Peter had to meet Cornelius; not just so Cornelius could hear the message of salvation in Jesus, but so Peter could be liberated from the enculturation of his faith (Acts 10). Cornelius receives Peter with expectant joy. Peter arrives with deep-seated, Jewish trepidation. Peter blurts out, “It’s against our law for me to be here!”
I like being in Ukraine because I am immersed for a time in a different culture. My experiences in Ukraine make me sensitive also to the culture of another new country called “the kingdom of God.” The kingdom of God is not a country with borders, but it is a new culture nonetheless. In Ukraine you don’t prop your feet up on a chair, you do stand when you pray, and you don’t put your hands behind your back as if “at ease” in an Orthodox church. In the kingdom of God you learn new ways of life as well.
The USAmerican tragedy is that we have made Christianity a teaching, a doctrinal set of biblically-based precepts. Jesus purposely did not choose scribes and Pharisees because for those people, the faith was text, accurately understood text. A way of life was conscripted by religious, meticulous regulations. You lived by a ritual check list, not by a compelling, consuming vision. Jesus chose people living real lives in their real culture with its real potentials and problems. Jesus’ invitation into the kingdom of God and his recruitment of the disciples aimed at introducing to this planet with a new way of life. He wasn’t big on the latest edition of the New International Torah (The NIT as in nit-picky). “Come, follow me and I will train you in kingdom customs, kingdom language, kingdom values and kingdom vision.” He did not hand them a study guide with Bible verses and fill-in-the-blank statements. Jesus did not produce and market “The Fisherman’s Bible” for Andrew and Peter, James and John. He gave them his life, his ways, his heart.
We need to admit it and then repent: most of us are welded to the American way of life. We are so saturated with it that we truly do not relate to those to whom the Bible is addressed and for whom the kingdom of God has come. Jesus is a nice piece of spiritual furniture in our spacious, consumerist souls and we point him out as a convenient and pretty ornament once in a while. Should he firmly declare to us face to face, “Drop everything and follow Me!” we, more likely than not, would respond, “You’ve got to be kidding me!” Christ is our spiritual knick-knack. He is the colorful, yet harmless crocheted embroidery on the wall of our soul, the butler for our religious needs. He is Lord? I don’t think so.
We can take religion seriously and argue until we’re blue in the face about Bible versions, theological constructs, and forms of church. In Ukraine, Jesus is taken seriously. What Jesus says seems to ring deeply true here. Ukraine Christians are not perfect by any stretch, nor are the churches here making headlines. Yet, there is a committed passion for Jesus Christ in the hearts of my Ukrainian friends that both rebukes and recruits me.
I am saddened that so much in the American church is almost idolized and often mimicked in Ukraine. Whole groups from the West are trying to ‘market’ Jesus in Ukraine. O God, save Ukraine from the commercialized, American Christ.