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 ~ Don’t Act Like a Christian “Should” ~

        Years ago an experiment was conducted at an American seminary. Aspiring ministers were given an assignment to give a sermon on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, which was to be recorded on tape for grading. A third of the students were told to come anytime on a certain day to the office for recording; a third were given a couple hours notice; the rest were called at their dorms to come immediately, being expected in a couple of minutes.

        A student was recruited to lay alongside of a walk-way bench, pretending unconsciousness, near the office entrance. Another student, part of the experiment, was assigned to intercept any others who stopped to aid the actor to keep them moving, explaining that the student on the ground was ok and just pretending as part of a university experiment. Interestingly, that student aide was not busy at all, most passersby just staring out of curiosity as they rushed to their next class or appointment.

        More interesting, of all the students who were ready to teach on the Good Samaritan, not even a third of them stopped to check on the student in apparent need. Of the ones who did, almost all of them were the ones who were told they could arrive at any time for their assigned recording.

        No doubt, the character and heart of each student was exposed in real life as it was in the Levite, temple priest and Samaritan traveler of Jesus’ story. This modern experiment, however, introduced a component not present in Jesus’ walk on earth: Our idolatry of the clock.

        I’m not telling you in the Western, technological nations anything you don’t know or don’t experience when I say our lives are driven and centered on the commodity of time. Time used to be a leisurely rhythm marked by sunrises and sunsets and the coming and going of seasons. This post-modern world has made it a literal commodity, underscored by our vocabulary: How much time do you have? Can you give me a minute of your time? (As though time was a possession or thing.) Time is money. (Probably the worst equation we invented, since money is also an idol we worship.)

        Even our worship services and prayer meetings are carefully and precisely timed. Violate or ignore that time frame and people immediately become edgy, upset, distracted, because an idol more revered and honored then divine devotion and communion is being disrespected.

        Many Weekly Reflections are devoted to the journey of sanctification. So while we have said a lot on what sanctification entails, we can sum it up succinctly by saying sanctification is getting rid or shedding from the surface down to the deep recesses of our beings anything that gets in our way of communion with God, including our politics, philosophies, wealth, ideas, ambitions, faults, and enslavement to time as we now measure it. This is a difficult and painful task. That is why sanctification is so often coupled with suffering and endurance.

        Thus we approach sanctification with trepidation and dread, and keep putting it off until later. It is sacrificial. Though we embrace Christ’s love and gift of redemption, we fearfully shy away from participating in His sacrifice and suffering. He is our Savior and we celebrate that with feasts and praise songs. In comparison, songs and joyful liturgies about His Lordship are fewer or, at least, less popular, because our ego-centered ideologies, ambitions, pursuits, and our time have, in practice, become lord. We forget Jesus emphasized that we just cannot serve two masters.

        There are some people who fervently and lovingly pursue sanctification because the outcome is espousal or communion with God, and what personal sacrifice or offering is not worth that? These people are written about, hailed and honored, often becoming legendary. They are inspirations for the rest of us. But this is rather sad. Permit me the boldness of suggesting this may even “grieve the Holy Spirit,” because Christ has summoned all of us to sanctification.

        Christian means “Christlike” which means being like God. It is an ego-based or false humility to deny this outcome for ourselves because it violates God’s will for us and the very purpose of His Incarnation and gift of His Holy Spirit. The first commandments of the Decalog are about not placing any gods above Yahweh and not using His holy name in vain. Not taking Yahweh’s name in vain to mean we must not say “God” in irreverent language is the most shallow understanding. When we are lukewarm in our divine devotion, when we can’t quite squeeze prayer in our busy schedules, when we rest in the promise of heavenly salvation but resist the rigors of sanctification and Christ’s total Lordship in our lives, when we wear the cross on a nice chain around our necks or hang it on the wall but don’t carry it on our backs, we so sadly and cruelly relegate the name of God and His redemptive sacrifice to the trash heap of vanity.

        Not taking God’s name in vain and centering our lives around other gods also means not acting as a Christian should. I use “acting” in the sense of deliberately putting on a performance or mask. The actors in ancient Greek theatres held crafted masks in front of their faces to depict the characters they “should” be for the purposes of the play.

        We have all witnessed even prayer that is more a performance than a divine communion. Many people confide that even in private prayer, they tend to perform before God in their Sunday best, with holding total honesty, anger, despair, lack of faith or utterance of shameful sins before the God who already knows what they are feeling and thinking before they hunt for the “right” words. God sees through all masks, worn in public or private. Masks are another commodity to be consumed in the fire of sanctification.

        One refreshing characteristic about those relatively few examples of authentic Christlike people who are inspirations to the Church is their spiritual vulnerability and transparency. They don’t behave like Christians “should” or put on a mask of Christlikeness. Since they are Christlike, how ever they behave is how they “should.” Or rather, there is no “should” in their minds. They don’t think, “I better watch  what I wear and say and do because I should be an example for Christ.” They don’t think that, because it is not authentic, and authentic is what they are without thinking.

        Christlikeness, however, is not compatible to Western theological and rational thinking. The behavior of these authentically-to-the-core spiritual people is often regarded as weird and cannot be understood by the world apart from an understanding of the Gospel. They are either persecuted or tolerated as eccentrics or fanatics. A recall of just a couple of the many biblical examples are Noah building a boat far from any water and taking about 100 years to do it, and King David whirling in ecstasy sans under-garments next to the Ark of the Covenant. John the Baptizer was a shocking sight to behold as the chosen herald of the Christ (as was his diet) and Jesus, as a famous rabbi, certainly did not act like a rabbi should.

        St. Paul wrote about being “a fool for Christ” and there was foolishness in his profound passion. Much more so than in the West, Eastern Orthodox Christianity possesses a wonderful “Theology of Foolishness.” After the overthrow of Czar Nicholas II and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 in Russia, Christians there experienced almost a century of genocide and repression not encountered since the Roman Empire under Diocletian in the 4th century. Yet the love of the Russia people for “holy fools” remaines embedded in their cultural and spiritual fabric. The language even has a specific word for holy fools or fools for Christ: yurodivi.

        Czar Theodore was regarded by Western nations as inept and stupid, a devotedly simple spiritual man. Playful and prayerful, and adored by the Russians, his rule stopped the cruelty and bloodshed  of the previous czar, his father, Ivan the Terrible. Tolstoy’s memoirs speak of Grisha and Dostoevsky included Lizaveta in his “Crime and Punishment.” There is the famous St. Basil of Moscow, St. Sergeus of Lavra and  St. Xenia of St. Petersburg. These yurodivis were obssessed with Christ, insanely in love with the Trinity, outlandishly casting away all that isn’t of God into the consuming fire of His love. (You can easily find details of the lives of these and others on the Internet.)

        “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:27-30, NIV). Blessed are we who are foolish, weak and lowly for Christ, for He is our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Acting the part of a Christian is giving the world a plastic Jesus. There is no righteousness, holiness or redemption in that. Risking looking like a foolish fanatic insanely in love with God is denying the self, which is what Christ said we must do.

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
Spiritual Resource Services

Weekly Reflections © August 17, 2002

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