Wednesday, December 4, 2013

St. Nick and You

On December 6 we will remember Nicholas, 4th century bishop of Myra, known for his compassionate generosity to the poor and needy.  Thinking about it reminded me of a recent conversation with a gathering of local clergy where talk quickly turned to examples of people who have been icons of the Christian life.

There is nothing wrong with talking about those examples.  They are all worthy of remembering, but it occurred to me that we almost always use examples of the godly lives of others to deflect useful conversation about how, or whether, we, you and I, are agents in our ordinary daily lives of God’s redeeming and reconciling work through Jesus Christ. 

Our clergy group tried to wrestle with that, but, for the most part, it ended up being a recitation of good deeds that could just as well been attributed to any local service club or well intentioned atheist doing what they can for the good of the community.  None of that is bad.  It’s all good.  But where is the good news that the kingdom of God has come near or is at hand?  How do we, as Christians, go about doing our good deeds with the light of Christ shining through?  It’s a hard question.  

For one thing, many of us have been beat about the head and shoulders by Christian do gooders demanding that we acknowledge Jesus as our personal lord and savior as they go about their work.  The kingdom of God seems strangely distant when that happens.  So we go about our work with no outward sign that it might be infused with God’s grace because we don’t want to be accused of bludgeoning someone with a bible.


Perhaps you have some thoughts on the matter, and I’d like to read them.  What I don’t want is your story of someone else’s good work.  What do you do in your daily life that others would recognize as something of the kingdom of God becoming present in their lives?  Would they ever connect that with your being a Christian?

1 comment:

Bill Ellis said...

Steve,

Here is my thought. I will start from the extreme edge of this question. I believe we need to get over our vaguely supercessionist ideas that somehow Christianity has made a unique contribution to the overall quotient of goodness in the world, and therefore look for ways we are different in this regard. We didn’t make a unique contribution to doing good, and we haven’t, and we won’t supplant or excel other groups, religious or otherwise in doing good things. People do wonderful things for each other from a variety of different motives and perspectives, and that, as you note, is good, not bad. Thus, there is nothing uniquely Christian about doing good, there never has been and doesn’t need to be.

Where the light of Christ shines through a rather dark world is in our proclamation that God has broken down all the barriers by which people divide themselves one from another. To quote Paul’s very partial list, Jew/Greek, Slave/free, male/female. History has helped us notice that the partial list also includes, black/white, gay/straight, rich/poor. Every way in which we divide ourselves up from others in order to marginalize others, in order to dominate, suppress, oppress, dehumanize, denigrate, (I am being ridiculous here) or even distinguish ourselves as somehow special, was shown to have already been destroyed by what God did in Jesus. The Gospel, the “secret hidden for the ages which is now revealed” is that the “Gentiles are fellow heirs with the Jews of the promise of God.” (I paraphrase here.) This to me is an important distinction here. I don’t believe God decided to include the whole world in the plan of salvation and then sent Jesus. I believe Jesus was the sign that God had never intended anything else than the redemption of all creation, and that Jesus was the sign that God had never had such an intention to divide the world and continues to reject any such efforts. God always has, always did, include the whole world in the plan of salvation, and the fact that people, as individuals and societies, continue to divide for the purpose of excluding, or showing superiority or difference from other groups seeking to make the world better demonstrates that we all still live as unredeemed people even as God has redeemed us. The paradox of God in Christ must never become the contradiction of Christians siding with God over against the world. History has amply demonstrated that this just isn’t so.

So, here is my final shot, and then let the cross fire begin. To the extent that we look for a way to make Christian doing of good things unique, we are actually living as an unredeemed people, because we are trying to make the giving we do uniquely revelatory of God. It isn’t, folks, and in Christ God tells us it isn’t. We not only don’t need to, we mustn’t try to bracket off the good we do from the good others do; that is simply a further way of dividing us from the world. Stick to our knitting, that is what I say. Stick to the good news God reveals in Christ that every dividing line we create never has, and never will exist in the economy of God. Then sit back and enjoy as deeply and fully as you possibly can all the good you see happening in this world from whatever source.

Bill Ellis