Several times in the past, I’ve talked about how the Gospel is counter-intuitive for middle-class, American Christians. Truthfully, there’s not much in there that sounds good for us. You know, like that whole “Last shall be first, first shall be last” thing? And, the Magnificat is a straight-up indictment of people who live well while others starve. Now, by American standards, I live rather modestly. But, I probably look like Donald Trump to a young girl in an African village who walks 3 miles for a bucket of dirty water. It’s all a matter of perspective.
Somewhere around the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells his audience “Therefore, don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?’ Gentiles long for all these things. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them. Instead, desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In Mark 10, he tells a wealthy young man who wants to follow him to “…sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come, follow me.” And, in Luke, he tells a story where poor, sick Lazarus is ignored by a rich man. In death, Lazarus is in heaven attended by angels while the rich man suffers torment in “the place of the dead”. All in all, this Christian thing doesn’t look that good for a society consumed with amassing stuff.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told the Gospel says that if I believe the right stuff, say the right things and pray the right prayers, I’ll go to heaven when I die and spend eternity on sitting on a cloud with a harp and halo. Giving up the old ideas about heaven and hell has rendered that a moot point, so what next?
Now, while I’m not so cynical as to think that people won’t change the way they’re living without some kind of reward, I do believe real change only happens at a personal level. And, lately, I’m less concerned with theological systems and institutions than I am with the role faith plays in everyday life. That said, how does the Gospel help me, a middle-class American, in my everyday life?
For me, the answer to that question is that it gives me peace. I’m not talking about the peace one feels when they know they’re going to heaven and all the heathens will roast in the fires of Hell. I’m talking the peace that comes when we let go of the rampant materialism that drives the world these days and say “I’ve got enough”. I’m talking about the peace that comes when I use the things God has provided not just for myself, but for my brothers and sisters who aren’t as fortunate as I am. I’m talking about the peace that comes when I live the way God intended: as part of a beloved community, realizing that my welfare is tied to that of everyone else. That Gospel speaks to me on a much deeper level than one based on fear and judgment ever could.