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January 5

Pastor's Minute

How Will They Know?

Too often, it seems, the public’s perception of Christians and the Church of Jesus Christ is a

negative one. Impressions of Christianity increasingly include hypocrisy, intolerance, anti-

intellectualism and hypercriticism. “Christians” are thought to be simplistic, reactionary, judgmental, ignorant, and lacking in compassion for others. Few trust them, even fewer respect them, according to many recent surveys.

How is it possible that the followers of Jesus of Nazareth come to be seen this way? Polls show that the vast majorities continue to hold Jesus in the high regard. But not so with those who claim to be his disciples.

And yet, we shouldn’t really be too surprised by this reaction. For far too long, the only public expression of Christianity in our country has been what the church is against, rather than what it is for. The public voice most people hear about “Christians” doesn’t resemble much of what I, and I hope most of us, have learned and teach about our faith. Those with extreme or repulsive understandings of the teachings of Jesus are the ones who get the “air time,” usually due to the shocking nature of what they stand for. Even our debates and disagreements receive more attention than our efforts in serving others and caring for God’s creation.

In the Season after Epiphany (between January 8 th and Transfiguration Sunday February 19 th ), we will once again hear Christ’s clear and definitive declaration of what it means to conform one’s life to his – particularly the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-6). In these texts, we hear how Jesus taught his disciples concerning the life God blesses and what this means for their public and personal lives: how they pray, give, trust, fast, love, serve, and forgive. Rather than words of hatred, condemnation, revenge, indignation, or self-righteousness, there are words of grace, mercy, trust, compassion, faithfulness, and humility.

Where are those kinds of messages being lived out publicly these days? Isn’t this what we as Christians ascribe to, confess to believe in and teach to our youth? Who speaks out for us in the public sphere? If actions speak louder than words, then why is this negative, backward perception of our faith the prevalent image in our culture?

In a world that is increasingly bound to self-destruction, greed, violence, cynicism and bondage to sin, those who seek a better way do not expect to find a way to true freedom in the Christian church. As young people and old look for hope, they sound more like the young woman who spoke at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly in Minneapolis :

“ Give us honesty,” she said. “My generation is turned off by what they see as

hypocrisy in the church. ‘Love your neighbor’ is on the lips of the church, but a

cold shoulder is what my generation sees.”

God forgive us and give us courage.


Pr Mark


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