I’ve been in Kansas City for just shy of two weeks now. Everyone keeps asking how I’m settling in (quite well, but where’s Target again?) how the unpacking’s going (also well, but they should invent boxes that vaporize the minute they are emptied), and how I’m finding my way around (not so well, but that won’t ever change, and that’s why God gave me Google Maps and a grid system. Amen.)
So far, school has started, daily chapel has started, I’ve celebrated all Sunday services, and I’ve preached all Sunday services. Everyone also asks me how all this has gone, and truthfully?
One of the odd, somewhat difficult, things about ministry is that there’s no reliable yardstick for something going well vs something going poorly. There are extremes, of course, and those are fairly easy to spot. When someone stands up and demands an immediate retraction of your most recent sermon, that’s a sign of…something. When the congregation breaks into applause, post-sermon, again, that’s a sign of something.
(Though you could argue that a good sermon will sometimes get walkouts, and a sermon that advocates atrocious theology will get applause if it’s couched right, so–the problem still remains.)
I think everything has been going fantastic, or at least, I’ve been having a blast. Everyone has been so friendly and welcoming and outgoing and amusing. But I can hardly say that every time someone asks me how it’s going.
So I usually point out that so far, no one’s thrown anything at me. A good sign.
Here’s what I said on Sunday.
August 18, 2013
Ordinary Time, Proper 15, Year C
Luke 12: 49-56
One of my hobbies? I guess you could call it, is social media. Things like Facebook, and Twitter, and all the different and new ways we have found in recent years to communicate.
So I was fascinated to read a few weeks ago, that the rise in social media has led to a psychological state that scientists have dubbed “Fear of missing out.” It’s the worry that whatever you are doing right now is fine, but someone else is doing something much more fun somewhere else, and you’re missing it. (It’s like the idea of the grass always being greener on the other side of the fence, but now, since you can see EVERYONE’S fence, it’s tempting to believe that EVERYONE’s grass is greener than yours is. And because you can see everyone’s life, all the time, via Facebook, all their triumphs and achievements, it’s really tempting to believe that everyone’s life is 100x better than yours is.)
And the end result of all this comparison can be, according to the social scientists who study this sort of thing, an increasing inability to make decisions. Apparently, we want so badly to make the correct decision, the coolest, the best, the greenest-grass decision, that we don’t make any decision at all. We just choose neutrality, inaction time and again.
And there are times when that is fine. Sometimes we need more information before we make a decision. Sometimes deciding feels premature.
But sometimes, we read this gospel.
This is not a neutral-type gospel.To say the least.
This is a gospel in which Jesus has some definite…OPINIONS.
Jesus has been preaching and teaching and healing and doing his work for a while now, and still getting the same responses from the crowds. A lot of people are listening to him, but not really doing much, not engaging. Throughout the gospels, there’s this persistent dividing line between those the writers describe as the crowds and those called followers of Jesus: people like Peter, Andrew, Mary Magdalene, Martha, and others.
And while the followers of Jesus, y’know, follow him around, the crowd basically has been trailing him and asking questions, but then not doing anything. They witness healings, they hear him teach, but it doesn’t really seem like much is sinking in.
Now it’s not that they don’t like him! The crowd really likes him a lot–if they didn’t like him, they wouldn’t be trailing his every move through Galilee. They like his miracles and his feedings and his healings, each time he performs a new healing, he is mobbed by the crowd once again. And they acclaim him, and they marvel at his wisdom and authority. It’s not that Jesus isn’t popular with the crowd.
It’s that the crowd hasn’t decided anything. Or they have, but they don’t want to commit, one way or another. They’re sort of one foot in, one foot out. First century FOMO, in a way.
But the problem is, belief in Jesus requires commitment of some kind. It requires action. That’s what belief is, real belief requires action. Belief in the biblical sense, means giving your heart to something–not so much the intellectual assent to a fact. Facts don’t need belief, they’re standing fine on their own, they don’t need you to sign off.. People need belief, relationships do, ideas do. You need to believe in your spouse, in your kids, in your friends, in your ideals.
And that belief, that way that you put your trust and your faith in them, changes how you live your life in a very real way. It requires you to act in certain ways–you show your trust and faith in certain ways, through certain behaviors towards your spouse and your kids. And you show your ideals through things like not stealing, not killing people, not cheating, things like that. (Hopefully.). Belief means action.
So when we say we believe in Jesus, what we are also saying is that we are committing ourselves to act in certain ways, because that belief has to change our life. That belief has to move us from one of the crowd to one of Jesus’ followers. That belief has to shape and mold our lives so that we begin to pattern our behavior on what Jesus lived and taught.
Believing in Jesus means we actually need to commit to some things. We need to feed the hungry, and take care of the sick and the poor, and care about what happens to people halfway around the world, and people the next street over, and what happens to this earth God made for us. We need to work to see the image of God in each and every person, and honor it.
And all that is a lot to take on. The nagging problem about committing to things, be it a party invitation or a religious proposition, is that something could go wrong, and then where are you?
Inevitably, in our walk of faith, as we try to do as Jesus did, as we commit to belief and following Christ and all it entails, we are going to mess up. We are going to fall short. And head in the wrong direction, and make the wrong choice, and figure it out too late, and then feel awful about it.
But that is not a reason not to try. That is only a reason to try again. Because as often as we get it wrong, God forgives us and gives us another chance. As often as we miss our chance, God gives us yet another one.
The same God who calls us to a committed life, also holds us up and gives us an endless opportunity to try again. The God who calls us all to form our lives on the pattern of Christ also supports us when we give it a shot.
God always picks us up, dusts us off, and asks us to try again. God calls to live committed lives. Lives of abundance. That are full of risk, yes, and ups and downs, and twists and turns.
But God never calls us to something and then abandons us. God calls us to an abundant life in Christ.
There’s nothing neutral about that, and there’s nothing more exciting.