Tuesday, October 14, 2014

I'm a Christian Pastor, and I Suck at Following Christ

I say this on Sunday mornings, but one of the biggest reasons I felt compelled to do the sermon series I am currently preaching--a six-week series on the Sermon on the Plain that Jesus preaches in Luke 6--is because that sermon contains within it so many of the commands of Jesus that I think we find the toughest to follow...all wrapped up nicely in one fell swoop with a nice little bow on top of it.

"Turn the other cheek?"  That one's in there.

"If someone takes your coat, give them your shirt as well?"  Check.

"Judge not, lest you be judged?"  Yeppers.  (Stay tuned for this Sunday's sermon, because that particular one is what's on tap.)

And this sermon series really is for my benefit as well as for my congregation's, because I sometimes suck at this stuff too.  Even though I am paid to do ministry--even though I'm, in a manner, a Christian who has gone pro.  If you rated me like an athlete, I might get plus marks in, say, teaching Bible study or in baking pies for potlucks, but I'd definitely get dinged for fundamentals by Mel Kiper or Keith Law or ESPN's talking head of the sport of your choice.

This isn't quite the same as my "I've Sold Out the Gospel" post that I put up here last week.  In that go-around, I mostly talked about my professional role as a minister and how I've fallen short there.

No, I'm pretty bad at this as a regular person in my private, everyday life as well.

And honestly, I think we all probably are in some form or fashion.  One of the things about Scripture is that it is so encompassing of so many areas of our lives (fashion, diet, and conflict management all get pretty thoroughly covered, in addition to, you know, our relationship with God and whatnot) that we tend to gravitate towards it in the areas of our lives where it is easy for us to adhere to it.

To be honest, I think that is part of the reason why so many Christians so strongly proclaim verses like Leviticus 18:22 or 20:13 that condemn same-sex relations, but less strongly proclaim, say, Luke 14:33: "So, therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions." (NRSV)

Personally, I think this is at least in part because for someone who, say, identifies completely as heterosexual, they have no problem following Leviticus's commands against same-sex relations.  It is natural for them.  So it is easy for them to follow.

But a command like Luke 14:33 runs counter to just about everything we have been taught in the American zeitgeist of building our own wealth and counter to our own biologically programmed tendency to hoard things up to save for times of want.  It's unnatural for us to follow.  So we push it aside for the stuff that is easier for us to follow and to point to.

But that means that we suck at following Christ as well.

(As an aside: I have heard it said (and even seen it said in Bible commentaries) that the reason we don't have to give up all of our possessions in order to follow Christ is because it was a specific commandment to the rich man who came to Jesus in Luke 18, asking how to inherit eternal life, and because it was given specifically to this man, we are not bound by it.  But Luke 14:33 is a command given to a "large crowd" per Luke 14:25.)

And in my private life, my private spiritual life especially, I can sometimes shy away from the tough stuff as well.  Which is profoundly ironic, not just because of what I do for a living, but because the Bible is all about working through the tough stuff.  God found Moses while the latter was in self-imposed exile after committing murder.  God gave King Ahab a reprieve for rigging the justice system to murder a man whose land he wanted after Ahab showed genuine repentance.

And yet, I struggle with the tough stuff that the Bible generates for me.  Like Leviticus 18 and 20.  Like Deuteronomy 20 and its command for the Israelites to kill of entire tribes of people wholesale--to basically commit genocide.

I wonder how in the hell I wound up following a God who somehow saw fit to include THAT in His recommended reading to us, and I begin to shy away once more from Scripture despite what it might have yet to still tell me.  I begin to shy away from the source that might offer me, if not answers, the right direction forward towards answers.

I know that might sound like a paradox: going to Scripture for my questions about Scripture.  I know that doesn't always sound like it would make sense.

But messily, painfully, wonderfully, it often does.  At least to me.

So when we read the Bible selectively...when we read the Gospels and what Christ has to say to us selectively...my hope and prayer is that we might be just brave enough to critically ask ourselves why we are doing this to our spiritual practice.  Because that selectivity keeps us from following Jesus as we ought.

And I should know.  I've been keeping myself from following Jesus as I ought to as well.

Yours in Christ,

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