Living as saints in a hostile world
Having just completed our community celebrations of All Saints and All Souls Days gives us the opportunity to ponder not only the lives of those who have preceded us and are now in the arms of our Lord but to also consider our personal circumstances as they relate to the world around us.
Although I am sure that every generation has felt so, certainly the times in which we find ourselves as Christians are challenging in the extreme. Paul’s exhortations to be in this world but not of this world (“If you have really died with Christ to the principles of this world, why do you still let rules dictate to you, as though you were still living in the world?”) pose a particularly difficult message when we consider the “busy-ness” of our lives and the constant drum beat of the worldly influences that find their way to our doorsteps. The challenges of dealing with our daily secular circumstances while maintaining a Christ like life are significant.
It is not enough to possess an internal, private devotion to Jesus. There must be external actions that accompany our faith. James tells us “Fool! Would you not like to know that faith without deeds is useless?” and “You see now that it is by deeds, and not only by believing, that someone is justified.”
This is particularly challenging in this “Me First” world where the unbridled pursuit of wealth and material goods seems to be the only measure by which we are judged by the world. If my bank account does not increase on a monthly basis, the world would have me be a failure.
Jesus Himself sets the bar very high for us as it relates to our daily lives in the Gospel of Matthew when he explains that to the extent we feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, visit the imprisoned and the sick, and make the stranger welcome we do so not only for the person to whom the kindness is extended but “in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.” Failure to act accordingly carries with it the gravest of consequences – “they will go away to eternal punishment”. Failing to respond to the needs of our brothers and sisters is failing to respond to Jesus Himself. This must be a priority in our lives.
If we claim to be Jesus’ disciples, but do not act out of love, Paul tells us, “Though I command languages both human and angelic -- if I speak without love, I am no more than a gong booming or a cymbal clashing”. Love of neighbor as self is not a suggestion but one of two great commandments that we must follow.
Jesus’ message is quite clear. Failure to act, failure to carry His message by our actions will not be tolerated. Resisting the temptations of the world in our personal lives is critically important, but it is not the only thing and may not even be the most important thing. In His ministry on this earth Jesus spent time and was truly compassionate to people who were some of the most grievous of sinners in their personal lives. He saved his anger for those who mistreated their fellow man and ignored the plight of those who were less fortunate than themselves. Jesus message of radical compassion, love, and forgiveness is the core of the gospel. Simply acknowledging Jesus and failing to live as He did rings hollow in the extreme.
None of us gets this totally right, least of all me. We need to be constantly striving for the things of Jesus. During this special season I ponder the lives of those who have gone before me and I am encouraged by the examples they have left.
I can remember my parents performing little acts of random kindness that were never acknowledged in this world, but will certainly be recognized in the next as evidence of their faith.
This world would have us constantly struggling for the things that do not last. Our Savior offers us the only thing that does last, His eternal reward. Do we dare risk that for a handful of baubles and trinkets, which are really all this world can offer us?
God bless you, with love.