Do you watch drug commercials on television? It’s hard to avoid them. They seem to be on every network during most commercial breaks. Not only do they tell you much about who networks believe are watching television, you can learn the most ridiculous names. The names these drugs carry, it as if they’re from a language unto themselves. Viagra, Cialis, Lunesta, Otezla, Jardiance, and Trentelliz: who is making these things up? Is it by committee? Or do they pay one person, who failed greeting card school, to create these silly artificial words?
As cheesy as the “names” seem, the side effects of these drugs are worse. Have you paid attention to the potential side effects of these medicines? For Otzela alone (an arthritis medicine), here’s what you might expect: nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, and upper respiratory tract infections. Those are pretty standard across the board. The more I see of these medicines and consider my options, I’ve come to the realization I’d rather have the condition than live with the side effects. The side effects could kill you.
These ads, the drugs they offer, and their side effects got me thinking; are there side effects of following Jesus? We talk about Christianity in healing and medicinal terms. Regardless of your Christian tradition, you probably sum up our belief in two words “Jesus Saves”. Christianity is an idea rooted in changing unhealthy aspects of our life (as scripture itself says) into healthier was of living. We are saved from “death” into “life”. Supposedly, that’s what these medicines claim to do. Even the best, most well funded, and researched pharmaceutical advances come with side effects. It is part of the price we pay for healthier living.
Are their side effects to becoming and living as a Christian? If so, what might they be? Are they good or bad? Can we live with them?
As Paul writes in Colossians 3, belief (or life in Christ) works against a number of pre-existing conditions, “anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language.” In Luke 12, we hear a parable about a man who lives to “eat, drink, and be merry”. He’s been blessed with abundance and overcome with greed. Jesus is saying: There is something about what we do which treats spiritual and moral indigestion.
Like an insurance policy whose owners never intend to pay out, it’s easier to accept people who aren’t sick, have no pre-existing conditions, and have no plans on dying anytime soon. In the same way, it would be easier accept, says Paul, for the church to accept people with perfect records of spiritual health and moral probity. There is absolute and unconditional openness in whom we treat.
We need to be reminded: Jesus puts no limits on who comes into the Kingdom. Boundaries, borders, and checkpoints do not define our salvation journey. If there are walls (both physical and mental), Christians are people called to go, live, and see beyond them. Paul reiterates this even more clearly at the end of today’s epistle reading:
“There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, Slave nor free, but Christ is all things in all people.” Here’s a challenge: in place of what Paul wrote substitute these words: Christian nor Muslim, Palestinian nor Jew, Black nor White, Gay nor Straight, Immigrant but Christ is all things in all people. How does it sound if it were written to us today? Make it new, allow Paul to speak, and see what the side effects are in your life.
As happened in his own time, when we allow Christ’s love to speak clearly and without filters to the world around us:
People will get headaches
Maybe some sweating or rashes
Some people will get sick to their stomachs in a variety of forms.
The Gospel will cause pains in people’s backs and sides.
And last but not least…
If you’ve been in love with Jesus for four hours or more! Great! Call a friend and tell them!
Yet despite these side effects, I seem to remember a hymn which said, “You come as you are, just as you are, and without one plea.” It didn’t mean come as you are, without your one plea, as long as you were a white, Gentile, and from the good side of Philippi, Colossae, or Corinth. It said, “Just As I Am, right now, whoever I am, what color I am, where I’ve been, and whoever I love, without one plea.” It’s hard to sing that hymn and read scripture and think it may apply to other people. That’s another side effect, one of our very own.
Paul says it is a challenge, our defining illness, to think of the things from above versus on the things from below. This is Paul’s way of saying, in Colossians 3, that being positive is harder than being negative. It is far easier, even natural for us to focus on “anger, rage, malice, slander, and obscene language.”
Paul asks, if you now have the opportunity to get better, to “take off the human nature with its practices and put on a new nature”, why not take it? What is that opportunity: To look at the world through Jesus’ eyes and act in love. It’s more than doing “good for goodness sake”.
No one gets up on Sunday morning and comes to church because they believe in being good. That ought to be part and parcel of our humanity, that’s why there’s not a line in the Apostles’ Creed where we all say together, “I believe in being Good, Nice, Happy, and Friendly because that’s the way Jesus wanted it to be.”
Christians have come to that place, like alcoholics and drug addicts reaching rock bottom and finally admitting that doing all the good we can has failed and the only option we have left is love. The good we do comes with too many strings attached but the love we share is completely free. There are always limits, definitions, and financial constraints placed on sharing “the good”. Good needs a budget, love does not. Love is a free gift which cannot be quantified or stopped. This is why Jesus’ love frightens some in power. You can not pull it back when it’s on the move or simply stop uttering words of sacrificial love. You can do that with a Creed.
Love on the other hand, it’s a way of life. Once you tell someone they’re loved, their world changes forever. This is why the church is different. Without love, churches will become monuments to a movement built on love.
Doing good, alone, isn’t good enough. Anyone can do good. To this I say, Amen. But if it’s just about doing good, then churches ought to close up shop and go home. Any community non-profit or social service can do good. We have to do better than good. We have to love. Loving is hard and it hurts. Love is the most painful side effect of all. The cruciform love to which we are called is says there is neither “Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is in all things in all people.”
Paul says get ready to love in a world without boundaries. That’s going to take more than goodness. It’s going to take all the Christ centered love we can muster. Christ is in all things in all people; tell me, can you believe that last sentence without love? If you can’t believe it, affirm it or say Amen; you might as well write your own creed, because everything we do is meaningless without love.