God’s word to us is not victory, but Jesus. That Word necessarily means suffering, it means cross shaped discipleship and a denial of self, it means freedom, but the freedom to be free of every constraint but the Son of God Himself.
This New Year, many Christians will hear sermons about how to work out faith, or having a renewed faith that works, or to show God you’re serious about your commitment so he can bless you. That’s stupid. Plain and simple. It’s stupid. God has already blessed us with every blessing he could possibly give us in that He has given us His Son. He didn’t give us The Son so that we might ask for a mercedes for Christmas. He didn’t give us the Son that we might ask where and when he’s going to give us a pay raise.
He didn’t suffer so that we wouldn’t have to, He suffered to show us what it means to truly live. If the Spirit filled life of Christ is filled with sorrow, why should mine be any different? There’s a dying broken world out there, a starving neighbor, a weeping child that demands my compassion in the face of my default apathy and indifference. He gave us Himself that we might know everything else besides this is valueless.
He gave us Jesus because if we had the eyes to see, we’d recognize that everything else is empty, wasteful and unpromising. The system that urges us to get ahead, demand more, and increase our faith serves only the American dream. It does not serve the gospel. You’re either American or Christian. The two are incompatible on so many levels. Good Christians do not make good patriots.
God’s overcoming word to us for the new year, and every new year is Jesus. God has done war with the powers that be, and made possible a people who live in the victory of that war while still fighting it. We can overcome capitalism, greed, war, famine genocide and slavery, because we already have. We have the undeniably powerful freedom that is Christian freedom.
We have the power to liberate the captives, because we have Jesus, and we have Jesus because he has given us bread and wine which He fills with Himself. Sacraments are not just additional ideas about the meaning of Christian symbols. They themselves validate our community by being the One in Whom and through Whom the world finds reconciliation.
Without a visible effective sacrament, we might as well just be shaking hands and leaving, since nothing is really happening here anyways. The power of the sacraments is what gives the Church her missional force, embodied Lord means embodied Church, embodied Church means visible political and social presence. But that presence can never be divorced from what it means to be the Church. The church is political through Her liturgy, it is our worship that shapes our public life, not our votes.
Damn the partisanship. Jesus means we don’t play by their rules. We play by his. And His rules will cost us everything, not just an hour or two per week, but the transformation of a life. The freedom He creates for us is one whose victory is had in overcoming the world through the suffering we bear in His honor, with Him, and in His Holy Name.
The essence of Christian freedom is not the freedom to do what I want. It is the freedom to serve rightly, because apart from grace, I cannot serve as I should. I have now the strength to break the chains that bind me, and to serve effectively my neighbor and my God.
To be Christian is to be free of all concerns except God and neighbor, which in turn demand all of me, and to be bonded to my neighbor in dedicated service is not just an honor, but the meaning of the gospel.