Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection December 11, 2016
The Beauty of the Christian Story
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday (December 4), I preached about the beauty of the Christian Story. While I did not have it written down, excepting a few notes, I would like to expand a few of those ideas for this week’s Advance.
We have lost much of the beauty inherent in the Christian Story. We have emphasized the next life to the detriment of this life. We scare people by proclaiming (LOUDLY!) that if YOU don’t give yourself to Jesus - YOU will spend the inexhaustible expanse of eternity in hell!
It’s no wonder our young flee from such sadistic and dangerous theology. Can we really worship a God who is a divine variation of a schoolyard bully? Trying to frighten our young into faith is doomed to failure. Yet how many TV evangelists and pastors keep beating this dead horse?
Having spent eight years as a full-time campus minister as well as an additional 12 years teaching in college settings, I have a great fondness for our young people and a deep appreciation for their struggles with faith and the spiritual life.
Their struggles tell us a great deal about how religion in general and Christianity in particular have gone off the tracks. In essence, I believe the beauty of the Christian Story is no longer accessible to our young (and many of us who are older as well!).
Too many have for too long muddied the beauty of the Christian Story. Too many have for too long corrupted the “Good News” of the Gospel into the “Bad News” of hellfire and damnation. Too many have for too long fought over who has it RIGHT instead of recognizing that we all have it WRONG to one degree or another.
As most know, I’m struggling these days with the loss of my beloved Beth. I know that time will have a healing effect but right now the healing effect of time is not very evident to me.
Yet as I mentioned Sunday, there have been moments recently where encountering beauty has helped my soul heal in tiny increments. Beauty has the power to heal! As the psychologist Rollo May writes in My Search for Beauty: “Beauty … is the resplendent gown of God and of our spiritual life. Beauty is eternity born into human existence.”
As I went through Beth’s things last week, I found a framed replication of a Botticelli Madonna. I had forgotten about it until coming across it in one of Beth’s closets. I immediately took it and hung it prominently in my home office.
My beloved Beth and I would often go to the Art Institute. It was always one of our special outings. For some years, my favorite Art Institute painting was Renoir’s Two Sisters. And while I still enjoy that painting greatly, I have a new “favorite” - the Botticelli Virgin and Child with an Angel.
The Botticelli (painted between 1475 and 1485) moves me whenever I stand in its sacred presence. I especially love Botticelli’s luminous lace. So give yourself a gift by going to the Art Institute and standing in this painting’s transforming presence (often you will be there by yourself - since the crowds usually head to the large French Impressionist Collection.)
The Christian Story is resplendent with beautiful images - many of them flowing from the divine promises proclaimed through the Old Testament prophets. For instance, the images found in chapter eleven of Isaiah (some of which was our Sunday preaching text) are incredibly consoling.
There will come a time when “the wolf shall live with the lamb.” There will come a time when “the lion shall eat straw like the ox.” There will come a time when “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
These promises are both beautiful and reliable. These promises - along with many others - are part of the dream God has for our earth and for all who inhabit our earth. These incredible promises WILL come to pass. They will come to pass when Jesus Christ comes to renew and heal all that stands in need of healing.
Every creature, including us, will be transformed into the image God created us to be - before evil distorted and diminished that divine image. This is what is promised! This is what I believe as a Christian. This is what every Christian is called to believe.
We will not spend eternity in some far-off place called heaven. We will spend most of eternity living on a transformed earth - living with resurrected bodies! To believe anything else is contrary to the promises of the Bible and the long expanse of Christian theology. To believe otherwise is to place ourselves outside Christian faith.
There is so much beauty in the Christian Story! I pray we might glimpse a glimmer of that beauty during these Advent Days and the resplendent season of Christmas!