Recite the sinners prayer, get baptized, and abracadabra a member of clergy or laity proclaims you are saved. No matter what the magicians of the church have told you Jesus’ words and actions have meaning! He taught us how to live in love in a world dominated by oppressive, possessive and heavy-handed power. Governments seek to use his identity to rally the people but “believing in his name” demands a change of allegiance. To be alive in Christ requires being dead to ego identity. Formerly self -serving, a follower of Jesus now serves him by serving others. When he said believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved he was not referring to the letters of the English alphabet. J…E…S…U…S.
His name is not just part of religious craft to conjure up an eternal spell. Instead, he was referring to character traits. He is the son of God and he explained that we are his brothers and sisters if we live by his principles of love, compassion and surrender.
Many Christians in America prayed the Sinners Prayer in a stadium at a Billy Graham crusade or at a church alter while the choir sang “Just as I am with out one plea…to rid my soul of one dark blot…..I come.” In the prayer the person says, I know I ‘m a sinner, I believe you sent Jesus to die on the cross and rise again so I can be forgiven, I want Jesus in my heart so all my sins are forgiven, help me in my walk in faith. ……Abrahacadabra I‘m in! (I added that last part). The prayer is a good beginning but the core of what it means to take up ones cross and follow Christ seems to have gotten lost with sleight of hand.
Being saved is not about entering into the cosmic magician’s disappearing chamber until the dramatic moment. It is about accepting forgiveness and freedom from guilt by faith. That, however, is just the beginning. Dieing to self-interest, ego and all other identities requires courage and risk. We die to family identity, national identity, racial identity, religious identity. All that is not Love must die. The magic Jesus enters the heart by hocus pocus. The revolutionary Jesus enters the heart in surrender of self interest. Now you see him now you don’t is the reality of the magic Jesus but a steady light shining in the darkness reveals the living god to the world.
In the sinner’s prayer, “lead me in my walk of faith” alludes to some sort of service on behalf of humanity but it is unclear and certainly not the main motivation to become a follower of Christ. The focus again and again is on what one gets in exchange. Let’s see… I just admit I’m a sinner and then in return I get to feel less guilty, I get to be blessed by God, I get to go to heaven where there are streets of gold, I get to avoid eternal damnation and burning of my flesh forever. In many churches now I am promised I will get rich and I have political power. Hmm… seems like a good deal. I’ll take it. Abracadabra A-men!
Rather than the magic Jesus, there is a very real and powerful Christ whose teachings continue drawing the world to his kingdom community from many neighbors. Ironically, many who preach about absolutes and literal interpretations use situational ethics and complicated arguments to explain that Jesus did not mean what he said. The leaders of magical Christianity have a horrible dilemma. How can people be manipulated and controlled if they believe in the radical love of Christ and his forgiveness? Some have said that the opposite of love is indifference and some say the opposite of love is control. What we see in the church today is control and indifference. There is a desire to control others and indifference to their suffering. People who want to be followers of Christ must love their neighbors, love their enemies and love the living God.
Love your neighbor as yourself sums up all the commandments. Every one knows neighbors can be a good source for tools or an occasional cup of sugar. But, where does our neighborhood end? Is it the houses on each side or the whole street? When Jesus was asked how far this loving has to go he wisely told a story of the good Samaritan. He was speaking in Galilee which had continually been at war with Samaria. He selected the clan and class of people who were most hated and despised by the upstanding Jewish community in Galilee.
The first to come by the beaten bleeding man was a priest who did not want to defile himself by touching a dead person. Since he did not know if the man was dead he walked on by, choosing the law rather than love. The second was a Levite whose concern was money and the collecting of tithes. He too looked and “passed by”. The third was the Samaritan who was considered to be an enemy, of a different race and religion. Unlike the others, he had empathy and compassion. He administered first aid and then took the victim to an inn and paid all the current and future expenses. He was not limited in his love by religious law, concerns of risk or the cost. He was a neighbor because he loved and he loved because he was a neighbor.
The teachings of Jesus do still have meaning! It’s not just magic. Our neighbors are everywhere. They are in Iraq, they are in Iran, they are in Israel, they are in Palestine, they are in Mexico, they are in our border towns and in our work places. They are black, white, homosexual, heterosexual, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Pagans…..The neighborhood of the kingdom of God is ever increasing and the command to love our neighbors and our enemies is just as important today as it was in Galilee 5,000 years ago.
The consequence of loving our neighbors around the globe is likely to result in a peaceful neighborhood but that is not why we love. Everyone knows that stealing and destroying the homes of our neighbors will bring retaliation. Magical Christians justify stealing natural resources from distant lands and destroying homes and families while identifying religious and political righteousness as entitlement. Jesus reminds us that our righteousness is as filthy rags. Many caught up in the acts of the magical Christians just remain silent and pass by their neighbors in Iraq, Palestine and Iran like the Priest and the Levite. They have accepted stage magic for the redemptive love of Christ. There are dangerous and fearful people who will stop at nothing to fight for what they want. Jesus taught us how to respond to them as well.
He said that under old testament law you can only do to others what they had done to you. An eye for and eye or a tooth for a tooth. Jesus however, taught a radical risky approach to violence which is the opposite of “human nature. “ God nature teaches us to “love your enemies, bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you.” Christians who are waiting in the magicians box with the false bottom are waiting to reappear in heaven after Armageddon. They argue that Jesus never meant his words to be taken literally. They explain it would be crazy to take them at face value because it defies human nature. Exactly, it is Christ’s nature- the whole point or redemption. Ironically, the most revolutionary admonition of Christ which holds the key to the Kingdom is dismissed. Which enemies are we to love? Perhaps for magic Christians “an enemy” is just the woman at work who consistently snatches the last doughnut or gossips about them.
Jesus was talking about brutal painful acts of violence (eye for an eye- tooth for a tooth) not the just the office gossip. He clearly explained the cost of following him. Sometimes a soft word turns away wrath but history has also shown us that sometimes it doesn’t. The outcome does not determine the righteousness of the action. Magic Christians clearly have hidden the meaning of this command up their sleeves. Today they justify violence against enemies explaining that we are dealing with good verses evil and never in history has there been such a battle as the one which rages today . They explain we have “evil” people who be-head others, and suicide bombers who kill innocent people. They quake in fear saying our culture is debased and sinful unlike any in the history of human kind.
This is blatantly false! Be-headings are as old as time. Magical Christians throughout history beheaded many and thought they were righteous. Brutal attacks on Jesus’ followers were common and many were killed for sport. Domination and control of others is as old as time. The “culture wars” have been waging since the word of God spoke the world into existence. Women have always known which herbs and interventions end pregnancies. All societies have had interests in managing the populaton. Homosexuality also has always existed in societies. At times there were homosexual prostitutes in the temples as in ancient Canaanite ritualistic practices. There have always been territorial disputes, religious fighting, and someone is always threatening the annihilation of others. Jesus said “do not fear those who can destroy the body but be concerned about those who can destroy the soul.“ The sleight of hand stage magic Christianity has done a lot of hocus pocus with Jesus’ commandments to love our neighbors and our enemies and distorted what it means to love the living God.
The love of God is gone from the hearts of those who call themselves by his name. Magical Christians are nervous when fiction writers question the church, when archeologists announced they found the book of Judas, or scientists claim to disprove long held details of Christian belief. If Jesus is just about a magical carpet ride to heaven to escape damnation then it really matters what people say or science proves. Their lives depend on it! But, if Jesus is about character and the meaning of his words and life are written on our hearts we remain unshaken. A million “discoveries” could be made about his life but the truth and power of his words and actions remain. If Christian magicians believe they possess absolute truth why do they fear the questions?
Loving God, loving our neighbors and loving our enemies is the only way to respond to power, fear and oppression. It is not a strategy but a commandment. The powers of this world seek to divide us from one another and foment fear and hatred between us. Radio and television personalities who carefully chose their words are increasingly choosing words to outrage, stir up vitriol, and foment race wars and religious wars. Followers of magic are led along by emotion and succumb to the situational ethics and justifications for violence and hatred . Those who seek to manipulate through fear to dominate, control and wield power promise to safeguard our race and our people and the freedom and independence of our homeland. These are the same promises Hitler made to the good German people. Those who seek to save their life will lose it and those who lose their life for Christ’s love will find it. (Matthew 16:25) Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. (Matthew 10:28)
Jesus isn’t magic. His love and teachings are revolutionary.