Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Thoughts of Eternity

We were crossing a boulevard in downtown San Francisco a few years ago. A street preacher on the far corner had a microphone and an amp, and every reference to “the blood of Christ that cleanses us from all sin” echoed up and down the avenue at serious volume, etching themselves into our eardrums as we drew closer. I guess that’s legal in San Francisco; everything else sure is.

My unsaved friend turned to me and asked, “Why do they do that?” Which gave me twenty uninterrupted minutes to tell her.

Hats off to the loudmouth on the corner.

The Pop Star in a Toque

Another story. Yesterday I was driving home from the north end of the city. On a busy downtown road I spotted an old friend holding a short, clear Bible message up to passing traffic. Something like “Christ died for your sins.” Short enough to be read by everyone, and short enough that they didn’t drive off the road trying to read it.

It was a cold day and even with his toque and winter jacket on, he looked somehow smaller and more vulnerable than the last time I saw him. Age will do that, but he isn’t slowing down. Life has seen him play the role of a pop musician and airline pilot, but I’m pretty sure his current gig is his toughest yet. Playing an encore or successfully landing a jet is way more likely to get you a round of applause. When I sent him an email with an attempt at encouragement this morning, he replied that he’s just “interrupting people’s lives with thoughts of eternity”.

Exactly right. Hats off to the guy standing out in the cold with a sign, while the rest of us are Zoom-ing one another from the comfort of our dens and rec rooms.

Winding Up the Masses

Why do the provocateurs provoke? Why can’t they just keep their opinions to themselves?

Well, they are following in an undeniably biblical tradition. John the Baptist couldn’t resist tweaking Herod about being in a relationship with his brother’s wife. Was he interfering in someone else’s business? Was he being unspiritual? Was he conflating church and state? I don’t think so. As the last Old Testament prophetic voice, John was just being true to his calling and his nature. That meant keeping it real whatever the cost.

Hats off to the guys who are willing to lose their heads for a principle.

The Lord Jesus was arguably the biggest provocateur of them all. “Feed on my flesh and drink my blood”? Come on. You know that’s going to get the Jews all riled up. Only this week I noticed how many times he “broke” the Sabbath, on each occasion in plain sight of the religious authorities who would eventually scheme and plot his death. Those “seven woes” of Matthew 23: Couldn’t he have dialed that back just a little, knowing that a scathing denunciation of the religious establishment might be just enough to push his enemies over the edge? And what did he mean by deliberately trekking to Jerusalem when he knew exactly how it would end?

But he couldn’t step back from walking that knife-edge of deliberate provocation that scares the rest of us silly. And thank the Lord he didn’t.

... and Thus Save Some of Them

It’s the apostle Paul who tells us why Christians provoke, in case we couldn’t guess. “I magnify my ministry in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them.”

The problem is that jealous people — especially jealous people with the power of the state at their disposal — do crazy things. They might just hurt you. Paul didn’t care. To Paul, the prospect of saving one lost soul was worth any potential cost. So, like his Lord and Savior, he trekked right back to Jerusalem when he didn’t have to, despite numerous warnings about the hostility his actions would inevitably produce. Then as soon as he was given a chance to defend himself and even give a detailed personal testimony, he promptly spoiled the opportunity by telling a bunch of bigoted religious Jews that God had sent him to the Gentiles, causing something approximating a riot.

Think that move wasn’t totally calculated? Think again. Hats off to the guys who will do anything to make a point.

The Loudmouth on the Corner

Now, the loudmouth on the corner isn’t the apostle Paul. He isn’t John the Baptist, and he sure isn’t within the span of a couple of universes of the Lord Jesus. He might have no judgment, be immature, theologically unsound, or from a dodgy denomination. He might be having the worst day of his life in terms of homiletics in the moment when you pass him by.

But you know what? He’s out there, and he’s getting a reaction. I have made a little use of it more than once, and I hope to run into more guys willing to put themselves out there and risk the approbation of the masses in order that people like me can cash in on the reaction they are provoking.

There’s even the possibility — and I admit it scares me — that it might not be the worst idea in the world to be out there myself. The time is short.

Hats Off

So hats off to the provocateurs. Thanks for defining an edge that so far I haven’t quite had the courage to walk right up to. Interrupting people’s lives with thoughts of eternity is worth it.

Maybe that makes it a target to shoot for.

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