Yesterday saw the confluence of All Saints Day with the “International Day of Prayer for Persecuted Church” – an interesting joining of two things that naturally should go together. After all some of Jesus’ final words to His followers were: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And Paul concurred telling Timothy, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12).
So we remember that the normative experience of the saints (that is the “holy ones” of God, those whom He has set apart for Himself . . . His children, every Christian, even us!) is to suffer for His name sake. But we also admit that suffering persecution is not our experience in the West. At least not to the degree of those mentioned in the book of Hebrews who “joyfully accepted the plundering of [their] property, since [they] knew that [they] had a better possession and an abiding one” (Heb. 10:34). They were encouraged to remember those who had suffered so much in so many ways (Heb. 11:32-40) and so to run the race (Heb. 12:1-ff). We are in that company, charged to run the race. We are “of the saints” if we trust in Christ by faith alone. But such a life of faith is usually one of obscurity, lived in small places where God does big things through small people.
How different this is to the “stars” of our modern world! A greater contrast could not have been made than by reading two book reviews in Saturday’s WSJ Review section. The first considered the life of Peggy Guggenheim (here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/the-greatest-collector-of-modern-art-1446236820). Hers was a life of opulent wealth. Her father died on the Titanic, and her uncle was patron of the same-named museum in NYC. Her life was spent collecting art, establishing art galleries, taking lovers, patronizing sinful and licentious living. On the next page was a review of another book about Frank Sinatra (here: http://www.wsj.com/articles/getting-under-his-skin-1446236562). Again, a life of world-wide renown, opulent wealth, untold influence (and again, legendary numbers of lovers). But in the end, both lives were a sad commentary on the modern attempt to throw off restraint and live “your way” (how profoundly sad are the words to that song recorded by Sinatra toward the end of his career – see “My Way” below, and especially the hard, tragically erroneous words in the final stanza). The world glamorizes the popular, the rich and flamboyant. They get attention, pleasure, power, desires, control. And they are indeed remembered. But it is in the end a sad and tragic remembrance. Almost to a person, their lives were colossal train wrecks of sadness, loneliness, ending in nothingness.
Saints, on the other hand, live in obscurity, oft-persecuted, but dying in faith living forever in the community of saints in fellowship with God. So I was encouraged yesterday in worship to recite the following from Heidelberg Confession: Question 52. What comfort is it to you that “Christ will come again to judge the living and the dead”? Answer: “In all my sorrow and persecution, I lift up my head and eagerly await as judge from heaven the very same person who before has submitted Himself for my sake, to the judgment of God, and has removed all the curse from me. He will to come as judge from heaven to cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but He will take me and all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.”
Then in closing, we sang:
“Faith of our fathers, living still, In spite of dungeon, fire and sword; O how our hearts beat high with joy, Whenever we hear that glorious Word! Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death.”
So what is the way of the saint? This morning at The Geneva School, the faculty heard this reading from C.S. Lewis – seemed to sum it up well:
“Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom, Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in” (Mere Christianity).
“My Way” (a ballad to late 60s hedonism and existentialism)
And now, the end is near, And so I face the final curtain. My friend, I’ll say it clear, I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain:
I’ve lived a life that’s full, I’ve traveled each and every highway; But more, much more than this I did it my way.
Regrets, I’ve had a few; But then again, too few to mention. I did what I had to do, And saw it through without exemption.
I planned each charted course, Each careful step along the byway; And more, much more than this I did it my way.
Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew, When I bit off more than I could chew. But through it all, when there was doubt I ate it up and spit it out. I faced it all and I stood tall And did it my way.
I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried; I’ve had my fill my share of losing. And now, as tears subside I find it all so amusing. To think I did all that And may I say – not in a shy way – Oh no, oh no, not me I did it my way.
For what is a man, what has he got If not himself, then he has naught. To say the things he truly feels, And not the words of one who kneels; The record shows I took the blows And did it my way.
Yes, it was my way.
How glad I am to be in company with the saints who say, “There is One who said, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one come to the Father but through me.”