On Being a Slave to Christ
I have just returned from my two week mission trip to Russia and I can honestly say it was a great experience. It is hard to summarize what it meant for me to return to a place that still feels like home, even after so many years away. It was both a learning experience for me as well as an opportunity to serve. Even more than that, it was humbling to be so welcomed back into the lives of my friends and church in Russia; as well as a challenge to take time to understand their stories, circumstances, joys, and pains as we for a short time were able to walk together in our faith.
At the Church of God in Chelyabinsk Russia I was asked to preach on the topic “What does it mean to be a slave of Christ?” This phrase is a common personal reference or greeting at the start of several of the epistles in the New Testament. It is a phrase that honestly, makes me a little uncomfortable. It is often translated as “servant” instead of “slave” in English – probably a nod to how uncomfortable this verse can make Americans feel. But the word used in the opening greeting of the letters to Romans, James, Philippians, Titus etc. is ”slave” and even if it is a saying or euphemism the Russian church still asked me to preach on this phrase and what it means for us as followers of Christ.
The idea of using the word slaves seems wrong to me. I relish my freedom in Christ. I rejoice at all the wonderful choices that God has given me. Rarely do I think about how I need to place my life under the authority of someone else, even Jesus. It seems to go against the way I think, feel, and have become used to leading my life. It felt even more inappropriate to use this phrase as slavery appears and feels to be so much more real in Russia. Slavery to addictions, violence, alcohol, and the sex trade is more visible in Russia than it is in Rockford (maybe not more present, but it felt more open and visible). It seemed that escape from slavery was the topic I should be preaching on.
So I asked my Russian friends what they thought. How did they feel about this idea of being slaves to Christ? What resulted was a dialogue about how so often they felt that their identity as people was enslaved to the false ideas, myths, untruths, and prejudices of their world. It was so hard for them to escape these “prisons” of false self that had been built around them that they welcomed the idea of having someone else shape their identities as people. They were open about how on their own they would just continue to see themselves as the failures the world had designated them to being. The idea of letting Jesus determine who they were, their self-value, their importance, even the direction for their lives was welcomed. It felt – to them- that it was so much safer to be a slave to Christ then to be free and independent and victimized by the world.
Hearing these words was both enlightening, sobering and amazing at the same time. It has shaped and formed how I now understand these opening lines to so many of the New Testament epistles. My sermon was crafted around what they had taught me. As I returned to America their words are still on my mind. It has caused me to contemplate and reflect further on how I view my own faith. This is what I mean when I write that these trips are both a learning experiences for me as well as an opportunity to serve. I am shaped by these conversations with people who have so much to share about living out their faith.
Although I tend to get lots of invitations to speak and preach when I travel to Russia, it is the personal contacts and conversations that I enjoy so much. There is something about hearing from people who see the world in a very different perspective that can help to reveal some of the blind spots that I have in regards to my own experience of God. The good news is that we do not need to travel 11 times zones to the other side of the world to experience this. We tend to live with so many prejudices and stereotypes about what others can teach us – discounting them all too quickly – that sometimes we simply need to take time to listen and hear form the diverse group of people that God has brought into our lives, even here in Rockford Illinois.
– Pr. Dan
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