Listen up, CHURCH! I am talking to you.
Ever since the Emperor Constantine baptized his troops under the sign of the cross, the church (in one form or another) has enjoyed the seats of honor at the table of empire. The church enjoyed no such favored status before that. Starting with the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, Caesar at first couldn’t even find Christ beneath his contempt – he was so far below it. But by the time St. Paul had confronted the supreme court of Rome, the contempt became purposeful.
Over the next three centuries, the empire’s contempt turned into hostility and focused persecution. With the weight of an empire, Rome sought to purge the world of this “body of Christ.” Christians were crucified by the thousands, and yet the church grew! Christians were fed to lions, burned alive for entertainment, and hunted down like seditious sleeper cells (of life, of course), and yet the church grew!
The empire was throwing a party, celebrating the world order that it brought, and it rightly viewed the church as a threat to that world order. The empire’s gospel message was: Caesar is Lord. But the church’s gospel message was: Jesus is Lord. And this world is not big enough for the both of them. And so the empire did not invite the church to their party, instead, they featured the church as the main course.
But then in an ironic twist of divine proportions, Constantine baptized the troops. He suddenly reversed the status of the church from outsiders, enemies of the state, and creatures of contempt. He gave the church the seat at his right hand and invited the bride of Christ to join him at his party.
Suddenly there were ulterior motives to being a Christian. No longer did you see standing with Jesus as a stark contrast to imperial world order and a near certain death sentence. No longer did Christian recruits lose their lives to save them. Suddenly, being a Christian helped you get a promotion at work or even advancement in politics.
In one form or another, the bride of Christ has played the harlot at Caesar’s party ever since that day until ours. When I was a kid, if you wanted to be mayor of our town, it was important to note somewhere in the small print of your campaign brochure that you were a deacon in your church for the last 6 years. It was just a small note, not meant to argue the fine details of doctrine or even commitment to Christ as much as it was a stepping stone to higher office.
Those days are gone now. There are pockets of resistance where some communities manage to live in denial of the new reality. Lubbock, Texas is one of those places. No kind of Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or pagan is likely to be elected mayor of this town. But the empire at large has had its way with the church and sent her out of the party with some suspicious stains on her dress.
If you are part of the Christian faith today, you are one of us. We are the new outsiders. The favor, the funding, the advancement and all that stuff is drying up for our kind. I just read a blog by a respected blogger I have followed off and on for years the other day who described how all the books he reads on youth ministry lament the loss of two things from our church: young people and money. Without these things, we cannot continue to party at Caesar’s table.
Why is this stuff important to share on a blog about homeless ministry?
Glad you asked.
This stuff is important because the church needs to return to her first love (Rev. 2:4) – that is Jesus. Lord Jesus. The supreme Savior and Lord of creation. We were conned by Caesar’s shiny jewels, but now we only have his suspicious stains on our dress. We left the room to powder our nose, and the bouncer won’t let us back inside.
But now is not the time to run out and cry in despair. Now is the time to repent and dine at the Tree of Life (Rev. 2:7) – which is the cross Caesar enthroned our Lord upon down beneath his contempt! In other words: Go HOME.
You will find Jesus among those other outsiders – the poor, sick, imprisoned, vagabonds (Matt. 25:31-40). The “homeless” as we tend to call them. Yes. He is there, waiting for you to return to him. He loves you. He longs for you. And if you return your love and devotion to him, you will have repented and proclaimed the rightful Lord and Savior of creation to the imperial party that no longer welcomes you.
We are the new outsiders. Let us join that other outsider, our Lord Jesus.