Distraction from the Balcony

img_2000_2The sanctuary of the last church I served seated approximately 700. There was a balcony that would seat another 100 or so, but was normally kept locked. There was enough seating in the main body of the church to accommodate the Sunday morning gathering.

Even so, as I began the sermon one Sunday morning, I looked up to see a young man enter the balcony and noisily make his way toward its front row carrying a big book. He sat down clumsily and began to turn its pages with exaggerated motions.

I looked a second and third time and realized that whatever his message was I was to be the recipient. I knew that if I allowed my eyes to be drawn there again I would lose focus on what I was saying.

The following week a young man whom I did not initially recognize made an appointment to see me. I invited him into my study and immediately felt the crackle of conflict, like electricity in the air.

He was there to argue and critique what I did as a pastor. At one point he said that he believed he could preach a much better sermon than I (although he had never preached a sermon).

Eventually he asked, “Didn’t you see me in the balcony on Sunday?” His question finally lifted the veil of mystery from the visit. He was in some sort of flaming rebellion and had made me the target.

I learned that he was in serious conflict with his father and in his mind I must have become something of a surrogate – an authority figure he felt the need to conquer. Still, our visit ended peaceably and he left.

In the context of the church one doesn’t often see close up such overt opposition to authority. His acting-out dealing with conflicted impulses was visible and public.

Still, we can all relate even if in some small way to this young man. Because sin has twisted us, the struggle to live within the confines of authority is universal. I saw the battle in my own children as they were growing up, and then in my grandchildren. I can already see it in its early stages in my great grandchildren.

In fact, none of us has come to full adulthood until we have learned three things: to accept legitimate authority, to question it with appropriate respect, and to stand against it when it is applied lawlessly or abusively.

When it comes to this struggle, the Bible does not leave us without guidance. Perhaps its most sweeping instructions for Christians on this matter is given in Romans 13. I read it for my devotions this very morning.

In Romans 13 the Apostle gives the reader pointed advice on how we Christians are to relate to civil authority that impinges on our lives. Here’s a portion of the chapter as Eugene Peterson paraphrases it in The Message:

Be a good citizen. All governments are under God. Insofar as there is peace and order, it’s God’s order. So live responsibly as a citizen. If you’re irresponsible to the state, then you’re irresponsible with God, and God will hold you responsible. Duly constituted authorities are only a threat if you’re trying to get by with something. Decent citizens should have nothing to fear. (Romans 13:1—3a).

Duly constituted authorities. That could extend this principle to the whole of life — family, church and state.

The irony in reading this chapter and the noteworthiness of its advice is that the emperor was the infamous Nero! He had caused the cruel torture and slaying of many Christians.

Yet Paul’s concern was that believers — insofar as possible — treat even Nero’s authority with respect because all authority is ultimately from God. His foremost concern was for the clear, unsullied witness of the church to Christ in society.

Our situation is vastly different. We read Paul’s words today as citizens of a society with remarkable freedoms, historically speaking. Yet, this freedom does not release us from various kinds of authority under which we live — those laws and principles that regulate family life, campus behavior for students, civic life, and not least, laws by which the church is governed.

If we yield to the temptation to ignore or sidestep these various authority systems, our rebellion may not be as visible as that of the young man in the balcony. But our witness to freedom in Christ registers as lawlessness. The God who inspired Romans 13 sees everything, and the passage that is there for the young man is equally there for each of us as believers, whatever our age or status!

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Photo credit: answersingenesis.org


3 thoughts on “Distraction from the Balcony

  1. A congregation of 700,or anything near that,sounds very good to me,Pastor Don .It would be wonderful to get half that number of congregants for normal Sunday morning service at my church,which is a large cathedral.I think UK could do with a Revival

    It was interesting to read about the young man in rebellion against his father and father figures.I’m glad his visit to you ended peacefully.I think having seen what was behind his behaviour, you treated him with understanding.

    Reading about this young man, I instantly recognized an exhibition of the sin of pride,not least because it is a sin to which I have been very much prone,particularly when I was younger.I always think of this sin as very much a young persons sin though I’m sure it is practised by all ages.

    At my church ,at noon every day we have had a short Litany of Reconciliation ,ever since our church was destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940,during the Second World War.After the war a new church was built,consecrated as the new Coventry Cathedral in 1962,but still joined to the old ruined cathedral which is still used for outdoor worship.

    Our Litany of Reconciliation is 7 short prayers ,loosely based on the 7 deadly sins,each prayer ending with the words ‘Father forgive’.

    The sin of pride is the 7th deadly sin and the final sin for which we ask our Father to forgive us,in our Litany of Reconciliation. This weeks ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ made me think about this idea of The 7 Deadly Sins.I was sure they must come from somewhere in the Bible so started looking. I found something in bo h Old and New Testaments.First I went to the Torah ,to the Ten Commandments.

    Then I found Proverbs 6:16-19
    ‘’These six things the LORD hates,
    Yes, seven are an abomination to Him:
    A proud look,
    A lying tongue,
    Hands that shed innocent blood,
    A heart that devises wicked plans,
    Feet that are swift in running to evil,
    A false witness who speaks lies,
    And one who sows discord among brethren.’’ Prov 6:16-19
    A proud look – is PRIDE or boasting. Hands that shed innocent blood – is WRATH
    But where are , Sloth,Envy,Avarice,Lust and Gluttony .In the New Testament I found Galatians 5 19:21.

    ‘’ Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: 1immorality, impurity, sensuality,
    idolatry, asorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, cdisputes, dissensions, 1factions,
    envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not binherit the kingdom of God. ‘’ Gal 5:19-21

    So here are Lust ( immorality & carousing ) , Envy ( jealousy & envying) ,Gluttony ( sensuality & drunkenness) and Sloth ( sensuality ) .We are given quite a few more things to avoid.

    I have a strong feeling that Pride is the deadliest of the Seven Deadly Sins.For by pride we think we can manage without God.By pride we risk separation from the Lord.

    Then I think of that profound English poem ‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton.’Non Serviam’ the angel Lucifer said to God.’I will not serve’.This led Lucifer to become the fallen angel Satan,the devil.Indirectly ,through the devils cunning and malice toward God’s creation humanity,this led to the Fall of Man.The devil tempted and corrupted our ancestors Adam and Eve.and caused our loss of Eden and the entry of sin into the world.In Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’, pride is the source of all sins.

    The young man in this weeks ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ was rebelling against his father.Just so Lucifer rebelled against The Father.The ultimate pride is to rebel against our Heavenly Father.We must’nt think we can manage without Him.We must not think the gifts He has given us are our own qualities ,ours to take pride in.For they come from and belong to the Lord.

    Saint Paul warns us against pride in his letters so very often it’s hard to know where to begin quoting him.I’ll choose a quote that links pride with rebellion against one’s father or disobedience to parents

    “Look how many are haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents,” [ 2 Timothy 3:2

    Elsewhere in Paul’s letters we read that the antidote to pride is humility and ultimately love.

    ‘’Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud ‘’ 1 Cor 13:4 NIV

    ‘Non serviam’ or ‘I will not serve’ imay be the very worst stance to take in life as a Christiamn.Jesus our Lord came as a servant.The night before he was betrayed he served others by washing the feet of his disciples.Some churches even have footwashing as a sacrament or at least as part of Lord’s Supper. Others have foot washing as part of the sevice on Holy Thursday.

    In England ,traditionally kings and queens washed the feet of the poor on Maundy Thursday. In the centre of Coventry the dean or provost of Coventry Cathedral used to publicly wash the feet of passers by.Like Peter ,many were bashful about having their feet washed. Unlike Jesus ,the dean didn’t insist on it.

    Nowadays , the Queen hands out bags of Maundy money in continuance of this tradition of Christian serving. Shortly after his conversion to Christianity,folk singer Bob Dylan wrote his song ‘Everybody’s Got To Serve Someone’.Service not rebellion is the Christian message.By submitting to authority and by serving others we serve our Lord.

    As every week, ,’Just Call Me Pastor’ leads me to think deeply about another aspect of Christian faith.

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