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Will the gospel be preached and heard in the church today? (For the Record).

How could we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:4)

Popular American sociologist and theologian Tony Campolo-recently lamented: "I find it strange that the last place I can really quote Jesus these days is in American churches. They don't want to hear 'Overcome evil with good.' They don't want to hear 'Those who live by the sword die by the sword.' They don't want to hear 'If your enemy hurts you, do good, feed, clothe, minister to him.' They don't want to hear 'Blessed are the merciful.' They don't want to hear 'Love your enemies.

I fear Campolo may be onto something. In some ways, September 11 has made it more difficult both to preach and to hear the gospel. The gospel can easily be misinterpreted as anti-Americanism. Even the gentle questioning of American foreign policy in the light of the Scriptures is seen by some as anti-American. September 11 has increased people's desire for a gospel of "health and wealth." Erstwhile starlet Boopsie in the comic strip Doonesbury speaks for these folk: "I know that to get through this [the chaos and pain of September 11], I'll eventually have to invite him [God] back into my Life."

Few of us are prepared to display the radical honesty of the sister of the pilot whose plane lay buried in the rubble of the Pentagon on that black Tuesday. "People ask me' she responded to Larry King, "whether I go to church. I tell them no, because the church teaches we must forgive. And, frankly, I am not there yet?'

Lent and the Passion of Jesus focus on this conflict. Rather than simplifying life for the Christian, this season of the Church Year can make it more difficult, especially when we view September 11 and subsequent events in the light of Jesus' Passion.

After Jesus had been raised on the cross, he prayed for his enemies. His words were shocking. Samson, eyeless at Gaza, also prayed fervently for his enemies. But only for their destruction. When Jesus prayed, he said, "Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they are doing." That places this hard question of Lent starkly before us: Who are we more likely to follow today, Samson or Jesus?

Some of the early biblical manuscripts drop out this prayer of Jesus about forgiving. We sympathize and know why they did it. The Early Church did not want God forgiving Jews, let alone Romans and other sinners. And the church has largely followed in those steps. If God forgave the Jews, we seldom have. Indeed, we have been more inclined to wipe them out -- Canada complicit in its unwillingness to accept Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. These words of Jesus about forgiving enemies, hard for the Early Church to swallow, have seldom been taken seriously since.

Jesus was crucified not only as the result of premeditated evil but, as Jesus put it, because of people not knowing. It is a blindness that believes war is the answer, that terror can cure terror, that life is black and white, and that people can be placed in one category or another. Sometimes, our not knowing is circumstantial, like soldiers doing what they are told to do. Sometimes, it is judicial, like the court that condemned Jesus. And, yes, sometimes it is wilful. "This is the condemnation," John writes, "that light is come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light."

Following Jesus is never easy. Sometimes, it may even become impossible as those who lost loved ones in the September attack know too well.

Yet, the hard question remains. In times like these, will the church be willing to preach the gospel and, if so, will the listeners receive it? I don't know. These are challenging times for both preachers and hearers. The Lenten readings will provide a good test.

John Congram
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Publication:Presbyterian Record
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Mar 1, 2002
Words:647
Previous Article:Recordings.
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