If you're reading this blog and haven't yet discovered The Babylon Bee, I'll be shocked. It's a satire news site that publishes ridiculous but insightful and, thus, hilarious takes on mainstream Christianity. Yesterday, I saw an article about Tim Tebow charging the mound after getting hit by a pitch not in anger but to offer the pitcher unconditional forgiveness for hitting him. Like I said, it's hilarious. If I wasn't careful, I could lose an hour or two of my day on that site, but it's worth a few minutes of your time.
A week or so ago, I laughed out loud when a clergy colleague posted a Babylon Bee article about Joel Osteen being horrified to learn about the crucifixion. In case you didn't know, Joel Osteen has made a fabulous living for himself by preaching a message of prosperity through faith. Most Christian pastors (me included) are simultaneously enamored by the magnetism with which he draws enormous crowds and sickened by his apparent fundamental lack of understanding of the Christian message. That's why the article is funny. God didn't send his Son to die and rise again so that you could be wealthy. That's preposterous. In fact, it's explicitly NOT the thing Jesus calls us to do. Jesus suffered to give hope to the suffering--not to make them rich.
I wonder what sort of letter St. Paul would write to Christian pastors today as they try to encourage their congregations to ignore the wolves in sheep's clothing who preach a false gospel of prosperity through prayer. I wonder what Paul would say about Joel Osteen's cross-less, guilt-less, repentance-less version of the faith that Paul suffered and died in order to proclaim.
On Sunday, we'll read 2 Timothy 2:8-15, and we'll hear Paul encouraging his friend and brother in Christ to stay true to the faith: "Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David-- that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, so that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." Paul was willing to suffer imprisonment, torture, and death for the sake of the gospel. Convinced that the power of the gospel could most clearly be proclaimed through his chains, Paul accepted them--not because they were pleasant but because they were for Christ.
Even apart of the Joel Osteens of the world, how much of the Christian faith has become a theology of escapism? How many preachers and teachers and pastors look to Christ merely as the one who removes our pain and suffering and not as the one who dwells with us in it? We believe that Christ will deliver us from sin and suffering and death. We believe that our future in him is bright and hopeful and beautiful. But God does not lead us there by helping us avoid the hardships of life. We participate in his kingdom by enduring them. Let St. Paul be a source of real, Christian encouragement: we suffer because Christ suffered; we endure because he endured; we hope because he has given us hope.