Recently I was speaking to a friend who once had a very strong relationship with church. In fact, he even worked to help start at least one church that I know of, and he also spent many hours being an effective evangelist to his friends and loved ones, sharing what he understood as the mission of Christ Jesus.
For years, he struggled with disappointment toward the various “institutional” and “organized” churches he belonged. This dear friend is incredibly smart and passionate about making sure he probes as deeply he can the revelations God has given us, and too many times his discoveries led him to questions that the church communities he belonged to were afraid to answer, or simply failed to answer in any kind of gracious way.
Those churches likely did fail to address his concerns. I know of some of them, and I’d agree that they failed. Their inability to graciously and sensitively confront the questions and doubts so many of us have while following Jesus is interpreted, often rightfully so, as a kind of prideful assurance. The certitude of their beliefs and the arrogance they often display regarding those beliefs can be as equally off-putting to their own congregations as their attractional evangelicalism can be to those who thankfully find Jesus through them.
I have known many fundamentalist and evangelical churches who grow year after year, slowly, numbers ever increasing, if even incrementally, yet whose “turn-over” rate is insanely high. What does that mean? Well, imagine an army that trains to defend a nation, an all-volunteer army, and an army that inspiringly grows bigger and bigger each year – in defense of that nation. Sounds great, right? Yet, also imagine that each year, instead of adding 100, 200, or 300 more soldiers, that army adds 1,000….and loses 900. Every year, 900 trained, experienced, and mature soldiers leave that army. But hey!! 1,000 joined, so numbers went up!
Yeah…if that army was the police…after a while they’d be called The Keystone Cops. Lots of running in place. Lots of getting nowhere.
So where am I going with all this? What does this have to do with The Cost of Following Christ Jesus? I’m sure you have read about how Christians will suffer for their faith. I’m sure you have heard about how Christians must sacrifice with love for “the other.” I’m sure you have heard about how “this world” will always seek to work against the faithful; that evil will constantly throw obstacles in the faithful Christian’s path, especially the closer they get to the peace of God. Perhaps that cost, that suffering, and those obstacles are why so many start in church but eventually leave?
Maybe, but there is one cost I doubt you have given much thought. St. Paul writes about it at length when he writes how the faithful Christ follower is no longer a slave to sin, no longer BOUND by sin. No. The faithful Christ follower is instead A SLAVE TO CHRIST JESUS. Christ Jesus is their MASTER. Yep. If one calls themselves a follower of Jesus Christ, they become slaves to a new master – God.
Freedom, and especially in the United States its similar concept of “Freedoms” or “rights,” is NOT something that St. Paul or Jesus Himself for that matter gives much credence.
Today, during this unprecedented crisis in our country, people seem to be losing “freedoms” left and right. It worries me. I think it might worry a lot of people. The response of those NOT OK with the loss of those “freedoms” worries me, too.
But the cost of following Jesus demands that the Christ Follower seek peace through God. The Christ Follower must not put their perceived “freedoms” before their clearly declared responsibilities to Jesus and His people. And who are God’s people?
And what is the Church? That’s another BIG talk, but very simply put – “The Church is the People of God doing……”
There is a ton of theology wrapped up in that little phrase, “The Church is the People of God doing…” Much like there is in the most beautiful of Orthodox prayers The Jesus Prayer - “Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy of me, a sinner.”
So, here is my question Confirmation Class 2020, and anyone else possibly reading this - Are you complaining about your loss of freedom during this scary time, or are you presenting yourself as a Person of God, a follower of Christ Jesus, and doing…….
The Church needs you now more than ever perhaps in your lifetime. We are taught that The Church is The Body of Christ Jesus. The Church is Jesus as best as we humble 21st Century sinners can manifest. Don’t abandon the church. Don’t abandon Jesus. Be a person of God and get DOING!
More on this later, but no matter how young or old you are, if you consider yourself a follower of Christ, you can DO SOMETHING for Him, for your family, and for His Church during these trying times. And if you don’t consider yourself a follower of Christ Jesus…it doesn’t matter, be an instrument of peace during this chaotic time, regardless. Just don’t be a slave to sin.
Ask for help if you need it. Our Church, St. Anne Catholic Church, and our pastors can help.
Blessings and good health to all,