Tuesday, August 9, 2011

I Care

As an advocate for positive language, respectful discourse and compassion for others, it is certainly difficult to find any redeeming value in all that is going on lately.   Cynicism of politics, government and religion is rampant and understandably so, but I refuse to give up on humanity because, I am a Jesus Follower and I care.   

As a good friend pointed out, we need only look to the prophet Micah (6: 8 NIV) for words of consolation and restoration.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
   And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy 
and to walk humbly with your God.

In the days following all the partisan bickering in Washington, the unfavorable reaction of global investors and the populace’s opinion that politicians have become totally inept and ineffective to essentially govern, I heard the term ‘reset’.   The term was used to describe a possible coming societal shift and an ever deepening divide among people.  I also had a friend of mine say, “None of it matters; no ones opinion matters. Who cares?” I care.  

I care that since 2008 the world’s been suffering effects of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  Now, almost 4 years on, economies worldwide are on very shaky ground.  Some European nations are dealing with the inability to pay their debts and America inches closer by the day to becoming known as the United States of Austerity.  Our financial house is, without a doubt, in desperate need of attention, but as any train engineer will tell you, you can’t suddenly brake a speeding train without many cars derailing from the tracks.

I care that since the end of World War II the western world has prospered, but we seem to be taking it for granted.  People in the industrialized world have, for the most part, never had to worry about where their next meal was going to come from or whether the water would flow out of the faucet or if the lights would come on at the flick of a switch.  We are a spoiled society in relation to what individuals endured during the Great Depression and the Second World War.  Economic despair in Europe led to war and plunged that continent into destruction because of, almost exclusively, an evil deranged despot who seized on the fears and vulnerabilities of a desperate populace. 

I care that America has forgotten how to solve its problems.  We have become a consumer based nation with no drive to create, erect or build.  We’re very efficient at making weaponry, fast food and basic consumer products.  Real industrialization has vanished from our shores.  Collective growth and prosperity for all is a thing of the past.  Without a doubt our roads, our bridges, our schools, our public works systems, our power grid are all virtually crumbling before our eyes and we don’t seem to be bothered by it in the slightest.  

I care that the mentality of “I’ve got mine and to hell with everyone else” is not just driving us into a ditch, but off a cliff.  People need work and to feel a sense of worth again.  Not to mention, soldiers are beginning to return home and they too are in many cases looking for work.  Why are we not interested in putting people to work? Why are politicians on the right and the left only worried about themselves and their next election cycle?  What happened to the ability of those with differing views being able to come together with a realistic and sensible consensus?  Why can’t we talk to one another and listen; respectfully listen and seek to learn something to better ourselves? 

I care because as a student of politics and history I realize that economic chaos can serve as the opportune moment for fringe elements of society and extremist political ideologies to pounce on the naïve and the downtrodden.   Sadly, religion, all too often is used to foster extremism for political expediency. 

I care that so many people don’t recognize our vulnerability to acts of evil by those among us claiming allegiances in God’s name.  These fiendish opportunists and those who set them alight with their words claim fervently they are something that in reality they are not.  We saw this most recently in Norway with a violent outburst and loss of life at the hands of a deranged individual feeding off vitriolic hate speech.  In his mind the Christian world is under threat from non-Christian undesirables and they’re the reason for the world’s problems.  This is an insane echo of the not too distant past.

So yes, ‘reset’ is coming and I pray it will come from those who care.  There are good positive people among us who care.   We must be aware of the history that tends to repeat itself again and again and recognize that voices of reason, of real meaningful compromise, of respectful discourse, of truth, of compassion, and of love will ALWAYS prevail.  This is what I believe. As a Jesus Follower this is what I care about.   We must tune out the voices of discontent, the voices of hate, the voices of cynicism, the voices of ‘my way or the highway’, the voices of exploitative opportunism, the voices of disrespect, the voices of charlatans and the voices that do not speak the truth.   

So to close, I will answer my friend’s claim, by saying that in the face of it all, opinions do matter.  Those of us who do care must speak out with truth and positive optimism for all walking humbly with God.  It will make a difference. 

I care.  Do you?


Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Who Was The Centurion?

MATTHEW 8: 5-13
When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.”  Jesus said to him, “I will go and heal him.”
The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.  For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes.  I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Then Jesus said to the centurion, “Go! It will be done just as you believed it would.” And his servant was healed at that very hour.

This past Sunday's sermon was about the faith of the Roman centurion.  I thought afterwards about the interesting question: 

Who was this centurion?
I did some easy research on Wikipedia and found out that in the army of Rome, a centurion was a professional soldier; a commander of usually around 100 men.  Men were sometimes promoted, elected or appointed to the position of centurion; a very commanding rank.  They were known to be literate individuals who had established themselves very well within the ranks.  These respected men were usually battle tested as they led their men not from the rear, but from the front.  They had a reputation for being hard-nosed ruthless disciplinarians. 
Why did this man of Rome beg for Jesus’ help?  What caused him to be so humble in Jesus' presence and call him, Lord?  What was this man's religious upbringing?  In the Roman world the emperor was God; Lord.  What had he heard or seen that caused him to reach out to this Jewish man?  The centurion was surely knowledgeable enough of the goings on within the community that he recognized the radical nature of Jesus and his politically charged actions and message.

The centurion must have been keen enough to know the repercussions of his actions.  He must have been aware that seeking the help of a man openly ridiculed and criticized by the Jewish religious leaders was indeed a very risky prospect.  He surely knew his reputation within the Roman community would be called into question once word of his actions reached his superior officers, not to mention the leaders in Rome.  What caused this Roman to take such a high risk and do it, in what is presented in the scripture, as a very open and more importantly, faithful appeal?  What caused him to risk his military career and place in Roman society by reaching out to Jesus and calling him Lord?  The centurion had effectively denounced the lord of Rome, his leader, his emperor. 

Did the centurion see Jesus perform a miracle?  Had he heard of his deeds through word of mouth; rumblings from within the community?  Perhaps something happened to him on the battlefield.  Had he seen him interacting with the disciples or did he have some other connection or knowledge of Jesus unknown to us?  It's truly an intriguing question as to the reason why the Roman centurion would profess such profound faith in a man who was his complete societal opposite.  A man of war and ruthlessness was reaching out for Jesus, a man of peace and compassion.  

Recognizing Jesus as Lord is the most important element of this encounter.  I wonder what happened to the centurion when he returned to his duty post?  Did he resign his position, become a Jesus Follower at that very moment and spread the news of what had happened to him because of his faith?  Did he carry his faith back to Rome and continue on as a centurion bringing other Roman men to recognize the one true Lord?

All of these are questions we don't know the answers to, but it is interesting to contemplate the rest of the story and relate it to our daily lives.  Sometimes we're faced with situations where only our faith will get us through.  Knowing that someone as powerful and important as the Roman centurion was able to reach out to Jesus and, for whatever reason, recognize him as his Lord is very reassuring for us in today's modern world.  

Would you have been willing to risk your position, your reputation, your freedom and who knows what else just as the centurion did?  I pray that I would have the courage and the faith to do so.