23 November 2005

Swearing off Jesus...

34th Week OT: Luke 21.12-19
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Albert the Great Priory, Irving, TX

If there is a temptation that we must resist now it is the temptation to witness to a gospel that Jesus did not teach. There are lots of gospels floating around out there, a whole pantheon of alien gospels waiting to be proclaimed and preached. We are told that there are hidden gospels waiting to be found, secret gospels waiting to be exposed, encoded gospels waiting to be de-coded, and even suppressed gospels waiting to be liberated from oppressive, phallocentric hierarchies! There are Gospels of Wealth and Health, Gospels of Socio-Political Liberation, Gospels of Self-Actualization, Gospels of Process, Gospels of Earth…there are as many gospels as there are itchy ears to scratch and wandering eyes to entertain.

The temptation for us is to see this circus of competing gospels as evidence of an urbane tolerance for difference, an elegant celebration of diversity in a marketplace of competing spiritualities. We are tempted to swear off Jesus and his gospel for the promise of respectability in a culture that would rather see us just go away. Or, failing that, throw us to the machines of pop religious culture and watch us be eaten alive and slowly digested in the corrosive juices of undifferentiated “religious expression” or “theological plurality.”

But what are the chances that we will be persecuted for preaching a gospel of diversity? Or a gospel of radical inclusion? Or a gospel of openness, acceptance, and affirmation? What are the chances? Zero. Because we are promised that we will be persecuted for preaching the gospel that Jesus preached. Did he preach diversity, radical inclusion, openness, acceptance, and affirmation? Yes. But he preached a gospel of conversion first, that is, he preached that we must first acknowledge our sinfulness in the full light of the gospel truth, make a decision to turn from that sin, come to the Father in his name, receive the forgiveness that we receive in His mercy, and then live lives of holiness as apostolic witnesses.

To make this arduous religious work possible, he died for us. All of us. He took on flesh, suffered, died, and rose from the dead—for us. All of us. He died so that anyone—anyone!—who comes to the Father in his name, repentant of sin, will be saved. That’s the radical inclusiveness of the gospel—the openness of his sacrifice to every tribe, language, people, and nation; the affirmation that every human soul is salvageable, loved; the acceptance of anyone who comes in his name, claiming the Father’s mercy.

As preachers of the gospel of Jesus, we must resist the temptation to sell-out, to give ourselves easily to the machines of pop culture and narcissistic religion. I hesitate to say that persecution is a sign of faithfulness, but you have to ask: if we are loved and celebrated by a culture of death, a culture that glorifies in its laws and customs rebellion against God, then what does that say about our witness? We do not need to drop into some sort of primitive Us vs. Them way of thinking about our culture and faith. But it must be clear to us that the gospel Jesus preached and the gospel that we are vowed to preach unsettles the secular establishment and makes those who would see us co-opted a bit edgy. Jesus says of his gospel and our witness to it: “It will lead to your giving testimony.” What will we testify to? What have we experienced in Christ that must be spoken?

The Good News is that we will not be alone to testify. Jesus says, “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

Thanks be to God for faithful hearts!
Thanks be to God for strong minds!
And Thanks be to God for tongues of fire!

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