I’m not feeling very Christian today. I actually oversleep 20 minutes this morning which is an indication that I need extra sleep – probably due to ramped-up work outs and a little, minor basal cell carcinoma removal that took place Monday. All is good as I spend time with the Trinity in quiet solitude and prayer. I am feeling pretty good as far as feelings go.
Then two things happen that start affecting my understanding of being a Christian. Having lived all my life in a modern, Western understanding and experience of Christianity, it is almost impossible for me to come to grips with the real thing. I may think it’s real since this is my only experience. But is it Reality-Truth as God sees it and as many Christians experience it?
The Gospel reading today is from Mark 8.30-34. Jesus is teaching his disciples about events related to his crucifixion and resurrection. Peter has the audacity to pull Jesus aside and “rebuke” him (for his wrong-headed thinking?). Jesus then rebukes Peter. “You’re like Satan not concerned with the things of God but the things of men.” If Peter can get it so wrong, how often am I just like him?
In this teachable moment, Jesus draws a crowd around him and with the disciples says to them (again!), “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.”
Denial…death…devotion. If this is what it means to be a Christian, I’m screwed.
How much of my day is spent on “me, myself, and I” in contrast to giving myself to Jesus in denial, death, and total devotion?
Do I actually deny myself for the sake of Jesus Christ? No. I usually pamper myself in comfort and convenience, seeking my own will and wanting my own way. I hardly know what “denial” even looks like.
Do I actually die daily for the sake of Jesus Christ? No. I usually live for myself caring for my own needs above all else. St. Paul can say “I’ve been crucified with Christ” and live it. When I say it, it’s just theory.
Do I actually devote my whole self to Jesus Christ? No. I usually am devoted to many things not related to Jesus like work, food, sports, family, music, or money. I’m trying to learn how to “sanctify” these realities but it is painfully slow goin’.
To be a true follower of Jesus means denial, death, and devotion. If Jesus is telling us that this is what a Christian does, then I’m not sure I’m a Christian.
Also, this morning, I hear about the life of Clement of Ancyra (Galatia/Turkey) who, in the 3rd century, faithfully endures 28 years of almost continuous suffering for the Faith. Vicious torture and unspeakable torments alternating with long imprisonments can not move him to deny the precious Faith of Christ. He is finally beheaded by pagan soldiers while leading the liturgy at church.
Jesus teaches us, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” St. Paul teaches that those who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3.12).
St. Peter also writes:
Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is reveled. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed…Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God…And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and sinner? Therefore, let those who suffer according God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good (1 Peter 4.12-19).
It is obvious that true Christians are to suffer and be persecuted. I rarely suffer and I have no experience of persecution.
Clement of Ancyra is a Christian. I’m not sure about me.
Calling myself a Christian doesn’t make me one. Relying on a one-time experience of faith, profound as it was, doesn’t necessarily make me a Christian.
My secure, comfortable Christian “world” is rocked this morning.
Pray for me.