Do you have $4 and an internet connection? If you do, I urge to you watch (or watch again) the film, “Of Gods and Men.” It’s based on the true story of some French monks who served God in Algeria. It is profound, moving, and beautiful. I think it’s close to “Essential Christian Living.” NB – It’s not a children’s movie. You can rent it for $4 on Amazon.com. I assume you can rent it other places too.
This Sunday, and next week in our Daily Worship Devotions, we complete the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount (the Beatitudes). As we saw last week, Jesus, who has been extremely pithy and precise in the first 7 Beatitudes, slows down and camps out on the theme of peacemaking, persecution, and suffering in the last two beatitudes. The last two Beatitudes are both twice as long as the earlier 7. Have you ever wondered why? They are also the most repetitive of the 9 Beatitudes. Have you ever wondered why?
Here at Church of the Redeemer we have talked regularly of the epidemic of loneliness in North America and in the West in general. Loneliness has been identified as a major health epidemic and the #1 silent killer behind many other problems, like heart disease, depression, etc. I’ve thought about that again this week with the news of the tragic suicide of Kate Spade, a 55 year old widely successful fashion icon. People today are so lonely and, as dramatic as it sounds, loneliness kills. It’s one of the central reasons that suicide rates for young people in the United States, especially middle-class and wealthy children and youth, are at an all-time high.
Following Jesus Christ actively is lonely in this world. We can seek to mitigate that loneliness by only halfheartedly following him: playing along with the world and acting like we’re one of them too. But that psychological soul-splitting actually, exponentially, increases our sense of loneliness. To follow Jesus is to be a pilgrim, an alien, and a stranger. To follow Jesus is to be someone who doesn’t really fit in this world as it is presently or materially understood.
Jesus knew that. He knew that “the way” was sometimes hard and lonely. He experienced that loneliness too. Do you know that Jesus understands and has experienced real, painful loneliness, fear, and even doubt? Do you know that Jesus understand what it feels like to not fit? He is a sympathetic high priest who understands.
As we prepare for Worship together this Sunday, take some time to read and reflect on the last two Beatitudes- v10-12 in Matthew 5:1-12. Take some time to read and reflect also on John 15:18-23 & Philippians 3:7-15. Oh, yes, and watch “Of God’s and Men.” If you don’t like it, I’ll happily give you your $4 back. Promise.
Yours in Christ,
Trouble, famine, hardship, wilderness, exile–these are biblical words that describe our present existence. It’s not a picnic. It was never intended to be a picnic. We are pilgrims, not picnickers. But we are pilgrims progressing somewhere, not merely hopeful travelers in search of a destination. The resurrection of Christ assures us that the promises of God are true and that we can count on them.
How do you stay strong…when you find yourself drowning in painful feelings, dire circumstances, or broken relationships? The answer is simple–at least in theory. You cling to the promises of God and the God of the promises. You don’t have to understand; you just have to cling. That is the lesson that Abraham had to learn…Abraham had to leave his home and his family on the strength of the bare word of God’s call. We have this further assurance: “(God) did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32).
Faith means founding my life upon a foundation which is outside myself, upon an eternal and holy foundation, upon Christ. Faith alone is certainty. Everything but faith is subject to doubt. Jesus Christ alone is the certainty of faith. Bonhoeffer.