Meditation for 14 September 2014, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost (Year A)
Exodus 14: 19 – 31, Romans 14: 1 – 12, Matthew 18: 21 – 35
There are certain things that I believe. Obviously, I believe that Jesus Christ is my Savior. And in that regard, I hope that my life, my words, my thoughts, my deeds, and my actions reflect that belief.
What is important to understand is that I came to this decision on my own. There were countless individuals (pastors, Sunday School teachers, and others) who introduced Jesus Christ to me but the decision to accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior was mine and mine alone. It was not, as some think it should have been, in the manner of Saul walking on the road to Damascus but more in the manner of the quiet assurance that John Wesley felt that evening in the Aldersgate Chapel.
So in answer to the question posed as the title of this piece, I am following Jesus Christ. And perhaps that is where it gets tricky. You see, the decision to follow Jesus Christ is what some would call a high reward/high risk challenge. The reward is obvious but some may wonder if the reward is worth the risk. You have to be prepared to help others make the same decision that you have made.
I do not believe that my decision gives me the right to tell someone else what to do. It does mean that the life I live must reflect that decision. I cannot simply say that Christ is my Savior and then lead a life where that seemingly applies only on Sunday mornings. If I do not lead a life with Christ all the time, 24/7 as it were, then it was a limited decision.
And while I can make the argument that following Christ is a better path, I cannot do it with threats and intimidation. And I am sorry if this offends some people, that is what many evangelists do today; they threaten and intimidate people, not provide proof that the path one walks with Christ is the better path.
Evangelism today has become, if you will, an embarrassment to the faith. Meant to bring people to Christ, it is, in reality, driving them away. Evangelists today either pervert the Good News for their own benefit (financial or otherwise) or create a scenario that suggests the outcome of life is fixed and the winners are already predetermined. I said it last week, when you create a world based only on one’s own views of the world and law, be it faith-based or otherwise, you create a quasi-moralistic society, not God’s Kingdom (adapted from “Taking Time To Do It Right”).
And while the style of worship is important, that is not evangelism! Borrowing an old line from “American Bandstand”, if it moves your soul, then that what is important. But what may work for one does not work for others. A preacher in casual clothes is great but then again so is a preacher in a nice robe. (Of course, the preacher who spends several thousand dollars on one suite is missing the point here.) Focusing on the style is called marketing and that is not what it is about.
Evangelism is about declaring the good news about what God is doing in the world today. Evangelism should challenge individuals to yield to Jesus, to let Jesus into their lives, and to allow the power of the Holy Spirit transform them into new creations. But it is more than that.
It involves proclaiming what God is doing in society right now to bring justice, liberation, and economic well-being for the oppressed. It means to call people to participate (nasty word there, don’t you think) in the revolutionary transformation of the world. Evangelism is what Jesus said it was: broadcasting the good news that the Kingdom of God is breaking loose in human history, that a new social order is being created, and that we are all invited to share in what is happening. God is changing the world that is into the world that should be and we are invited to live this good news by breaking down the barriers of racism, sexism, and social class.
Evangelism requires that we declare the Gospel not just by word but also by deed and we show God’s presence in this world by working to eliminate poverty, present unjust discrimination and stand against political tyranny. Evangelism call us to create a church through which God’s will is done, here on earth, as it is in Heaven. (borrowed and adapted from Tony Campolo’s foreword to Clarence Jordan’s Cotton Patch Gospel: Luke and Acts).
Now, when I think about that discussion of evangelism, I can’t help but think that we aren’t even close to meeting it. It seems to me in so many ways that we are doing just the opposite and then turning around and saying that we are doing in the name of Christ. There was a time a few years back when I thought we were headed in the right direction but somewhere along the line we got sidetracked and perhaps even lost.
I don’t think there is a person on this earth who does not understand that following Christ is a difficult task. For some, the difficulty is so great that they don’t even bother doing it. This has been clear from the beginning when the writers of the Gospels noted how the people who followed Christ got fewer and fewer as the understanding of the message became clearer and clearer. Others have changed the Gospel to make it easier to follow.
I cannot help but think that too many people follow someone because the ideas that person has seem so simple and easy to understand. And while we would like things to be easy, that is not always the case. Peter was looking for a simple and easy way to forgive someone and Jesus offers something a little more complicated.
And what Jesus offers runs counter to what we feel. In a society that demands retribution, Jesus suggests forgiveness. And not just a quick forgiveness but a rather lengthy and extensive forgiveness. Consistently throughout the Gospels, Jesus offers solutions that run counter to what we want to do. As Jesus pointed out in the Gospel lesson for today, we are quite willing to seek mercy for ourselves while denying mercy for others. And in the end, we will find out that approach will not work and our decision to follow is often impeded because such a decision takes us down a path we do not want to walk.
So we look for information and guidance but, in the end, we must make the decision. It is a decision made in the mind and with the heart; it is a decision not just for today but for one’s life.
In the New Testament lesson for today, Paul wrote to the Romans about cultivating new relationships. For me, Paul said that all were invited to the table and we were not the ones to decide if any particular person could or could not come to the table.
And I know that I am as guilty as the next person when it comes to such decisions as that. On more than one occasion, there has been someone whom I may not have invited to the communion rail because of what they had said or done regarding the church. But I was always reminded that it was not my decision about who could and who could not come to the table.
The challenge that we face today is two-fold. We have to rely on others for our knowledge but we are the ones who must make the decision about who to follow. As the Israelites began their journey, they were guided by the Pillar of Fire and a Cloud.
Even if they did not know where they were going, the Israelites understood who they were following and what that decision meant. True, even when they did get to the Promised Land, they did not understand it, just as those who followed Christ for three years did not completely understand at first what was happening that weekend in Jerusalem some two thousand years ago. But 1) God never left them and 2) they stayed with the decision.
So, shall you follow Christ, knowing that, while the destination is know, the path we must walk to get there is not an easy one? It is not the only option one has in today’s world. But I do believe that it is the only one in which the outcome is certain and by your thoughts, words, deeds, and actions have a chance to make that outcome possible here on earth as it is in Heaven.