Friday, July 22, 2016

Friday's Essay - Hamilton or Burr

Below is an essay that I sent to those on the Cove Presbyterian Church e-mailing list. You can hear a podcast of this message by going to the Cove Presbyterian Podbean page. 
If you find this essay helpful, please consider sending an offering directly to Cove Presbyterian Church, 3404 Main Street, Weirton, West Virginia or through PayPal.
As many of y’all know, I love Broadway musicals. And one of my favorites is Hamilton: An American Musical. As a matter of fact, if tickets weren’t going for about $1,200, I might consider heading to New York. Now, if you don’t know anything about the show, it deals with the life of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Treasury, or as the writer, Lin-Manuel Miranda says, “Our ten-dollar founding father.” But within this musical retelling of history, there’s a underlying tension between Hamilton and Aaron Burr, the Vice President under Thomas Jefferson and the person who eventually kills Hamilton in a duel. You see, this is the recurrent theme within the musical: the bold and passionate Hamilton contrasted with the cautious and somewhat disingenuous Burr. In fact, early in the play, the Hamilton character says something that’s been attributed to the actual person from history when he says to Burr, “If you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything.” In other words, if you’re not willing to take a real stand on a real issue, you’ll probably spend your life drifting toward what’s most easy and most comfortable.

And in the last couple of days, I’ve thought about the significance of that quote quite a bit. And even though I think it can certainly apply to modern, American politics, it also relates well to modern, American Christianity. You see, it seems that faith in our country often stands for very little beyond or above personal positive feelings. In other words, following Jesus is suppose to make the follower feel good, right? It becomes an escape from problems and stress. As a matter of fact, the strength of our relationship with God can actually be measured by how good we’re feeling. And even if we recognize that it’s really not possible to be happy all the time, any sense of frustration and even anger may be a good indication that there’s something serious wrong with our walk with God. You see, it’s all about a personal relationship, because Jesus is a personal friend who enables us to have positive thoughts, at least that’s what we’re told. And if the real world begins to infer with this spiritual tranquility, then it may be necessary either to withdraw from this world to protect our faith or to separate our life with Jesus from our lives at work or school or home. And isn’t that attitude reflected in how many Christians pray, asking that God protect them from whatever’s happening around them so that their faith can be sheltered and never tested? You see, in a real way, for them, religion serves the same function as sports for the avid fan. It’s a refuge from the real world; it’s an escape from being called to take positions that may be difficult or demand a personal sacrifice. Now, I think this is the direction we’re moving in the modern American church.

And even though this is very easy and extremely comfortable, I don’t believe this move is positive at all. I mean, from a purely historical perspective, the isolation of faith from real-world problems and politics enabled Christians in places like Germany to assume that they could have a personal and private relationship with Jesus while turning a blind eye to the Nazis. And this perspective seems to be an anathema to the examples we find in the Bible. I mean, give me a break, it’s hard to find an Old Testament prophet who carefully avoided confrontation. And I don’t think Paul saw controversies as a hindrance to his walk with Jesus. As a matter of fact, I think he probably saw his willingness for fight for what was right as an expression of his faith, and that’s why his stances were so clear and unambiguous.

And I think this should also be the case with us. Frankly, as Christians, I believe we need to stand for something beyond “it sure feels good to follow Jesus.” Although some may vehemently disagree, being a Christian is a lot more than having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. You see, I think it also means following his example and taking a public stand for some of the principles that are deeply and firmly rooted in the Bible. For example, it means standing with the prophet Amos when he said, “I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” And it means affirming the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Romans, “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” And it certainly means living as though we really believe our Lord Jesus Christ when he said to his disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’”

You see, when we see the Christian faith as focused on just “me and Jesus” and not on real issues in the real world, we immediately exclude the very people that Christ commanded us to love. And we also set ourselves up to being seen, with genuine justification, as so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. And for that reason, in a world that’s full of all kinds of issues that relate to who we are and whom we follow, I think it’s important for us to take stands that are grounded in God’s word and Christ’s example and to take those stands right there in front of God and everybody. In other words, as it relates to living our faith, let’s claim the passion and boldness of Alexander Hamilton rather than the self-serving timidity of Aaron Burr.

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