It is interesting come Christmas time, when the pundits cry about the war on Christmas, or even Christianity itself. I remember a few years back when a very eloquent pastor sat on a talk show spewing “facts” about how Christians and their values were being persecuted in this country.
On one level, I always feel a bit sad for the people that feel that way, but on another, very real level, I always get annoyed because while some laws and societal norms might make it more difficult to do ministry, in no way are we persecuted for our beliefs. In fact, some would say that there has never been a time when it has been easier to be a Christian, yet even as there is such an ease, church attendance across all denominations, traditions, and movements is on the decline.
While people are not persecuted for faith, it is true that the power and influence of faith and religion is declining, quickly. Take television for example. In the sixties and seventies it would not be uncommon to know the denomination of the characters in your favorite shows. In one of my favorite shows, M*A*S*H, every season had at least two to three episodes that dealt with faith. I even knew the denominational backgrounds of the characters (even if they did change them periodically Colonel Potter was a Presbyterian, then a Methodist, and Winchester a Presbyterian, a little fun trivia aside!).
Aside from some British shows, we do not see the church depicted, positively or negatively, in much of television over the past 5 years; the church has been non-existent. In the once powerful Presbyterian Church, many in leadership lament this loss of power. But there are some of us that see a new opportunity that can come when the church is no longer seeking overt influence, and can reestablish itself as a faith-driven community.
As we explore faith, again we do so with a question looming on faith and power. The section of this pericope that we are looking at is the final build up to the ultimate example of faith in Jesus Christ.
This is an interesting section because the faith that is described is an active faith and one that is written with pain and reward. The writer lists “Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets” all of whom had to take a very pro-active role in speaking for faith. They did this through war, but always with a balance of justice. More importantly, this group used everything they could to follow in the path God laid, and though none of them resembled perfection, all of them perused their faith without question.
Some scholars point to the fact that the church has become complacent in their power and in that complacency has lost relevance. I think the issues are much deeper and are grounded in how we express faith and, more importantly, how we stand for justice.
My theory is that American Christianity became complacent over the past 30 years. I know you might think in your minds the militant preachers and mega-church movements, but think again about what those churches tend to stand for and what they actually do. Often they focus on personal salvation (Watch this clip from Joel Osteen’s wifehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=koIBkYl0cHk) giving individual ways to live better lives, but often, just like the mainline churches, fail to challenge the world around them or are guided by other motivations than faith.
It is interesting how we allow our self interest impede our faith and dilute our message with hopes of power and prestige. One thing as you begin to prepare for Sunday that I implore you to think about is why David is so important and Saul and Solomon are never on the same level as David. Think about what went wrong with Saul and Solomon’s reigns. How does that feed into what I discussed above?
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen