Conspicuous love

Published 9:57 am Wednesday, October 24, 2018

by Nathan Decker

“This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love  each other.” – John 13:35

This past week I attended one of those great coming of age ceremonies that our churches are blessed to be a part — an Eagle Scout Ceremony. Being an Eagle Scout is the highest rank in the BSA program.  It is an amazing achievement for anyone. But this particular week, a word caught my ear. “Remember that your actions are now a little more conspicuous… .” 

Scouts stand out. Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts — when they put on that uniform it marks them as a target for judgment, envy and eyes that seek negativity. It is almost as if the whole world is just waiting for someone in that uniform to screw up so that there can be a media frenzy, law suits and policy changes. I understand this, because Christ taught us to understand this as Christians. 

As a Christian, I am not of this world. I love this world. I love my country. But I recognize that I am, as one theologian put it, a resident alien. I am a citizen of God’s realm. I am not of this world. The moment I was baptized, I was marked, spiritually circumcised, and uniformed to be conspicuous in love, particular in behavior, and radical in hospitality. God claimed me as a part of the Body of Christ.  God put me to work to bring the world fully into the Kingdom of God, to be a part of the salvation of the cosmos. I am a child of God, and that means there is an expectation that there is a difference. 

A problem we have in today’s church is that we equate being a good citizen of this world with being a good citizen of God’s Kingdom. That works one way, but not necessarily both. Being a Christian should make us more thoughtful, more deliberate, and perhaps more intentional in our being a citizen of this world. But being a good citizen does not equate to behaving like Jesus.

In the early church, Christians (and their children) were baptized naked. As they came out of the water the first thing that the church did was robe them in white. It wasn’t to say we were better than anyone else. We are not bragging about divine brownie points. It was our uniform that said we were now conspicuous. Jesus prayed that we would be “known by our love for one another.” 

If you are like me, the only time you see the church in the headlines and in the new television shows is when we are stereotyped into backwards, brainwashed buffoons power-hungry on using political means to make everyone believe the way we do. While this is conspicuous and even outlandish, it doesn’t seem like we are wearing the uniform God told us to put on in our baptism. 

Our passion was to live life through the passion of Christ. Our strength comes from living in our weaknesses. Our power resides in lowering ourselves to be with the powerless. Our salvation and eternal life comes from denying ourselves, taking up our cross, and following Jesus even to the point of death. The attention we should get as a people of faith should be about our love of the unlovable, our welcome of the outcast, and our honest confession that we are broken people offering a wounded Savior to heal a broken world. That kind of love draws attention. It did in Jesus day, and I know it still does today. Live a conspicuous life, after all, it’s what Jesus would do.

“My kingdom doesn’t originate from this world. If it did, my guards would fight so that I wouldn’t have been arrested by the Jewish leaders. My kingdom isn’t from here.”

– Jesus in John 18:36

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.