Monday, November 01, 2010

Why

Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
2 Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12
Luke 19:1-10


Serious questions require serious answers. Rev. Bob Crossman, the Arkansas Conference General Secretary, challenges United Methodist Christians to answer three (3) basic questions as part of our overall evangelistic mission to "make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world"; to act as the Body of Christ, to be Christ in the world:
• Why Christ?
• Why Church?
• Why this church?

To which I would respectfully add:
• Why worship?
• Why membership?

which will inevitably lead to other questions as well, which will include but not be limited to such questions as:
• Why baptism?
• Why Holy Communion?
• Why the Bible?

From our search for comprehensible answers, I think we must also be prepared for even more "why" questions than these which will likely arise from these discussions for the next few weeks as we continue to explore the Church's relationship with the Lord as His Body, as His presence in the world - and our parts as individuals within that dynamic.

I floated these questions some weeks ago during a Sunday evening service, but then I sort of left them hanging without much thought beyond posing the questions and challenging each of us to grapple with them, which some did. What I did not anticipate was how difficult it can be to answer these questions individually but within the greater context of how it applies to the Church as a whole, as the Body of the Risen Christ Himself - which must be done because this is who and what we are. We are not a church unto ourselves as individuals but as a body of believers; there is little that is "individualistic" about the mission of Christ's Holy Church even as we become aware of our individual gifts we are endowed with and expected and called to bring to the whole Body, the Church.

As we were reminded this Sunday evening past, however, most of us probably have the answers to these questions within us, but we think of our answers on a much more personal level. It must be said and acknowledged, then, that if we lack the confidence, the ability, or even the willingness to articulate these answers, our faith can become self-serving and our place in the Body of Christ irrelevant to the overall mission of the Church - irrelevant by our choosing, not His.

It becomes more and more about "me" as individuals and less and less about Christ the Lord who is Head of the Church (Ephesians 1:22). When we allow our faith to become that intensely "personal", it soon becomes "private" and not to be shared - or it becomes so rigid as to demand exclusive rights. The Body of Christ begins to crumble from within as more and more "parts" of the Body begin to fall away, the "eye saying to the hand, 'I have no need of you'" (1 Corinthians 12:21), to seek their own path and no other.

The Church Universal (which is to say, Christians of all persuasions and denominations, clergy and laity alike) must at least bear some responsibility for the many who are falling away or have already fallen away for several reasons, not least of which are what is commonly referred to as "cheap grace" (that is, salvation without sacrifice) in careless theology - AND/OR - practices of piety (means of grace) that have been either abandoned altogether or reduced to mere superstition with no spiritual discernment; in other words, no reason to embrace these practices except maybe to escape "bad luck".

In my humble opinion, the Church Universal has done a less-than-adequate job of helping seekers and the faithful to answer these compelling questions not only for themselves but for applicability within the greater context of the whole Church. And I say this because of the many, myself included, who attend worship to "feel good about themselves", to know they have fulfilled an obligation by doing their "part".

Few, if any, attend worship with the expectation of a Divine Encounter, and fewer still come with the understanding that Divine "marching orders" may be issued. In short, the Church Universal has encouraged and invited individuals to enter into the Presence of the Lord through His Body the Church and take their proper places within the Body - BUT - through careless theology has allowed these same "individuals" to walk out and away as the nine lepers in Luke 17:11-19 who were healed of their affliction but did not see fit to return. Nine of the ten who were healed got what they wanted out of it for themselves and went on their merry way, offering the Lord not so much as a "thank you". It was only the Samaritan, the social outcast, who returned to Jesus out of gratitude and awe. It was the Samaritan ALONE who became a part of the Body of Christ.

There is little to suggest Zacchaeus had any real expectations of an encounter with Jesus, but we can easily see that his curiosity got the best of him to the point that he climbed a tree to determine for himself "why" the big fuss. He was the chief tax collector AND a rich man; he obviously had all he needed to live as well and as contentedly as he would choose. Yet there was something within him that drove him to pull out all the stops just to see Jesus for himself, and it really does not matter what his intentions were. Little did he know that he would not only "see" but would also "be seen" AND called because of his relentless pursuit. He likely never imagined that for all his crooked ways, Jesus would actually want to sit down and break bread with him. And yet He did.

Yet even as much as the story itself seems to be all about Zacchaeus the individual, the reader must surely be able to see that the story is about repentance and salvation; not Zacchaeus. The story focuses not on any individual but on the grace and mercy that is Christ. The story is about putting aside the pursuit of one's own and seeking something much greater than self-fulfillment. Could Zacchaeus have kept all his money and simply professed Jesus as Lord? Could he not just simply "believe" and keep all his wealth besides? Could he not have the best of both "worlds"; the cash, wealth, and power his life surely afforded him - AND - be "saved", too?

Why question the story? Why ask questions that may make the story more complicated than it has to be? Why ask questions at all? Why not simply take the story at its face value: the Lord our God, through Christ the New Covenant, saves?

Why? Because our Lord is much bigger than Zacchaeus and He is infinitely bigger than Bro. Michael, but He cannot be bigger or larger or outside of Himself as His own Body, the Holy Church. The questions matter because discipleship matters. But before discipleship can matter or even have real meaning, we must answer the questions. We must know "why" the Church exists. We must know "why" Christ calls us forward in the Church, His Body. We must know "why" it matters to live within the Body of Christ rather than to choose to go it alone.

The Gospels are filled with stories of the disciples who followed Jesus faithfully and continually asked "why" questions. These were questions they needed answers to in order to follow more faithfully, to serve more faithfully, to become even more than they already were.

So shall we - TOGETHER as the Body of Christ - follow faithfully, ask relentlessly, and serve restlessly so that we may discover - TOGETHER - the fullness of Life that is Christ through His Holy Church.

So must we - in the name of the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

Michael Gormley said...

"‘I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’" (John 6:51–52).

His listeners were stupefied because now they understood Jesus literally — and correctly. He again repeated his words, but with even greater emphasis, and introduced the statement about drinking his blood:

"Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.

For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in mim"
(John 6: 53-56)