Sunday, December 07, 2014

7 December 2014 - 2nd Sunday of Advent - Christ the Way

“This life is not righteousness, but growth in righteousness; not being, but becoming.  All does not yet gleam in glory, but all is being purified to gleam.”  Martin Luther

Martin Luther’s observation gives us every reason to maintain a proper level of humility when we are reminded that our Lord Jesus is “The Way; no one comes to the Father but by Me.” 

Our Lord made this bold proclamation, and the Church has since been struggling to understand it universally.  That is to say, Jesus meant one thing; we as individuals have taken great liberty to allow it to mean different things to different people. 

On the surface there is no dispute; the Messiah leads us to the Father.  This is why He came.  The disputes arise when we try to define individually what it means (or what we would rather it mean) to embrace Christ as The Way; that is, to define the whole of our being in Him – as He requires that we “abide in” Him as He “abides in” the Father (John 15:9-10). 

“I am The Way to the Father; as it may also be said, “I am The Way of the Father”.  What does this mean to us as The Church, as The Body of Christ Himself?  To look at the statement more holistically (all-encompassing), we will find not only The Way to the Father as we are “becoming” - but also The Way of the Father in living from day to day – being Christ in the world today by always becoming better than we currently are AND showing others The Way.

Therefore there must be more to it than a one-time prayer of confession.  The Way transcends baptism.  The Way must also involve much more than memorizing a particular creed or any Bible verse.  The Way even goes beyond worship, beyond offering a tithe, and even beyond participating in the Supper of The Lord.  All these practices are necessary to be fed, to learn and grow in faith and in love, to support the life and mission of the Church, and to pay homage to our God; but these acts in themselves do not speak exclusively to what it means to acknowledge Christ as The Way.  There is more; much more than any single event.

We began this Advent season last Sunday celebrating Christ as our Hope, not only to celebrate the newborn “Babe” who brought Light into a dark world but also to prepare ourselves for the Risen Christ who will return to “judge the living and the dead”, who will end the suffering and misery we know all too well, who will “wipe away every tear”, who will restore justice, who will bring the Kingdom forth – when all else has failed?  “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15a).

Now we are in the second Sunday of Advent, and the theme is Christ The Way.  So to be able to embrace the Hope that is Christ our Lord, we are compelled to explore more fully The Way of our Lord, what The Way looks like, and what The Way means for The Church – and what it can mean for those who do not yet believe. 

The people of the Church must learn to get past individual interpretations and strive to work together with holy purpose to ascertain The Way for us and for the community we are called to serve, and how we will as a Body “repent” from our individualistic desires consumerist demands, and with some sense of unity define for the world enslaved in darkness The Way of Christ.

The Baptizer prepared The Way for Jesus by calling the people to a baptism of repentance.  Jesus also proclaimed the message of repentance as the necessary means by which The Way will be found through the Gospel of The Lord, but even the call to repentance is only one piece of the luggage which must be carefully unpacked so as to draw closer to the full meaning of Christ The Way.  If Christ is The Way, we must look more carefully at The Way He went – as opposed to The Way we have been going for so long; The Way of the declining Church.

Pastor and writer Jonathan Dobson wrote an interesting piece not long ago (Church in which he challenged the historic Church’s notion of “evangelism”; that is, what sharing the Message really means AND what it looks like.  Dobson wrote, “What can we do to be more believable to an inoculated, indifferent, and at times, antagonistic society?”

It seems as though he has determined we have already “said” all we can say.  Now we have to become “believable”.

He wrote, “I actually know someone who was asked this very question [about how to gain eternal life]. But instead of telling the person how to get eternal life, he avoided it by asking a question in return. He had the evangelistic ball all teed up, and didn’t even answer the question!”

Dobson goes on to say, “You’ll probably think of him as an evangelistic failure, especially after I tell you what he did next. Instead of inviting the seeker to repent and believe in the gospel—to have faith—this so-called evangelist told him he needed to do good works (serve the poor) before getting eternal life! Now he’s a failure not only by evangelistic standards but also by Reformed standards.”

The “evangelist” to whom the writer is referring is none other than Jesus Himself!  Jesus did not say, “You must accept Me as your personal Lord and Savior”, as has become the Reformed Tradition’s mantra.  Jesus goes farther and deeper to define what it means to call Him “Lord”; what it looks like to embrace “The Word made Flesh” as The Way of salvation itself: embrace the commandments not as a list of rules but as The Way of living. 

It is indeed written in Mark’s Gospel (1:15, as it is written elsewhere) that Jesus began His ministry in Galilee with this proclamation: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the Good News!” 

Repentance involves much more than to simply confess our sins.  Even to proclaim belief engenders so much more from us than to say, “I believe it to be so”.  Rather that faith must be made manifest in a real way not only for the sake of the continued Mission of the Church but also for the believability of that Mission and the Gospel that informs us and ultimately compels us to look up from our navel gazing!  This requires a real investment of all who claim the Name – and an abiding Trust that we are “doing” right things rather than worrying about merely “believing” right things.

As it is so often said, people do not believe what we say; but they will believe what we do.  And frankly, The Way we will actually come to believe the Gospel as the Good News it is, is to actually DO the Gospel in the community. 

It is what Martin Luther believed to be the heart of the Christian community; the essence of “becoming” in plain sight for all to see, for all to believe.  When we embrace The Way of Christ as our own way, so will others who yearn for the Truth to be revealed to them.  And this, my dear friends, will be enough to get us back on track.  To the glory of God the Father and Christ the Word – and by the power of the Holy Spirit, may we all say, “Amen!”

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