Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Flickers of light in a dark world . . .

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are beneficial. -- As I shared with the second service this weekend, I was reminded of an early teaching my freshman year. We were reading something in Aristotle (probably his Politics), when one of my classmates commented to our professor that Aristotle was just like Hobbes or Locke (whichever it was, they go together in my mind like the Captain & Tenille or Starsky & Hutch or Abbott & Costello). Dr. Arieti, in all seriousness and solemnity, agreed with the young student. "Aristotle," he said, "was an anticipatory echo of (whichever political philosopher of whom the student had spoken)." Anticipatory echo? "Yes, an anticipatory echo is when someone has a great idea, but someone uses it much earlier in history. For example, this philosopher had a great idea, and Aristotle simply used that idea of his 2000 prior to his life."

Why bring up the anticipatory echo? As I was searching for a a pastoral need this week, I was reading commentators. I was somewhat bemused at the number of commentators who seemed to grasp the political savviness of Paul vis-a-vi more modern political philosophers, such as the famous Hobbes and Locke. "All things are lawful for me" seems to have been a slogan of the people in the church at Corinth. Maybe it was a bumper sticker that they placed next to their magnetic fish signs on their ox carts. Apparently, they had grasped an idea that they were no longer slaves to the law, but their understanding, as is ours, was simply distorted. Who can say? After all, this is the church that did not condemn a leader for sleeping with his father's wife! But many of the commentators seemed amazed that Paul could grasp such an understanding without the foundations of modern political thought.

Yet, Paul picks up on that slogan and, in an amazing twist, reminds them of their obligation and of what ought to be their governing ethic. Paul recognizes that we cannot all purportedly be absolutely free. If everyone were free, none would be, because everyone would be threatened by the freedoms of others. Put another way, Paul had a wonderful grasp of the Incredibles. Near the end, when the villain thinks he has done away with Mr. Incredible, Elastigirl and the kids, he tells them that he will sell his gizmos to all the regular people so that they can be super heroes, too. "And once everyone is super," he thunders, "then no one will be." Paul reminds his readers at Corinth and us of this eternal truth later espoused by Disney Pictures (another anticipatory echo). If everyone is free, then none really are, at least not in the sense that the world understands it.

Paul substitutes freedom with beneficial, and look at the resulting switch. Can we do anything without fear, if we are Christians? Absolutely, Paul would say. Christ has died for all sins, so in a sense, we can do anything. But, as Paul reminds us in this section, we have a Lord. The disciples of Christ were bought with a price. They (and we) owe their (our) freedom to Jesus, who purchased their (our) salvation. Consequently, their (our) lives ought to reflect the thankfulness of a purchased salvation by imitating the life of our Savior.

The past few weeks, we have been looking at the ideas of manifestation (Epiphany) and baptism. We have heard teachings such as "dying to self," and "raised to new life in Christ." If those words are not manifested in our lives, as Christians, then they are just empty words. They lack any real power. They lack any evidence of transformative grace in our life. You and I are called to lives that reflect Christ's work for us. We are called, by virtue of our baptism and through the gift of the Holy Spirit, to live a life that glorifies Christ. And through that resulting lives, others will be drawn to His saving embrace. We are free to do what we want, but we are called to want what our Lord Jesus wants. We are called, as Christians, to examine whether our action are beneficial to others. Does what I am doing usher in the Kingdom for another life? -- that, according to Paul, ought to be our governing ethic. That, according to Paul, ought to be the question we ask of ourself in whatever we do.

Until we lay down the entirety our lives before the throne of God, we have no real freedom. We each suffer for wants and perceived needs. How many of us wander whether we can pay our bills, as if God does not understand our needs and does not meet His promises? How many of us are tempted to take (steal) a few things from work to supplement what we think we deserve in pay? How many of us, when confronted by a family member who loves to fight with us, join in the fight by picking at them, too? How many of us are given eyes to see a need or ears to hear of a need, and assume that someone else will meet it? How many of us understand before we act that what we are going to do is wrong, and then we do it anyway? The list can go on and on because, as Paul understood quite well, all of humanity is quite selfish. We are too much in the world. We are, far too often, of the world.

Yet, Jesus came that we might be truly free. He came and lived, and died, and rose that we might have true freedom, eternal freedom. And it is only through an imitation of His life that we can begin to be transformed. Is it easy? Absolutely not. Is it possible? With God, all things are possible? Even you and I can be changed. A penitent heart, a willing spirit, that is all He demands of us. Even you and I can be transformed into the faintest shadow, the barest imitation of our Lord. And yet, in a world so full of darkness, in a world so full of selfishness, even the merest flicker of light can illumine others. You were bought with a price. Show forth God's glory, then, in how you live your bodily life.


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