Jesus said to them, “Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.”
A wise man once observed that people in the affluent western world are like a child sitting in the midst of puzzle pieces scattered on the floor all around. The child picks up one piece after another, examines it, admires the shapes and colors but finally becomes frustrated and despondent because he has no conception of the whole. This is a picture of what is, perhaps, the greatest crisis of our time; the crisis of meaning.
Millions of people today, young people especially, live their lives in fragments. One experience or one moment is episodic, detached from a greater whole. The result of this meandering is a culture where neurosis is epidemic. Drugs, alcohol and a thousand other diversions are used to mask the sense of life’s ultimate meaninglessness. What does the Christian faith have to say to these who in one way or another are debilitated by hopelessness?
At the same time, many secular men and women are not doubled up with the cramps of meaninglessness. They seem to function with intellectual and moral integrity, keeping a stiff upper lip in the face of an essentially empty cosmos. This is what pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he observed that modern people have “come of age”. What does the Christian faith have to say to these who are doing just fine, thank you, and claim to have no need of it?
Many in the Christian Church in this country do sense this tidal wave of meaninglessness. For this cultural fragmentation can be seen in the churches as well. But in far too many cases the response has been to close the blinds and retreat into legalism or fundamentalism where the church tinkers with the cultural conforming moral expectations of the middle class or cranks out institutional “how-to” programming while evacuating the religious substance of the faith. I suspect that the degree to which the churches fail to take seriously the depth of alienation and sin all around them is in direct proportion to the failure to consider these same things within themselves.
When Jesus spoke of the integrating power of God He spoke of the Kingdom of God, which is better translated, The ‘Rule’ or ‘Reign’ of God’. ‘ “The Kingdom of God has come near you”, he proclaimed. In Jesus Christ God has addressed the cognitive dissonance of meaning by reaffirming His gracious and determined commitment to the world. Years later, as Paul reflected on the faith, he came to see the Cross, the Crucified Christ as that great, integrating moment when all the alienations of this life were gathered up in God’s all-embracing mercy and grace.
If the Church is going to be a faithful witness to the Gospel in this time, we cannot afford to meet this crisis with indifference. We dare not close the blinds. What God has united on the Cross we have no right to separate. Which is to say, since Christ has died for ALL, all people are our concern. The mandate is simple. We are called to proclaim the reconciliation that is in Jesus and with some joy, too. For our mission is positive, proclaiming that Jesus Christ is the center and goal of world history.
So whether in dialog with the lost wanderer or the self-satisfied secularist, our goal is the same; to bear witness in all humanity and humility to that power of God, unleashed in the Gospel of Jesus the crucified One, that the world might believe, and in believing find reconciliation, coherence and purpose in Him.
“May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.”