Thursday, May 28, 2009

Our Scandalous Christ

On Memorial Day I once again had the distinct honor and privilege of delivering the Benediction at the end of the commemoration ceremonies near the monuments in the village. This honor and privilege has been extended to me, I believe, six times out of the seven Memorial Days that have passed since I first arrived in Pawling. The organizers of the ceremony from the American Legion have told me repeatedly how much they appreciate the prayers I have offered, and I take their repeated annual invitation to me as confirmation of their words.

The Invocation is “calling” upon the Triune God to be present amongst us. Of course God is present already, but our invocation expresses our desire that He be present amongst us. Likewise, the Benediction is a blessing of the Triune God upon the people that have desired His presence. The Invocation and the Benediction serve as “bookends” for the ceremony. We ask God to be present amongst us, to hear our prayers and receive our praise, and we in return receive His blessing.

Regardless of whether I have been asked to deliver the Invocation or the Benediction, my prayer each year has been explicitly Christian and Trinitarian. The organizers have asked a Christian Pastor to pray, not a Jewish Rabbi, a Muslim Imam, or an official of any other religion. And each year I have received nothing but thanks and appreciation for my prayers. But this year was different. Immediately following the Benediction one person came up to thank me for my prayer. Immediately behind her were two people who were not so appreciative.

The concern raised by the malcontents was that I was not inclusive in my prayer. They felt that I should have been sensitive to the fact that not everyone in attendance was Christian and that not all the servicemen and servicewomen being memorialized or presently serving were Christian. I told them simply that I was aware of that and that I prayed for all these people without exclusion. What was it, then, that really offended these two? What caused them to stumble?

"Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." Romans 9:33

Christian Pastors, and laity, are called to “preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.” 1 Corinthians 1:23 For “everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven” Matthew 10:32 And “blessed is the one who is not offended by me”. Matthew 11:6 For “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12

The Greek word translated as “offense” and “stumbling block” is (skandalon) or “scandal”. Jesus Christ, and Him crucified, is literally a “scandal” to unbelievers which “offends” them and causes them to “stumble”. The malcontents who were unhappy with my prayer were not unhappy with me, or even with my prayer, but they were scandalized and offended by the name of Jesus Christ.
I am happy to report that, but for the two complaints, more individuals thanked me personally for my prayer this year than all the previous years combined. In these Last Days in which all things are tolerable except perceived intolerance, and truth is relative and subjective, I find hope and comfort that a great number of people are not satisfied with superficial and substance-less platitudes but are looking, if unwittingly at times, for the true source of comfort and hope. And that Source is not a concept or an emotion – He is a person, and an unchanging rock, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Photo by T. J. Hanlon

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