Following Christ Through the World to the Kingdom

Christ is risen! 

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But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.  (John 10:2-4)

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The Lord Jesus gives us a very pastoral image of Himself being the good shepherd who leads us out to pasture.  He knows each of us by name and we willingly follow Him.  It is wonderful imagery and yet Christ does warn us that to follow Him means accepting the way of the Cross. He leads us, but the world in which we live can be hostile to us as it was to Him.  His voice leads us to the eternal Kingdom of God, but the way there is not through paradise but rather the way of the cross.  There is no way around this, though we today like the Apostles in the Gospel would like to avoid that way. We are not yet in the Kingdom nor in Paradise, and so we face many trials in this world.  “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22)

Following Christ is not without risk and when we imagine that life in this world can be Paradise, we are deceiving ourselves or even falling into a delusion which has inspired many ideologues and demagogues to wrongfully believe they can create a paradise on earth.  We are better prepared for life when we realize this world is still the way of the cross and not yet the Kingdom.  It is for good reason that often in icons of Christ the Good Shepherd a large cross is very visible. That cross, the sign of Christ’s triumphant victory over death, also follows Christ and so is in our midst when we follow Him.

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It is said in the Gospels: ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me‘ (Matthew. 16: 24). When we pray, then, we must first give up our own will and our own ideas, and then take up our cross, which is the labor of body and soul that is unavoidable in this spiritual quest. Having surrendered ourselves entirely to the never-sleeping care of God, we should joyfully and humbly endure the sweat and labor, for the sake of the true reward God will grant to the zealous when the right time comes. Then God, imparting his grace to us, will put an end to the wanderings of our mind and will place it—together with the remembrance of Himself—immovably within the heart.   (Monk Agapii, THE ART OF PRAYER, p 276)

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To follow Christ is to give up the delusion that any ideology or politician can create paradise on earth. They and we can make things better or worse, but to believe that any politician or ideology can perfect the world or save the world is to fail to take Christ’s words seriously.  “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no help. When his breath departs he returns to his earth; on that very day his plans perish” (Psalms 146:3).  Politicians and ideologies have only worldly (i.e., “fallen”) solutions to problems, so none of them can offer eternal values. They may make life better or worse for us in our earthly sojourn but godly people would be wise not to believe in them with all their soul, heart, mind and strength, something they should reserve for God alone. Serving God and mammon is impossible (Matthew 6:24). Believing that politicians or ideologies can establish a perfect world is a delusion.  Which is not to say that politics are unimportant, only that their solutions are of limited value and we should not treat politicians or their ideologies as infallible or inerrant, eternal or divine.

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Jesus told us, “in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  There is no doubt that we do have tribulation in this world.  What it means that Christ has overcome the world is far less certain as the world seems to go on as before. To find Christ’s peace and cheer is what can help us deal with life in faith and hope. I think it was Winston Churchill who said, “If you are going through hell, keep going!” Don’t stop, but move ahead, continue to be a sojourner realizing that God’s Kingdom awaits us at the end of time.  Until then, we have to carry our crosses in this world.

For all the people of the world who have been affected by war or mass shootings, you know what it is to be in hell.  While many of us weep with you, our inability to stop war or the use of guns for murder means there will be more weeping in this world. I don’t see our politicians as willing to work together to solve these problems.  They prefer to snipe at each other and become entrenched in their own opinions rather than to actively work for solutions or ways to improve life.  They want to score points for themselves and against their opponents rather than do the hard work of finding solutions that might require them to acknowledge that their ideological position is part of the problem.

Truly, He is risen! 

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