Thursday, September 13, 2007

Following and Serving Jesus in the 21st Century

My experience in trying to be a disciple and a pastor in these postmodern times has led me to adopt the image of "white water rafting" to describe what it has been like. No longer a gentle canoe ride around a placid lake, being a follower and servant of Jesus in our day is much more a matter of simply trying to stay afloat amist the roiling, foaming waves of white water river rapids. I tend to think of of my/our Christian journey through these days as "White Water Faith for the 21st Century."

The beauty and power of the ever-changing scene around us compels our attention, as do the dangers of the ride which are present, and quite real. It no small matter to keep the raft upright and moving! Yet, we may not be without resources. Those who have ridden white water rapids have learned a set of skills for negotiating the treacherous rapids. If we attend to the practices that sustain them, we may just be able to translate them into practices that with fit us for our journey through postmodern "white water rapids" in a fashion that enables faithful following and serving of Jesus.

The four rules for white water rafting will get us started.

1. Take advantage of the calms because there will always be rapids ahead.

I would translate this into "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy." In our 24/7, never unplugged world it is essential for followers and servants of Jesus to embrace a sabbath rhythm for life. Not only will this align us with the Creator's design for our life, it will save us from ourselves! Practice of Sabbath decenters us weekly, reminding us of the whence and why of our lives and labor. In other words, Sabbath keeping is an antidote to our propensity for making ourselves the functional center of our worlds a weekly spiritual dextox for us, which we all desperately need. Sabbath keeping also provides a counterbalance to our tendencies towardf workaholism. Once a week we let go and trust that God will keep the world turing and our lives safe and provisioned. We are not indispensable! We were not made to work. We are not homo faber (humanity the maker or producer) but rather homo orans (humanity that prays). And Sabbath practice reminds of that every week. More could be said that this will suffice for now.

2. Turn into the rocks, not away from them.

I translate this into Jesus' admonition "take up your cross and follow me." Following Jesus and serving him in our time means an embrace of the cross as both the method and hope by which we live. A big part of what Jesus means by this, I think, is that we so fully identify ourselves and our labor with his cause that we will not shy away from the inevitable difficulties that come with that or expect to that he will save us "from" suffering rather than "through" suffering. And like Paul, we proclaim the crucified Christ as the one in whom we hope and from whom we seek our help. We dare not distance our understanding of Christ from the necessity and reality of his suffering and death even as we must embrace that pattern for our own following and serving of Jesus.

3. When necessary be willing to throw everything over board.

The translation here is Peter's declaration in Acts 4 that there is no other name under heaven than Jesus by which we must be saved. This is bedrock Christian confession. This is an affirmation that cannot be jettisoned without disfiguring Christian faith. Now, that salvation (wherever and however anyone finds it) comes through Jesus is not equivalent to saying salvation comes only to those whose explicit confession of Christ has brought them into the church. It means rather, that any salvation that is to be had is available because of what Jesus came and did for us in his life, ministry, death, and resurrection. How and where the risen Christ meets people and draws them into salvation is something we best do not foreclose on. We must insist, however, as Christians, to say it again, that any salvation anyone finds is due to Jesus' work on our behalf.

4. Never, never, never, ever give up paddling,

This is akin, I think, to Paul's admonitions in I Thessalonians 5, centered in vv.16-18: "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." This is how, I suggest, we keep on paddling come what may as we journey through the cultural white water rapids of following and serving Jesus in the 21st century.

As I reflect on this translation effort, it strikes me that this particular complex of practices will stand us in good stead for the journey through our world. In a world that is frantically active but abysmally shallow, Sabbath keeping provides testimony to an alternative, saner, and profounder way to live. In a world bent on entertainment and endless pleasures and diversions, "taking up the cross" entails realistically facing up to the world as it is and the promise of redemptive action to achieve real change in it through suffering and sacrificial servanthood. Having and hoarding is our way to insulate ourselves from others and the world around us and insure our well-being; in Jesus, however, we have all and more than enough of what we need so we can sit looser to what we have and live in a less acquisitive, simpler fashion. Finally, come what may, we can witness to the hope we have in Christ by taking the world as we meet it with joy, prayer and thanksgiving because we believe that in Jesus we have met the World's Creator and our Savior and have discovered that "in all things God works together for good," for our good and for the good of the whole creation.