Not for the faint of heart

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - RELIGION - Sue Ber­to­lette Colum­nist The Rev. Dr. Sue Ber­to­lette is se­nior pas­tor at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Lans­dale.

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.

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