Christians are not called to do as the world does, but as Christ does. So, what does that look like? What did Jesus have to say about this and what examples did He give us to follow? Jesus said “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-16. I once looked at this verse very differently. A light to the world, I thought, were good Christians who had it all together engaging in American normative Christianity. Maybe what Jesus had in mind looked more like, what my pastor likes to say, “surprising Christianity”. Or, messy, risky get your hands dirty scandalous Christianity’.
Surprising Christianity is just that, surprising to the world. It carries with it a shock factor so strong that those touched by it are never the same. Surprising Christianity is messy, risky and complete nonsense to a graceless world. It is throwing birthday parties for prostitutes. It is a pastors wife giving life back to a homeless drunkard by hugging him for 20 minutes in front of the congregation. It is loving the prisoner by maintaining an ongoing relationship with a “brother in white“. It is offering a job to a felon or helping a newly released prisoner start a new life. It is mentoring a fatherless teenager who has lost hope in people or tutoring a kid stuck in poverty whose education has failed them. It is adopting a new born baby or a teenage orphan. It is taking in strangers and providing aid to refugees seeking asylum. It is what drives someone who was abused to forgive their abusers. It is the church feeding the poor and washing the feet of sinners. It is caring for those who you would not normally be seen with, maybe setting aside your social standing to stop and listen to a drug addict, a homeless man or a mentally ill person tell their story. It is loving the unlovable and touching the untouchable. It is the transformation of a life that has not just heard, but has seen the gospel lived out through game changing unconditional acts of love.
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. Isaiah 56:6-9
Amy Simpson, in her book, “Troubled Minds“, examined the churches issues with the mentally ill. She has observed that churches are quick to make meals for the sick, if it is a sickness like cancer or heart disease. She goes on to say, “No wonder several people I have talked to call mental illness the no-casserole illness”. In other words, whether you are mentally ill or an alcoholic, “it won’t land you a home cooked meal from the church caring committee.”
“On the last day…many of us will be bloodied, bruised, battered, and limping. But, by God and by Christ, there will be a light in the window and a “welcome home sign” on the door.” Manning
Risky Christianity is about forgiving others that have hurt us by seeking the reconciliation and restoration of a broken relationship. Even the world can forgive! Even the world can love those who love them back: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same”?… Matthew 5:43-48. It takes risky unrelenting “spirit filled” Christianity to endure marital hardships and seek reconciliation even if they see their spouse as the enemy. Yes, Christ said to love our enemies. We are never asked to forget the wrongs others have committed and building trust does takes time, but love was the answer in first three centuries and is still the answer today; love endures all things. At times it looks impossible – but truth be told, it was this kind of love that made no sense to the pagan world during the first three centuries of Christianity and it makes no sense today:
…Julian the Apostate, the last pagan emperor of Rome, clearly understood the power of these Christians when he wrote the following:
“These impious Galileans (Christians) not only feed their own, but ours also; welcoming them with their agape, they attract them, as children are attracted with cakes… Whilst the pagan priests neglect the poor, the hated Galileans devote themselves to works of charity, and by a display of false compassion have established and given effect to their pernicious errors. Such practice is common among them, and causes contempt for our gods.”
In Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity he says:
…”To cities filled with the homeless and impoverished, Christianity offered charity as well as hope. To cities filled with newcomers and strangers, Christianity offered an immediate basis for attachment. To cities filled with orphans and widows, Christianity provided a new and expanded sense of family. To cities torn by violent ethnic strife, Christianity offered a new basis for social solidarity. And to cities faced with epidemics, fire, and earthquakes, Christianity offered effective nursing services. . . . For what they brought was not simply an urban movement, but a new culture capable of making life in Greco-Roman cities more tolerable.”
And then finally an excerpt from an article in patheos titled: “How Christianity conquered pagan culture”:
“These early Christ-followers did not organize special interest groups or political parties. They never directly opposed Caesar; they didn’t picket or protest or attempt to overthrow the ruling powers. They didn’t publicly denounce or condemn the pagan world. Instead, they challenged the ruling powers by simply being a faithful, alternative presence—obedient to God. Their most distinguishing characteristic was not their ideology or their politics but their love for others. They lived as those who were, once again, living under the rule and reign of God, a sign and foretaste of what it will be fully, when Christ returns.
They expressed their opposition to infanticide by rescuing the abandoned children of Rome and raising them as their own—an enormously self-sacrificial act at a time when resources were limited and survival was in doubt.”
“I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations (Isaiah 42:6)
Sometimes being a light meant healing the sick or giving sight to the blind. But in the end, being a light is about interacting and loving messy people in the most unexpected places. It is putting our social standing aside and getting our hands dirty. Christ was never concerned with how He appeared before others. As an example, Jesus allowed a prostitute to wash His feet with her perfume. By aligning himself with this woman, Jesus opened himself up to the disgust of others. “Jesus let her sins go, but in the process took on the stigma of her reputation. He paid a price to love her”. (Paul Miller, Love Walked Among Us)
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Yes, Christianity should be anything but normal. It is not neat and clean. It does not look for quick clean victories and it will not be found in prosperity theology. I sometimes fail at it miserably, but with Gods grace all things are possible. It can get risky loving those with a societal stigma; the prisoner, addict, immigrant, homosexual, outcasts, Muslim, etc…Of course, the greatest example of all of ‘surprising game changing Christianity’ was Christ death and resurrection on the cross. Nothing was as messy and surprising as that. It was histories greatest act of love. Jesus humbled himself enough to die a criminals death. Jesus is the light that we should seek to imitate.
God, I pray that I will see people the way you see people. I pray that I will be willing to be a light to the world by loving the unlovable today and to not seek the approval of others, but only an audience of one.
Remember “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.”