Sunday, January 13, 2019


Sunday Reflection: On withdrawing

There is this tension among many people of faith-- of many faiths-- between being engaged with the world and being withdrawn from it. You can't make a difference without being engaged, but withdrawing from the world ensures a kind of purity by avoiding all the mess that comes with engagement.

I have met people who have almost completely withdrawn from mainstream society because of its "corruption." They live in a remote place and stay there. They tell me it comes from their deep sense of Christianity.

I would never choose that. Christ called us to engagement, after all; it is at the heart of the Second Great Commandment, since you can't love your neighbor unless you know them.

And there is also my favorite story, just about, in all of the Gospels. The Apostles, or many of them, withdraw after the death of Jesus. They head out to the Sea of Galilee and fish. The resurrected Jesus, though, finds them. He tells Peter, the most enthusiastic of them, to "feed my sheep."

And we know what happens next. Peter engages with that broad world, the beloved creation, this big remarkable society we are all a part of. It's messy. But how could it not be? It is where we are meant to be.

As a child raised in the United Methodist Church in the 1960s and 1970s, the social gospel was preached into my soul. You live your faith by what you do and say and how you act. While the "official" Social Gospel movement focused on addressing societal problems, it was understood in my church that you live your faith in all you do, whether leading a campaign to end poverty for millions or helping one person in one way rise above the poverty he lived in. Your faith isn't only something you feel and believe - it is something you DO.
Yes, Jesus says "Come away and rest awhile," so temporary withdrawals for the purpose of restoration and rejuvenation is not only a good thing, it is a necessary one. A permanent withdrawal to escape the big, bad world, however, is wildly inconsistent with the invitation (I would say "commant") to go into the world and build God's kingdom.
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