If we were going to have a casting call for church members, what would we be looking for? I am guessing we would look for people of impeccable moral character, right? And we would probably look for people who were upstanding figures in the community. We would probably want some people who are trustworthy and those that once they make a commitment are always going to follow through. We would want the people who are not going to make us look silly or cause our church any embarrassment. Oh, and being rich and being able to handle money would also be a good thing! If we were going to purposely select members for a church, we would want the best of the best!
Now, according to the standards that we had just set up, how many of us would be members of this church? How many of us are always of impeccable moral character? How many of us are always the most upstanding figures we know? How many of us have NEVER once had an “oops” moment where we realize we had promised to do something and then come to the scary conclusion that we had something else planned during that time? If you are like me, you are coming to the conclusion that the worldly standards for church membership are darn near impossible to live up to! If we had to live up to these standards just to get membership, if this were true, then I am guessing our churches would be pretty empty.
But if we listen to people on TV, isn’t that what they keep telling us? Don’t we hear that we have to be good enough, or rich enough, or pure enough, or faithful enough, or “whatever” enough to be acceptable to Christ? And if we can never be “whatever” enough, then why should we even bother?
Well, thankfully, the church that Christ has envisioned for us is not the church that the world has envisioned for itself. Where the church of the world would be turning people away, the church that Christ has envisioned for us is always busy drawing people in. How can I say this? All we have to do is look at the gospel reading that we have had for the past month! In each of these readings, Christ is reaching out to the outcasts of the world and bringing them into the community of the church.
Three weeks ago, we had the son who was raised from the dead. Two weeks ago, there was the sinner woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her hair. Last week, we had the demon possessed man. And now this week we have the reluctant disciples. If we think back to what criteria we had discussed as constituting the perfect church member, each of these people would probably not even get to the steps of that perfect church, as the world would have it. But each of these people are called into truly perfect church of Christ. Each of these people is given Christ’s special attention. Even the ones who do turn away do so of their own accord; Jesus does not send them away.
On this last point, some may say that I am splitting hairs: Jesus does make demands of these people, but he does not say, “You are not worthy!” All these people, people whom the world were not comfortable with, Jesus loved and welcomed into his presence, and therefore into the Church.
But just because Jesus welcomed all of these people into the body, doesn’t mean that it was, or is, a free-for-all. To those who follow Jesus, Jesus makes some pretty strong demands. Jesus calls us past our day-to-day life. Jesus calls us to go out and proclaim the kingdom of God. Jesus calls us to counter what the world expects to demonstrate that in Christ something truly transforming is occurring.
In the gospel reading for today, the things that the “would-be followers” ask to do before following Jesus, do not seem to be bad at all, but Jesus responds to these requests quite negatively. Even simple, no-brainer, “NICE” things like burying a father seem to be rejected by Jesus. I really don’t think we are supposed to take this literally or else we would have dead bodies lying all over the place. But I think Jesus wants to shake up our thinking and make us question those things that we consider important. If burying a father, (which would be “honoring your father,” fourth commandment, you know!) is not worthy of taking time away from our ministry in Christ, then what is? And I think this is what Christ would have us consider. What do we just assume is Christian and don’t take time to truly ponder?
Jesus accepts all kinds of people, Jesus accepts us! But Jesus is not content to just leave us to our own devices. Jesus is not willing to allow us to just do whatever we think is right and attributing that impulse to “being Christian.” As we see from the gospel reading, Christ wants us to think about our lives. We see this also in our reading from Galatians. Galatians tells us what, as Christians, we are to strive for. We are to strive for those things that create and nurture community. We are to strive for love, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the things that help us all to live together as the body of Christ and are the gifts that come from the Spirit. The rest, jealousy, anger, quarrels, envy, those are all things that we need to be aware of and work to avoid.
Of course, avoiding all of these “negative” emotions does not mean that we become door mats. I find it interesting that our President is being criticized for not showing anger. And much of this criticism would be coming from the Christian right. From what I have seen, the President is acting in a very Spirit-filled manner; not becoming angry and quarrelsome. Some may say that he is doing nothing, but would yelling and screaming get him anything more? I don’t know. I know that yelling as screaming tend to make people defensive and when people get defensive, pretty much nothing happens. But I do know that, according to our scripture readings, the President is acting in accordance with to the Bible than some of the people I see. Sorry, I don’t like to get political, but this just seemed to come to mind.
So this is the dilemma we are left with: Christ invites all people to be his followers; HOWEVER, Christ has some pretty big expectations from his followers! Like I had mentioned last week, we can think of Jesus as our coach, maybe even more so as our Little League coach. The coach gets all kinds of kids and the coach’s job is to turn them into the best team possible. (I chose a little league coach because no one can be cut from the team.) The coach is going to work with the team and present to them an ideal to reach for. I am sure the coach knows that the team will probably not reach the ideal, but that does not mean that the ideal should not be placed out there. Then working with the team that is there, the coach works to form the best team possible. Christ is the coach and we are the rag-tag team.
But the other thing that we need to remember, the coach is not there just to produce a winning team, a good coach is there to help the players get the most enjoyment out of the game! When the players are better conditioned and trained, they are less likely to get hurt and are more likely to find true joy in the game. A good coach should also be able to lift the players to levels of skill they never thought they had. These all work together to create an exceptional player and an exceptional team.
The great thing about our life is that though Christ, we have the best of situations: We are welcomed into his church no matter what or who we are and through Christ we are formed into wondrous new beings. Christ asks a lot of us, but Christ also gave a lot to us! When the one who laid down his life so that we might have eternal life asks for us to work on our technique, we shouldn’t be too upset! Christ asks us to change, not because we are horrible people, but because Christ wants us to get the BEST out of life! Remember, Christ has our best interests at heart!
Thankfully, Christ is not the usual casting director. The church Christ builds is made not for some imaginary perfect person, but for us “real” people. The people Christ calls to the table are not the few, but the many. This is a truly great thing! This is a life changing thing! And it is this message we need to take to the world!