Sunday, September 5, 2010

Confronted and Convicted

Ever been really convicted of something? So much so your eyes were opened to a new reality?

When I was younger, someone asked me about tithing. I was a tither since mom & dad first gave me $7.50 a month and said to give 10% to the church. Someone asked “Do you tithe your net or your gross income?” My eyes opened wide. I had never thought about it like that. I had worked for just enough years to think of my income as the amount on my paycheck, (pause) NOT the amount on the stub before taxes and social security. I had some thinking to do, this simple question, ‘cracked me open’ it CONFRONTED me with a new reality, a new way of thinking about giving that still challenges.

When we are cracked open, we are left RAW, like a ripe fruit we are vulnerable to rapid change once the skin is pierced. Someone either enjoys the fruit or it is quickly spoiled.

I knew a man who was a fellow at the Sorenson Institute when I was. He was an ardent anti-abortionist. The Institute offered us learning opportunities in a great variety of public policy areas and the key issues of the day. AND since we were together for a full weekend, we had many opportunities for deep discussion with a group so diverse that all beliefs on the spectrum were represented. I shared with this man how difficult I found the issue of abortion. While I believe in the sanctity of life, I also understood some circumstances to be so complex, so painful, and medically dangerous that abortion seemed to be the answer; certainly never ideal, but sometimes the better choice. He told me that he and his wife were firm in their belief that abortion was never the answer.

Several of us talked about strident believers who propose no answer for children born without parents, without love, or into tortuous conditions. Then he told us that something had happened to he and his wife (I never learned what) but something that ‘cracked them open’. Once they were CONFRONTED, they became so convicted that they couldn’t continue to promote a strict anti-abortion stance unless they also acted to relieve the stress on children who were born into a system without parents to raise them. So this couple began to adopt children that had been in the ‘social service system.’ They raised a family of adopted children and when their kids got older, they became foster parents too.

Brethren would say they ‘walked their talk’. All the fine points of the group’s debate disappeared after that. Tho WE still struggled with the issue and individual choice, WE could only look at our colleague with admiration for his conviction AND his action.

Have you ever been confronted so deeply and surprisingly that it cracked you open?

Jesus did this again and again. He told stories with twisted endings, where the hated and unclean person turned out to be the hero. In Jesus’ stories a Samaritan rescues a mugged stranger left for dead, an unclean, ethnically undesirable, does what priests and religious people wouldn’t stoop to do. In Jesus’ life, a WOMAN, perhaps shamed that life has left her without a living spouse, deserved his personal attention and precious time.

Jesus confronted, he challenged, and many people walked away, convicted.
But others, just walked away.

Paul did the same thing and it landed him in jail again and again. As surprising as this letter to Philemon is for its day, its just Paul being Paul, CONFRONTING people out of his own CONVICTION. Paul reminded Philemon of the brother-and-sisterhood we ALL share in Christ – equality of person, gender, and position. Paul wrote this in a day when NO equality was assumed.

Men and women weren’t equal, the relationship between Greeks and Jews remained a debate in the 1st century church, and slavery was the way of the world for captured populations or those sold into slavery to pay debts. Paul challenged Philemon’s rights, asking him to give up what he was entitled to. He even confronted Philemon’s status, asking him to ‘step down’ from his position as master and accept shame from his peers by allowing his slave to return, not only unpunished, but as an equal. Because they were equal; EQUAL members of Christ’s body.

Paul did this with tack, he did it with cleverness, he did it with gentle force, he was clever in the ways of the world in order to promote the ways of the kingdom.

Have you ever been CONFRONTED and CONVICTED of a new reality?
This is what Christ’s Kingdom is, - a new reality of equality. If you have - you may have found yourself visiting someone in prison, writing to someone on death row, marching in a demonstration for peace, or giving up a meal to give the money to someone who was hungry. Maybe you gave up thanksgiving with your family to work in a soup kitchen…. Or found yourself handing out groceries on a Saturday at AFAC..

Discipleship is a word we use easily in church. YET living the Jesus’ WAY has a cost. It takes away from our disposable income to tithe. It takes away from our safe, predictable lives to visit – in a prison OR a nursing home. It takes away from our VERY precious time to volunteer with programs that reach the most needy. It takes away our security and our status to reach out to those Jesus saw as the least, and the lost.

Giving up family thanksgiving dinner may be the hardest thing you can imagine. Or maybe beginning a correspondence with someone sentenced to death is the thing you are challenged to do. How hard that can be, especially knowing how the relationship is likely to end. We don’t do these things because they make us feel good. (Although that sometimes happens).

We do them, because somewhere someone, named Jesus, confronted us. And once convicted of HIS WAY, we have to change our way.


DonnaF said...

When I hear "tithing" mentioned, I tend to think only of monetary giving to my local church. But wouldn't it take in other ways we give too--like giving of time/talents, giving to the larger church (district or national level), giving to charities, etc.?

Sharon said...

"Cracked open" is a great image. I loved it all, especially the last three paragraphs.