Tag Archives: baptism

Is Christ at Your Table?

In a recent conversation with a pastor recently returned from a mission project in Hungary, I asked him how he was able to begin conversations with people in a secular society. I have observed the rising pressure of secular thinking in the US culture and the way secular pressure is reshaping the US government, even to the redefining of familiar words in unfamiliar terms. I thought there might be something for American Christians to learn from a person who had been a missionary in a completely secular nation.

Hungary has been a nation for a long time. It has had its ups and downs in the power grid, but since it exited the hegemony of the Soviet Union it has, at the least, remained independent. The legacy of the years as a Soviet satellite is a nation where church buildings are museums. This state of affairs is actually not much different from many western European nations. In those countries, a state church receives money from the national government, but nobody takes the church all that seriously. Church attendance is not common, and the statistics decline with the age of the group surveyed.

What, then, did a missionary to Hungary do in order to share Christ with people who believe they have grown past all that religious voodoo?

This missionary spent some time observing before he did anything. While he observed, he got acquainted. He met people on the street, in stores, in churches, at the fence that marked the boundary between his yard and his neighbor’s yard.

He asked a lot of questions:

  • ·         Do you have children?
  • ·         What do you think of the price of coffee these days?
  • ·         Where is the best place to get new tires for my car?
  • ·         Have you eaten at the new restaurant downtown?

Then he listened.

These questions don’t sound very spiritual, but they do sound very human. His theory is that after we get right with God by putting our faith in Christ, we need to get serious about loving our neighbors. He believes that Christians try to share Christ before they have shared themselves, and most people simply aren’t ready for the good news until they have learned to trust the messenger.

After this missionary pastor made some casual friends, he invited those friends to dinner. He says that if people are enjoying a good meal together, laughing about the antics of some relative last Christmas, they are predisposed to share more of themselves and to receive more of other people. This missionary looks to the gospel for this model, finding many stories of Jesus in social settings, irritating the Pharisees who expected a religious man to act religious. The missionary told me that he had no success at all when he tried to buttonhole someone and ask “Do you know Jesus?” but people who had eaten at his table would sometimes come back and ask, “What did you mean yesterday when you said that Jesus died for murderers? I thought Christians had to be good people.”

The missionary has a lot of philosophical and theological underpinnings for this approach. Maybe he will write a book someday about the three tables: the table at my house, the Communion table at my church, the table of the Lamb’s Wedding Supper in heaven at the end of time. For now, I am trying to absorb what he said about sharing himself first.

Do you share yourself with people who need Christ? Do those people trust you to love them for themselves, not for a conversion statistic? In your heart of hearts, do you truly love people for Jesus’ sake? Will you continue to give of yourself as generously if they never respond to the good news of Christ? Are you making friends, or are you cultivating prospects which you will drop when they prove not to be productive? Jesus said that we should be salt and light. Are we doing that job?

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Why Revere Old Temple Stones?

Sunday’s readings: Daniel 12:1-3     Psalm 16     Hebrews 10:11-25     Mark 13:1-8

 

The birth of Judaism and the nation of Israel took place at Mt. Sinai under the leadership of Moses. The instructions given there for the design of the tabernacle dictated the design of the temple in Jerusalem under Solomon. The temple was the pinnacle of Jewish teaching about God. The temple was to be the place where God resided on earth.

The old way to worship God required a man to go into the temple and give the priest an animal to sacrifice on an altar in that building. The old way to be forgiven required that the high priest first cleanse himself and then in the Holy of Holies, behind the curtain, in the secret holy place, offer the blood of sacrifice for all the people. As the disciples in today’s gospel reading were leaving the temple in Jerusalem, the designated location of God’s presence on earth,  they took notice of the magnificent architecture. Jesus must have shocked them when he dismissed their exuberance by saying, “Junk. All these rocks will one day be nothing but a heap of rubble.”

Jesus was reinforcing a message he had already given his disciples when he rampaged through the temple throwing money and pots and tables into piles of junk. (Mark 11:15-19) Jesus had shouted on that day, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it into a bandit hideout.” (translation courtesy of Dr. Rick Carlson) He completely disassembled the process by which people were to encounter God who supposedly resided in this building. Not only that, but Jesus made a mockery of the people involved. He made a shambles of the process of sacrifice, and his message that God was finished with the temple would become very clear shortly thereafter when, as Jesus died on the cross, God ripped apart the curtain of the Holy of Holies from the top to the bottom. The days of that temple on Mount Zion in Jerusalem were numbered.

Did that mean that God did not want the nations to have a place to pray? Had God decided that it was hopeless to forgive humans, because they sinned continually and never stopped?

The fact that Jesus predicted the demise of the temple most emphatically did not mean that God had given up on humanity. Quite the contrary. The presence of Jesus, God in the flesh, in that place at that time meant that God had absolutely not given up on people. He had given up on the temple, but he did that, because the religious leaders had perverted its purpose to their own use. Instead of worshiping God in the temple, they were all worshiping themselves. Jesus, God in the flesh, stood in front of the temple and predicted its downfall, because the people who should have been bringing others closer to God were so busy building up themselves that they had become their own God.

Jesus, God in the flesh, had already said that if anyone wanted to follow him, that person had to deny self. Clearly the religious leaders were not denying self. People who would deny self and follow Christ would not engage rigged transactions that only enriched fraudulent men engaged in fraudulent behavior. When Jesus pronounced the doom ahead of the temple, he was already looking toward that day when he himself would make the only sacrifice that ever mattered and would render the temple of stone obsolete.

What would replace it? Peter gives us the answer in today’s reading. Instead of a temple made of rocks piled up on a mountain, God’s temple would be made of living stones. Every person who received the Holy Spirit in baptism would become a part of that temple, denying self, serving Christ, being a little Christ to a world that needed forgiveness for sin and communion with God. God’s temple would no longer be confined to a place people had to travel to. God’s temple would be walking around among the people. Jesus’ message when he blew into Galilee in the first chapter of Mark was, “The kingdom of God has come near.” When he predicted the end of the temple of stones in Jerusalem, he was foretelling how the living temples, the living stones, the little Christs who would follow him, would bring the kingdom of God near to every person they met.

If you think that just getting to church on Sunday morning is fulfilling your obligation to Christ for what he has done for you, think again. Jesus did not die in order that you could go sit on a board in a building of stones. Jesus died for you in order that you could become a living stone and deliver his love to a world starving for him. You don’t want to be one of those people in Revelation described as so fearful of the real, living God that they called stones to fall on them. You don’t want to be someone who would rather be dead under a pile of stones than be a living stone in the temple of God’s presence on earth.