Life’s taught me that discipleship is not for the faint-of-heart.
I was taught that faith is primarily a source of comfort, stability and peace in life when I was a little boy. I was taught that people should come to worship because the church is a place where people have their “gas tanks” filled, and where people come to be energized and to be inspired by the pastor. But, after living almost thirty years as a pastor, I can say that I’ve learned that living my life as a follower of Jesus is about much, much more.
It’s not easy to spend time with people who are dying, or to speak words of hope and new life while standing beside a hole in the ground. It’s not easy to listen to a pain-filled story; and, then, take a woman who’s being abused at home to a place where someone from the Blackburn Center will pick her up and take her to a safe place. It’s not easy to continually search for new ways to help parents raise faith-filled children when many of those same parents won’t even bring their kids to worship. It’s not easy to publicly speak-out against racism and bigotry, to openly speak about caring for the poor and homeless, and to just as openly address hot political issues when people just stop coming to worship and stop supporting important ministries when they disagree with what’s being said in the pulpit.
Right after Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River and right after He spent time alone in the Wilderness, Jesus began to preach and heal people and gather disciples. We read that Jesus once fed more than 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two little fish. And Peter was watching everything! The Bible tells us that Peter even got to the point where He believed that Jesus is the Messiah.
But, right after Peter told everyone around him that he believed that Jesus is the Messiah, Jesus began to speak about suffering, and being rejected, and being killed, and being lift-up to new life. And when Peter had heard enough, he shouted, “No, no, no, no, no! That’s not how things are going to be!” And Jesus called him “Satan” – and told him to get out of the way! And then, Jesus spoke haunting words: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for My sake will save it.”
And that brings us to the second of the Faith Practices that we’re going to lift-up during our Lenten Journey (to learn more about the first Faith Practice, click here).
The Bible tells us that God’s Word is the “sword of the Spirit” that cuts us to the heart – bringing words of comfort and peace, but also bringing powerful words that convict us and challenge us to do what God wants us to do. The “sword of the Spirit” is something that God uses to bring peace and to stir-up faith within us, but the “sword of the Spirit” is also a powerful word that continues to challenge us to “take-up our Cross”; and to allow “old ways” to die, so that “new ways” can be born.
In “Hearing God’s Word and Sharing the Supper”, we are reminded that our faith can be a source of strength and stability, but it can also be something that drives us to do things that are uncomfortable. When we stop biting our tongues and begin to speak-out about the things that we believe, we can experience rejection and unexpected consequences. When we stop biting our tongues and stop hiding what we believe, we can gain an even deeper sense of what God’s calling us to do – but, when we take that chance, we need to realize that we might become unpopular and even be rejected. That’s why the second of our Faith Practices is so important!
God’s Word comforts and challenges us, and the Lord’s Supper brings us the gift of God’s presence and forgiveness. The “sword of the Spirit” continues to guide and direct us, and the Lord’s Supper continues to strengthen and empower us.
Churches and ministries that want to grow and flourish need to be grounded in God’s Word and to be strengthened by the Lord’s Supper. Churches and ministries that want to grow and flourish must continue to seek God’s guidance in the teachings of the Bible and in prayer, and they must also continue to seek the strengthening presence of God at the Table where Christ has promised to be. Churches and ministries can’t be built on things that Dietrich Bonhoeffer once called “wish dreams” (human-created ideas and dreams). In this week’s message, we are called to remember that churches and ministries are built and endure when God’s people spend time reading God’s Word and in prayer, and when God’s people continue to gather around the altar to be fed and nourished.
“Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for the sake of Christ will save it.” May God continue to guide us as we make sense of what these words mean to us in changing times, and may God continue to comfort and challenge us to “live well” with each other as we gather around God’s Word and the Lord’s Supper.