Lectionary Reflection for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost
November 14, 2010
You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls. Luke 21:17-19
A new tagger is active in the neighborhood where I live. His* tag is “HATER,” with a halo above the “H” and a devil’s tail completing the “R.” Hater is tagging up the place with increasing frequency–on stop signs, dumpsters, the sides of buildings, for sale signs, electrical equipment. Nothing seems to be safe from his pen and spray can. Whether Hater is part of a crew or gang or is simply a scribbler remains a mystery, but I do know that Hater has a need to be known, to be seen, and to be recognized. In short, Hater is human.
I have been thinking about Hater a lot this week while walking the dog and reflecting on the texts for this Sunday. It’s a pretty safe bet that he doesn’t go around contemplating the concept of simul justus et peccator, but his tag does make quite a theological statement with its symbolism of good and evil. It makes me wonder why this individual calls himself the “hater.” What is it about him that desires to “hate on” other people? Does he even understand the duality of saint and sinner that his tag so boldly proclaims? Does Hater know the love God; has anyone shared the good news with him?
What about us? How are we as Christians facing these days and sharing the gospel in a way that is accessible and makes sense to a broken, hurting world? The temptation, of course, is to retreat to the safety of the known and comfortable, to our past when mainline Christianity was the norm in North America. This is no longer the case; our world looks different now. We are no longer the majority, a fact all too readily expressed in declining church memberships and changing demographics. Yes, to be Christian is, once again, to be countercultural. These differences remind us that we are living in treacherous times, a common thread in our readings this week. The apocalyptic language of the passage from Luke’s gospel reminds us that the difficulties and tribulations of this present age are to be expected. We are not exempt. We will not be spared the trouble of this world.
We are living in the meantime–anticipating the time when Christ will restore all of creation, the day when “…all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe–people and things, animals and atoms–get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the Cross” (see Col. 1:18-20, The Message). The reality is that the meantime may also be mean times. Terrorists strike, natural disasters happen, wars and famine are very real occurrences, and people will hate and betray us. We’re not promised puppies and rosebuds.
This is, however, no time for us to hunker down and bury our heads in the sand, to fire the volunteer evangelism committee and quit our outreach, or to start watching Left Behind videos in the imagined safety of our living rooms. Quite the opposite–Jesus tells us that we will be given words and wisdom sufficient for the day, that through our enduring relationship with God we will be strengthened to live without fear. The mean times need not overshadow the meantime in which we live, and we must not grow weary in following Christ into ministry and mission in this world–no matter how scary or different our task may look.
Oh, and here’s a final word for my spray paint scribbling neighbor: Hater, my prayer for you is a new tag. I pray that you will encounter the love of the living Christ and be embraced by the all encompassing power of grace in a way that drowns the hate you proclaim. Maybe you can even take a little inspiration from the words of the messenger in Malachi for a new kind of signature: “But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings” (4:2a).
Peace, blessing, and boldness on your proclamation this week! You never know, there may even be a “hater” in your pews who desparately needs to encounter the healing power of the gospel.
*I use “he” for the purposes of this illustration simply because the demographic profile for a scribbler in this area would be a young male. My apologies to the hater if “he” is “she.”
Photos by Sharron Lucas used under a Creative Commons License.