive witness to their faith wherever we turn. On Monday, for instance, I saw a student hand her friend money to buy lunch and say, “Don’t worry about it, just help someone else out when they need it.” Wednesday brought the example of a utility worker who was repairing a cable line in my house. He was not satisfied with the simple fix. Instead, his kindness and tenacious troubleshooting led him, through a much longer time than he expected to spend, to uncover a bigger problem that was the root of many issues we had. When I thanked him, he responded, “I’m glad I could help.” Although I cannot confirm that the student or utility worker were Christians, their sense of charity and goodwill were certainly not self created. And their goodness shines brightly in our world.
Relatedly, the above passage from Isaiah 58 reflects a time when God brought the Israelites back from the Babylonian exile. The Israelites expected a perfect world but instead found despair and struggle. And God, through the prophet, communicates how the Israelites must rectify the problem: Remove the yoke from the oppressed, stop pointing the finger at and condemning others, give to the needy, house the homeless, and feed the hungry (58:9-10). A false fast, God communicates, is worthless (58:4-5). When the Israelites offer lawful sacrifices accompanied by hate and oppressing their neighbor, these sacrifices are worthless and self condemning. God is love, and he desires “steadfast love and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6), offerings of love and self giving to others. After all, God gave us the ultimate offer of love through his son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
As we go out to serve others this week, let us shine the light of Christ upon the world with acts love and self giving (Matthew 5:16). By allowing the love of Jesus to live in and resonate through us, we can do Christianity right. We can give genuine love to others by doing our best to build up and not point the finger, to compliment and not condemn, to offer and not deny, and to welcome and not shut out.
I pray that each of us invite Jesus Christ into our hearts. And that through his light we become a beacon of hope for others. Amen.