In his analysis for this week, John Shearman mentions Dr. Robert McClure, the first lay Moderator of The United Church of Canada. McClure was a missionary surgeon who, as John puts it, “had little patience with those who refused a similar commitment for the safety and comfort of a successful career at home. He exemplified what Mark quoted Jesus as saying about losing one’s life to save it.”
So does our faith require us to walk away from our daily lives, hop the first plane to an impoverished nation, and start digging wells and building hospitals?
Most of us, however, are called to do something even harder – to live out our faith in our own families, in our workplaces, and in our communities. I say that it’s harder to do this than it is to journey to some far off land because in our daily lives we face enormous pressure to simply “go along to get along” as the old saying goes.
Our politicians and corporate executives whisper seductively that the only way to “salvation” is an ever-growing economic bubble. Yet at the same time, they tell us that we shouldn’t expect fair and equitable treatment for everyone because “there’s only so much to go around.”
For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. from Mark 8
I can’t think of any more succinct condemnation of a consumer society than those words. And no, I’m not suggesting that owning a smartphone or a nice house or a new car is evil. But the emphasis in a consumer society is on the individual and what we can take for ourselves.
In other words, it glorifies greed.
It is, of course, very, very careful not to call it that. But it scorns those values that can enrich our family, our community, and our world.
The author of Mark isn’t saying that we shouldn’t have a comfortable life. Quite the contrary. It’s just that he’s saying that we can only truly have it by ensuring that others have it as well; that the world around us is protected; that justice and compassion are the norm. It’s when those are our priorities that we can enjoy the bounty of our technology and the riches of our world and still be true to the Message of the Christ.
Unfortunately, some try to make it an either/or choice. It’s not.
They try to claim that we must set aside the gains we’ve made in justice, compassion, and equality. We must not.
In our so-called “fragile economic times” they use fear and the spectre of disaster to convince us that we must cast people aside to fend for themselves. If someone has to do without food, or shelter, or medicine they argue, better that it should be “someone else” rather than us. But we know, through our faith, that there is no “someone else.” We are all interdependent. We are all one.
Giving in to those fears and those arguments is the very definition of trying to save our life, only to lose it.
As followers of the Christ, we’re called to contest that view of the world. We’re called to live each day, every day, in agapé relationship with one another; to “love” one another as God “loves” us. We’re called to treat all people as equally worthy and to ensure that justice and compassion are part of our lives and the lives of all around us.
This isn’t a matter of convincing anyone to follow doctrine or dogma. It’s a matter of how we live. It’s a matter of how we ourselves treat all aspects of Creation.
The Message of the Christ is that we are inseverably one with God/Theos. But it is also that we are the hands of God in Creation. We are the hands of God in action … or in inaction.
We can lose our life – and save it, and the world around us – by refusing to give in to fear or greed or self-interest; by not turning a blind eye to those in need; by demanding justice for all; and by speaking up when others choose to sit silently by.
Our faith calls on us to do and to be all of these things. It’s not as easy as being a missionary surgeon.
But it’s just as important.