Is there no one you'd die for? Gladly die for? Gladly die for in a heartbeat?
Every day in hamlets and villages and towns and huge cities there are people who are dying for those they love. Sometimes the death is sudden and violent but in the vast majority it is a longer dying process where lovers deprive them themselves to keep their beloved ones alive. They deny themselves sufficient food so that others might eat, deny themselves sleep so that others might rest and be cared for, deny themselves adequate clothing so that others might be warmed; they worry about others and are driven by love into lives that are a long crucifixion and into an early grave.
They aren't few in number—they live and die in their multiplied millions; generation after generation. They wander cities looking for work, any kind of work, any hours, any conditions to get money to feed their young, their aged or their sick; together they wander the earth to to find a protected place for their families as they are presently doing in the great European Exodus. This great wandering will cease to be a gripping news item as it now is—and should be—but the daily, ceaseless, generation after generation self-giving that goes unheralded will still be going on.
It's those of us who are comfortable who view all this as “heroic” and that's no bad thing but those who live that way view it as inevitable. They love and while it's true that love sets free it's also true that love leaves them no choice. In their millions they don't have time or energy to think about how their lives are interpreted by the comfortable. To call them heroes because they love their beloved ones would make no sense to them—”And what else would we do?” they'd say.
The wonderful music of Paul Williams [by far my favorite song writer] has now gone out of style; it doesn't reflect the way the world actually sounds. The popular music is feverish, wild, loud, saturated with sensation that knows nothing of commitment, starkly taking without giving, pregnant with gutter speech and devoid of mystique and sneering at what it calls “sentimentalism”—it's realistic, we're told, and that is the central issue. So Williams' music is “old-fashioned” and [though he's anything but dead and forgotten] it's not in step with the grand drift of popular music. Maybe so, but “You & Me Against the World” is as realistic as songs about smash-and-grab sexual experiences; his “Loneliness” is as true to the human condition as any of the “we want it all and we want it now” songs and his “Flash” is as happy and true as any “curse society and everybody in it” productions.
The call to realism is no bad thing but if we're going to be realistic we need to be thoroughly realistic. The rape of a child by a morally-deranged father is a fact but so is the pure love of children—one is as real as the other! People trafficking is a heart-stopping reality but so is the life of someone like Toyohiko Kagawa, so are the tens of thousands of “Child Haven” enterprises in every major country. The brutal religions and their ruthless adherents who without apology promote and practice heartless violence are real but so is the faith that has Jesus Christ as its throbbing center. Realism will insist that there are hypocrites but consistent realism will insist that there are millions of the genuine. There's Hitler but there's Frank and Nini Lott; there's Pol Pot and Papa Doc but there's also a Toyohiko Kagawa. Realism must take into account the good as well as the evil. There's a Nero but there's also a Paul, there's a cross on which people are murdered but there's also a Jesus of Nazareth who dies on one of them.
It is a strange and complex world where a Jesus is murdered on a cross and the baleful Tiberius sits on a throne. It makes no sense to fasten our eyes on the spellbinding reality of Jesus Christ and deny the stupefying reality of the stake of torment he died on. Equally it makes no sense to ceaselessly note the instrument of torture and death and ignore the young man [who is God being a man] who hangs there. The NT will force us to look at the reality of corrupt and murderous authorities but it confronts us with the resurrected and glorified Jesus Christ who conquered them.
It insists he conquered them for the world, as one sufferer among the countless sufferers; he did it not simply for himself and to please the Holy Father, he did it for the entire human family and in doing it for us all he is the revelation of God.
We mustn’t speak the gospel as if God found it difficult to love us. Sinners love not only their own, they also love strangers and even enemies; are we to speak of God as though he finds it difficult to do what countless numbers of sinners do? God calls his followers to love their own and the stranger and the enemy but has a hard time doing it himself?
A one-sided realism that denies or completely ignores the goodness in the world strips the world of glory and gallantry and makes it a place of unrelieved gloom, it promotes unyielding despair and calls nobody upward to brawl against the evil invisible force that moves like a plague or a starving parasite that feeds on the human family. But a one-sided realism can also produce sentimentalism that turns its blind eyes heavenward [as a blind person will sometimes do] to enjoy only “the sunny side of doubt” [Tennyson]
Tomorrow millions of Christians will gather to “participate in the body of Christ” as they Supper together. In this they will bear witness to [“proclaim”--1 Corinthians 11:26] the One who in himself and on the cross embodies the kind of realism Christians in their best moments embrace. Through him they know about suffering and death and, like him, they seek no exemption from those harsh realities but through him they know about the triumph of life and righteousness over death and evil.
As the NT teaches us, in a believer's baptism as they enter into union with the slain but resurrected Jesus Christ, the believers take into account the meaning and purpose of Christ's self-giving death and they say, “Dear God, count me in.” So it is as they gather and together they feed on the living Christ they also renew their covenant in and with him who said, “This is my blood of the new covenant” the believers again say, “Dear God count me in.”
This means that in his name and for his sake they will commit themselves to embody the Story they teach and sing and pray and reflect on and bear witness to. They will commit to being people who are part of a vast ocean of moral goodness but they will do that in his name, in the name of the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. They will be congregations of balanced realism and followers of the Holy One who in and as Jesus Christ is the one true realist.