Monday, February 5, 2007

Contrarian Christianity

(A sermon based on 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 & Luke 6:17-26)

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There is a type of financial investor known as a contrarian. With full awareness that there is much more that could be said about it, I offer this simple definition: a contrarian investor is one who goes against the herd in her investing strategies. When everyone is investing in one group of stocks, she will look elsewhere. When a sector falls out of favor, that is when she may buy it.

I want to advocate for a contrarian brand of Christianity, a Christianity that goes against the herd. Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Most people take the road that is well-traveled and that road, Jesus said, leads to destruction. It leads away from meaningful life and away from eternal life. Few people take the road that is less-traveled and it is that road, Jesus said, that leads to meaningful and eternal life. The Christian way is by its very nature contrarian.

That means that Christians believe in a future that changes the present. That belief in a future that changes the present is based on our belief in the resurrection from the dead. The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the foundational events of our faith; the Christian faith exists only because of the resurrection. It is the reality that makes all the difference for us. Our faith and our very lives hinge on the resurrection. It makes all the difference. Because of the resurrection, death will not be the end for us but rather a glorious beginning. Because of the resurrection, we live the forgiven life here and now.

Someone who does not believe in the resurrection of Jesus will have a much better chance of coming to believe in it if we Christians live like we believe in it. And here is where my title comes back into play. Christians are to be contrarians. Our belief in a future that includes our own resurrection is based on a past event, the resurrection of Jesus, and that belief changes the present for us. True, it is not just for this life that we have hoped in Christ, but our assurance of our own resurrection because of the resurrection of Christ nonetheless makes the difference in how we see this world and how we live this life. And it is in living life in light of the resurrection that we bear witness to our Lord.

Contrarian Christianity changes the way that we view our circumstances. While Jesus spoke the words recorded by Luke in the Sermon on the Plain during his life on earth, they were preserved in the gospel tradition and then in our Bibles for the sake of the resurrection community. Jesus could say and the church could affirm that followers of Jesus are blessed when they are poor, when they are hungry, when they weep, and when they are reviled and persecuted because in God’s future they will inherit the kingdom, they will be filled, they will laugh, and their reward will be great in heaven. Jesus could also say that those who were rich and full and well spoken of did not have much to look forward to in the future. I am especially struck by this statement of Jesus about such folks: “Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Interestingly, they spoke well of the false prophets because those prophets spoke in ways that matched what the herd wanted to hear.

Let me offer a summary of Jesus’ words: it is those whose lives are oriented to the future who live God’s way in the present and will know God’s blessings in the future while it is those who lives are oriented to the present who neither live God’s way in the present nor will know God’s blessings in the future.

You might think, as some people do, that contrarian Christians, Christians who have their eyes fixed on the future that God has in store for them, will be “so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.” The truth is, though, that Christians who have their eyes firmly fixed on heaven are in the best position to make things better here. Because we have nothing to lose here that ultimately matters, we are free to take the chances that must be taken to make things better. Because we have caught a glimpse of the way things ought to be, we are motivated to try to move things that way. Because we have been overwhelmed by the love of God, we endure and enjoy the glorious impulse to share love in every way that we can with everybody that we can.

As always, C. S. Lewis put it better than I can.

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do. It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is. If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next…. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither [Mere Christianity (New York: Touchstone, 1996), p. 119].

At what are you aiming? Are you like everybody else, aiming at earth and getting nothing? Are you a contrarian Christian, going against the flow and aiming at heaven and getting the right perspective on and the right contributions to earth thrown in?

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