Barack Obama’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, has been the subject of numerous stories and reports over the past couple of weeks, most for what he has said from the pulpit. While his sermons and black liberation theology is certainly a cause for great concern, the news of his retirement is perhaps equally as troubling.
According to Jeff Goldblatt, Rev. Wright will be retiring to his new $1.6 million home in a gated community of suburban Chicago. This 10,340 square-foot home was purchased by the church, along with an unspecified line of credit of $10 million which the church has not specified.
Now it is true that churches should honor their ministers and esteem them in the work that they do, knowing that their assignment is one that has been given them by divine calling. I fear we live in a day where the office of the minister is held in contempt and disrepute for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the growing trend of ministerial impermanence and unfaithfulness.
Nevertheless, in the case of Rev. Wright, what we see is exactly opposite, and perhaps even more damning to the message of Christ as well as its messenger. Let me offer a few reasons why.
The call of Christ to take up our cross and follow him, to deny ourselves, and to consider our lives of no value to ourselves does not have an expiration date. As ministers, we don’t graduate from our calling and enter a state of perpetual ease and posh living. The whole idea of retirement is antithetical to biblical Christianity and is a product of our Western culture where the only rewards for life-long labor are a few years of rest. What a tragedy it is to buy into this view of rest, that affords only a temporary moment of reprieve and enjoyment of worldly things that will soon pass away, along with your life! As Christians, we have a rest to come–a rest that Christ has accomplished for us through his work on our behalf in the cross. This rest will not be temporary, but eternal; it will not be in gated communities of man-made mansions, but on streets of gold where Christ has promised to prepare a place for us. “In My Father’s house are many rooms,” and yet we live like our calling to is to set up our kingdom where thieves steal and rust destroys.
Liberation theologians like Rev. Wright will lead you to the words of Jesus (especially Luke 4:18-19) as support for their theology. However, the same Jesus who preached to the poor also said that he did not have the earthly luxuries of foxholes and bird’s nests. This same Jesus was born in a feeding trough and buried in a borrowed tomb. He knew where he was from and where he was going and did not consider this earth (though he created it) of any gain except to redeem for His glory men and woman who were enslaved in their sin. The words and the lifestyle of Jesus matched up, and the integrity of his words were validated by the experience of his life. Not so today.
Many of the early Christians did not ever have the opportunity of “retirement” because they were often killed for the gospel message they preached. The kind of liberation theology Paul preached did not turn him into a prince but a prisoner of the gospel, in chains for the cause of Christ. Yet Paul considered that to live is Christ and to die is gain. The gain of living was not because he had great wealth or fame, but because of all that Christ was to him. Christ was his life, and in that alone, was his great gain. In the case of Rev. Wright, what we find is not a prisoner of the gospel but a prince profiting off the gospel. In the end, the great tragedy is that, unlike Paul, all that is built in the name of Wright will be loss.
So many people turn away from the Christianity they see today on the news and on “Christian” television stations, and I don’t blame them. For many if not most of these people have been deprived of seeing what real Christianity looks like. It isn’t a retired pastor living in a multi-million dollar home. It isn’t your best life now. No. Our best life is being crucified with Christ we we no longer live, but Christ lives in us. Those who treasure this life and all that it offers have invested themselves where there are no returns. Yet those who know Christ know that there will be a vindication for our suffering and sacrifice because of the resurrection. Those who treasure Jesus Christ as more than what life can offer now and death can take later know that such an investment has eternal returns that will redound to God’s glory–the glory not of earthly princes and mansions, but the glory of the King of kings and Lord of lords who came to liberate us from the lies of retirement, your best life now, the futility of earthly pleasures.
So don’t let the Rev. Wrights of this world fool you. Look to the prisoners of Christ under persecution around the world, not the princes on television and news broadcasts. Those who have suffered for Christ will also share in the glory of Christ. The last chapter of our lives should reflect our nearness to Christ and flight to glory. Jim Elliot, a man who never had to worry about retirement because he was murdered as a result of his message, once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
That is real Christianity.