In What Good is God?, Philip Yancey tells the story of the brave young woman who helped spark the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine. The opposition candidate, Victor Yushchenko, having already faced an attempt to poison him, had a 10 percent lead over the government candidate on election day. The government then tried to steal the election.
The state-run television reported the election results in favor of the state's man. What the authorities forgot was the small inset in the lower right hand corner of the screen, where a young woman provided sign language interpretation for the hearing-impaired. While the announcer was trumpeting the defeat of Yushchenko, this courageous woman was signing, "I am addressing all the deaf citizens of Ukraine. Don't believe what they are saying. They are lying and I am ashamed to translate those lies. Yushchenko is our President!" No one in the studio understood sign language. The message spread like wildfire and within days a million Ukrainians descended on Kiev and demanded new elections. The government was forced to give in, and Yushchenko became president.
Yancey makes the point that this is what the church should be, a small screen in the corner announcing that what the big screen is blaring is a lie. Those who control the big screen are telling us that our worth hinges on how we look, how much we make, what we wear, or what we do. As we look at the screen we see the bright and the beautiful, the rich and the famous, the powerful, those who are famous for simply being famous. The message is that we should strive to be just like them. That is the message we see on the big screen. Unfortunately, the message that is exported to the rest of the world is that everyone in "Christian" America is rich, spoiled, and decadent. And we wonder why so many hate Christianity throughout the world.
We have a perfect example of the small screen in the One we claim to follow. The big screen of first century Judaism told folks that the healthy, wealthy, and wise were the ones who could expect God's favor. The kingdom of God was reserved for them. Along came Jesus, proclaiming that the kingdom was open to the downtrodden, the poor, the outcasts, the very ones that were seen as unworthy. His kingdom would not be built on military might, or on wealth, or on religious tradition. It would be built on love, and the ones on the bottom would enter before the movers and shakers of society. This message is even more revolutionary than the one which sparked the Orange Revolution.
The problem is that much of the church has either tried to control the big screen or has put up an imitation screen. We have our version of the rich and famous. Just watch Christian television. Take a look at the shelves in Christian bookstore, or the speaker lineup at any conference. Many of those people are fine folks with good ministries, but I don't think you could argue that there is not a cult of personality out there. We just don't do a very good job of broadcasting that subversive message that our Lord proclaimed.
Although there is still a great deal of "big screen Christianity," there are those who are working in the corner, spreading the revolutionary message of a kingdom that doesn't come with great fanfare, but arrives quietly and spreads like yeast, working its way through. It's a kingdom that is built on sacrificial acts of love, not displays of might. Its subjects lay down their lives for each other, rather than using them to climb the ladder.
May their tribe increase.
From my opportunity to teach in our gathering this morning:
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