The Divine Hours of Lent

I am in San Diego at the National Pastors’ Conference. It’s an annual gathering of several thousand pastors who, in this case, are primarily from the western part of our country. As a group, they cut across all kinds of denominational and non-denominational lines. But by and large, regardless of the church structure from which they come, these men and women tend to be more young and middle-aged than old; and they are all evangelical…or if there is an errant non-evangelical Christian here, I’ve yet to identify him or her.
This coming together of the pastoral clan is pure joy…joy to speak to, joy to be in the midst of, joy to learn from. “Evangelical” has gotten such a bad rap over the last two or three decades–much of it hard-earned and well-deserved, God knows. Nobody is denying that–that there is something wondrously restorative and reassuring about coming among, and being welcomed into, the body of Christian clergy who are not interested in being co-opted by the political and economic surround in which we all live. Here, among these men and women, the conversation assumes Jesus as the Christ and as Lord. It assumes as well that Christ among us means Christ in each human being who is willing to accept His occupancy. Beyond that–and key here, at least for me–it further assumes that the result of Christ in and among us defines our primary citizenship. As the Christ-occupied, we become “a people set apart and peculiar unto our God,” to put the matter biblically.
When anyone is so foolish as to try to characterize or summarize a group of several thousand professional religionists, as I have just done, one is playing with both fire and dynamite simultaneously. There are no generalizations in this world more volatile than those about religion and the religion-determined conduct of a segment of society. Even knowing that, I still am intrepid enough to say that there is devotion here among these men and women, and there is an ever-more-visible citizenship in something other than the local or the immediate.
There is compassion here, too, and everywhere. In the halls and meeting rooms and outside in the breezeways and palm-lined walkways. These men and women are the Church…or they are a huge estate within the Church…a huge cohort within the Church’s working crew…and they give me hope, especially in this election year.
The temptation to rent the Church’s voice out to the lords of power in exchange for a bowl of influence and a sop of money with a dash of ego thrown in has a history as long and elaborated as is the history of humankind itself. Like all temptations, this one grows stronger every time it is indulged; and it has been indulged many times over of late by all too many of us. Finding the balance between citizenship in the kingdoms of earth and citizenship in the Kingdom of God is one of the greater, trickier, more dangerous chores of adult Christian living, certainly. But I know one thing. I know that I am today in the midst of those who are consciously and vocally, prayerfully and collegially, trying to re-establish that balance. If they do so–and I pray they will–then thousands and thousands of the rest of us will find walking the beam far easier as well as far less remarkable.

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