Not for the faint of heart
A common lament heard these days, often voiced by longtime church members, sounds something like this: “It’s such a shame more people don’t come to church on Sunday mornings.” Actually, it is not at all surprising to me that folks do not flock to churches on Sunday mornings the way they flock to sporting events or shopping malls. Choosing to live out our faith and follow the teachings of Christ is incredibly hard work and it is, most definitely, not for the faint of heart.
Should you choose to make weekly worship at a church like the one I have the privilege of serving part of your routine, you will not be offered a quick fix for your problems. Nor will the intent be to entertain you, make you feel good, and then send you on your way with the assurance that because you are a follower of Christ, your life will be easy, all of your endeavors will be blessed, and prosperity will rain down upon you and those you love. Such a theology in no way reflects the message communicated by Jesus, who, during his brief ministry here on earth, spoke often about suffering — not for the sake of suffering but as an inevitable outcome of seeking to embody what he taught and how he lived.
Living, as we do, in a world in which setbacks, disappointments and heartache are a reality, the church needs to offer more than pie in the sky when we die, and it needs to offer more than simplistic answers to life’s most challenging questions. At its best, that is precisely what the church does. You see, when we choose to be part of a faith community — flawed as it may be because it is made up of flawed human beings like you and like me — we are reminded week in and week out that God is on this journey with us. Not only is God on this journey with us: there are others seeking to live out their faith on this journey as well. We are not alone.
Reading the Gospels, one cannot help but notice that Jesus spent much of his ministry trying to teach his disciples and would-be followers about the importance of doing the hard work of being in community. Living a life of faith is not about constantly comparing ourselves to others and concluding we have it right and they have it wrong. It is not about clutching onto our sense of correctness at the expense of reaching out to and working alongside of those who may understand faith differently than we do. Instead, Jesus challenged his followers to closely examine their own spiritual lives and urged them to cut off and remove anything that would cause them to stumble or sin. The words of Mark 8 are sobering: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off . . . if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off . . . if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out . . .” It is hard not to notice that those who insist upon taking every word of the Bible literally seem to have overlooked these verses, for I have yet to encounter any such Christians with one hand, one foot or one eye! Jesus’ words are graphic and attention-getting because he wanted us to understand that we must do something about those things in our lives that distract us from living faithfully. This is not just about acknowledging our sin — it is about changing our lives, with God’s help. No, this is not for the faint of heart, but should we have the courage to act upon Jesus’ teachings and make being in a faith community part of our lives, what a difference it will make, not just for us, but for those who are on the journey with us.
Reading the Gospels, one cannot help but notice that Jesus spent much of his ministry trying to teach his disciples and wouldbe followers about the importance of doing the hard work of being in community. Living a life of faith is not about constantly comparing ourselves to others and concluding we have it right and they have it wrong.