Friday, April 15, 2011

A Devotional for the Thirty-Eighth Day of Lent

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord;
 and all the families of the nations
shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27-28)

Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

When the great crowd of the Jews learned that he was there, they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well . . . (John 12:9-10)

I’ve heard it said that Christianity is a club that exists for the benefit of its non-members.

The movie Of Gods and Men tells the true story of a group of Trappist monks who live and minister in a Muslim community in Algeria. The monks gather daily for prayer and worship, but the rest of their time is spent caring for the people of the community with prayer, medicine, counsel, and friendship.

Too often the Christian faith is viewed (both by outsiders and insiders) as a religion that one must get into, with the objective of getting each member into heaven one he or she dies. The above movie suggests a way of living out the way of Jesus that is very different from the former view, and is probably much more in line with Scripture. It is also offers the challenging idea that Christians could intentionally be among non-Christians (Muslims, no less!) and love, serve, and care for them, looking for the presence of God among them.

That God would be generous to those who are not technically the people of God has scandalized religious people for thousands of years. Yet our Scriptures point to God’s generous desire for the entire world; his longing that all nations would turn to him and worship. While the Bible also speaks of judgment, God’s heart for the world cannot be overlooked.

Even when the people of Israel are hauled off into exile, God tells them to settle in and live, but also to pray for the welfare of the non-Jewish nation that has brought them into exile. The words offered by Jeremiah must have puzzled the ancient Jewish people. Why pray for those who had taken them captive?

We see God’s generosity clearly in Jesus. His critics found his care for the poor, sick, and marginalized to be an offense against respectable religion because he preferred people over regulations. Jesus even reached out to the dead, including raising his friend Lazarus from the grave. Even that upset the religious leaders, so much so that they planned to do away with Lazarus. I suppose it didn’t occur to them that if Jesus could do it once he could do it again.

Still today religious people sometimes bristle at the idea of God’s generosity toward the world. It can be offensive to hear that your own certainties about being “in” while others are “out” might be wrong. Yet our Scriptures point us to being a people through whom all the families of the earth will find blessing; that we would pray for our apparent enemies and seek their welfare.

I think those Trappist monks had it right. Yet, in the end, even they paid a high price for their faithfulness. You’ll have to see the movie to know what I mean.

No comments: