My wife and I are careful with what we watch on television, but we do have our favorites: Downton Abbey, Blue Bloods, Turner Classic Movies, and pretty much anything on HGTV. One very popular show that we’ve never watched and never will is “The Walking Dead.” I’m told that it is an American post-apocalyptic horror drama television series based on the comic book series of the same name. It stars a sheriff’s deputy who awakens from a coma to find a post-apocalyptic world dominated by flesh-eating zombies. He sets out to find his family and encounters many other survivors along the way. Hollywood has given us a name for corpses that walk about as though they are living, but they are really dead. The word is “zombie.”
Though it may shock some to hear it, there are zombies among us; it’s as old as Revelation chapter three: “you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” The danger is real and it can destroy if we’re not alert and courageous enough to do something about it. The church in the city of Sardis is the least attractive of the seven churches to whom letters are written by the risen Christ near the end of the first century. Our Lord finds nothing to commend about it; the tragic fact was that spiritual life had been crowded out of the church by pointless activity. The church was contaminated with the world — inward decay, spiritual dry rot. In the same way, any of us are in jeopardy when the context supersedes the content of our lives. We are in constant danger of settling for the outward appearance of religion in place of the inward substance of relationship. The Church in Sardis was officially open for business, giving every evidence of vitality and energy, but they were walking corpses — reputation intact, but no reality. Spiritual schizophrenia is keeping up appearances while avoiding the absence of spiritual depth and substance in our lives. As Buechner states it: “The danger is we’ll say yes too easily, that we’ll say it because all these centuries the church has been saying it and because for years we have been saying it ourselves, too easily, too much out of old habit.” Busy-ness fills our time and keeps us from thinking, so we never have to face ourselves in light of who Christ is and what He wants for us.
Thinking about all of this resurrects a childhood memory very similar to one described by author Max Lucado. My mother sang in the choir and Dad usually did, but for reasons I can’t recall he was sitting next to me that Sunday morning. I can remember my father’s hand on my leg, strategically placed there to keep me from squirming. I also recall turning my attention to his hands. If you didn’t know he was an oil refinery boilermaker, one look at his hands would tell you as much. They were thick and strong, still bearing traces of the previous week’s labor. I remember being curious about the calluses, his hand’s defense against hours of gripping welding torches and squeezing wrenches. On the back of the blonde plywood theatre style seat in front of me were attendance cards, the kind that had a red ribbon attached for visitors to Trinity Baptist Church to wear. The ribbon was attached by a straight pen. Running my small fingers over the ridges of calluses, I decided to experiment. With the skill of a junior surgeon I stuck the pin in one of the ridges and looked up at Dad. No response. I pushed deeper but he didn’t flinch, so I decided to shove harder. That time he jerked his hand away while grunting out loud. I was amused, but only until we got to the restroom. That’s why I still remember like it was yesterday.
Spiritual calluses develop over hours of rubbing against the form of religion apart from the transforming presence of Christ Jesus. Some of us are in real danger and we don’t even know it. We can’t see it, we can’t hear it, we can’t feel it, but we’re in danger whenever we become so comfortable with Christianity that we are numb to the penetrating Christ. There’s no shame in being numbered among the walking wounded, but God forbid that any of us would be walking dead.