Monday, April 16, 2007

Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors...

How would you react if Osama Bin Laden showed up in worship this Sunday? How should we react?

Certainly, this man represents radical evil in today's world in a way few others ever could. Bin Laden, most of us would likely say, hates God and all for which God stands, even while mistakenly believing that he is acting in a faithful way. He is, after all, an extremely religious man. He is also responsible, directly or indirectly, for the deaths of thousands, and his actions have been nothing short of satanic.

So...suppose he showed up in worship on Sunday, and claimed to have met Jesus. Suppose he claimed to be completely penitent and that he had received forgiveness in Jesus' name, and now desired to praise the name of the Lord with you. Would you be uncomfortable? Confused? Frightened? Unconvinced? Would you immediately call the police or (for those who believe in "just war") hold him at gunpoint before the altar while waiting for the authorities to arrive? Would you break the bread and share the cup with him? Would you pray with him, anointing him with holy oil? Would you call Bob Zilhaver and ask, "What does the Book of Discipline say about this?"

There are no easy answers to these hypothetical questions. BUT...this is similar to the problem experienced in the first century when Saul suddenly professed to have met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and these hypotheticals suddenly became very real.

Perhaps the most amazing aspect of St. Paul's conversion story isn't the blinding vision or the transformed heart...both very impressive, to be sure...but the fact that Saul found a Church which was willing to receive him. Though his conversion (and eventual claim to apostolic authority) met with great skepticism, Ananias, one of the finest examples of a Christian in all of history, set his fears and confusion aside to faithfully answer the Lord's call to minister to this new Christian, and to receive him into the Church of Christ through baptism.

Are we as faithful? If Ananias and the Damascus church could receive a well known assassin, could we do the same? Are we truly "open" to even the most undesirable of persons? Ananias surely didn't agree with Saul's behavior, but was still willing to embrace him, hoping that through the Spirit's power in baptism, the disobedient behavior might change. Are we listening for the Lord's voice, and seeking ways to be faithful even in the midst of confusion and uncertainty?

Are we like Saul, extremely religious and committed to the letter of the law? Or are we like Ananias, moving beyond religious words and forms to a lifestyle of vulnerability, compassion and grace?

"Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision...'Get up and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul. At this moment he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.'

"But Ananias answered, 'Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints in Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who invoke your name.'

"But the Lord said to him, 'Go, for he is an instrument whom I have chosen to bring my name before Gentiles and kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.'

"So Ananias went and entered the house. He laid his hands on Saul and said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on your way here, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' And immediately something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and his sight was restored.

"Then he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, 'He is the Son of God.'"

- Acts 9:10-20 (NRSV, adapt.)


Randy Roda said...

Boy you ever come up with some hypothetical. Constitutional Lawyer Alan Dershowitz once said that If he'd been alive and praticing law during WWII and Hitler had come to him looking for legal representation, he would have had to make a choice. Do I shoot this man on the spot or do I take the case? Dershowitz said he would take the case. Now that's radical.
In the choice between radical love and radical Islam...I'll hide behind just war theory.

Randy Roda said...

By the you love controversial topics or what?

John said...

Excellent post. We must always remember that, in comparison to God's perfection, we are just as sinful as Bin Laden, and just in need of redemption.

Keith H. McIlwain said...

Randy: This is the week's lectionary Epistle reading! I don't look for controversy, but when it comes to the gospel, controversy abounds!

John: Without question, we are all as sinful as Bin Laden, and all of us are in need of grace.

Eric Park said...

The questions that you raise, Keith, are particularly appropriate on a day like today--a day in which we are endeavoring to process the horrific tragedy on the campus of Virginia Tech.

As the details of the tragedy continue to make themselves known, I cannot help but wonder how I would respond to the shooter, were he alive and penitent.

I suppose we have to stand upon the biblical truth that no one is beyond the scope of God's redemptive grace. Not even Saul. Not even Osama. Not even a troubled young man equipped with guns and a desire to kill.

Brett Probert said...

Actually, Osama has been worshiping at Cornerstone for a few months now and is on our praise team.

Randy Roda said...

Keith...I love your analogy...don't get me wrong. It was creative and thoughtful. But I'll still hide behind just war theory.

Brenda said...

Your post remided me of a Friday night in college when we gathered together to pray for Maralyn Manson rather than traveling to Pittsburgh to protest his concert.