I have noticed that there has been a drop in the readership of late and it often happens when I start talking about following Jesus as one of his disciples. Readership goes up when I talk about love and hope (hope in particular) and I think that is what the wider world is looking for. The difference is that they want it so that they can feel better about how they are living and what they are doing. The crunch comes when the Gospel and Jesus himself insists on change within a person so that they might become more like him and at the same time, help to draw the kingdom and people together. So maybe we need to understand that words have to be backed up with action as it is this week in the Gospel (Luke 9:23-43). In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus has been proclaimed by Peter as the Messiah and Jesus has begun to teach them what that means. Jesus tells them that they are going into the City of Jerusalem, that he will be betrayed, be rejected and beaten; that he will suffer and be killed but then rise again three days later. What people need (and still need to get) is that Jesus has come, the Chosen sent by the Father, to visit and redeem his people.
Words need to be backed up by actions. Sacred words necessitate sacred action. From the witness of the disciples who were on that mountain, we see this in some simple ways. First, when they get to a spot, Jesus begins to pray. If we want to see the Church grow, then we need to be more about prayer, and we will be called to this during Lent. But prayer is more than the laundry list of issues that we push at God and expect him to do something to make our lives better. It is important to make our thoughts and needs known to God. At the same time, we need to live lives that allow us to live as though we are ready to answer to at least one or two of the things we have asked God for. Prayer is about a relationship with God and how God, through what we ask of him, changes our hearts so that we can ask things within his will and ask rightly so that prayers can be answered. As James would remind us: you have not because you don’t ask and when you do ask, you ask out the wrong motive (James 4.2-3).
This tells us that we need to spend more time in prayer not less, so that we can see God at work in the world and recognize him and what he is doing in the midst of the turmoil and tragedy of this world. It also should move us to action so that we are seeking, search and discovering what it is that God is doing, starting within our own people. Too often, too many people tend to treat the Church and its ongoing life as a hockey game. That is, they think that if they have the right people, saying the right things and doing at least a few things, then the build should be full. There is a place for what I will call “attractional ministry” to do things that will draw people to the Body of Christ. If we don’t do something to draw people in how then can we earn the possibility of speaking the Good News to them? The core of any Church’s ministry is to learn to genuinely love one another.
How often do we have people disappear for a while and then return because life is back to some sort of “normal” – I’m okay now and everything is fine. How often do we have members that leave because of some sort of illness or other kinds of circumstance that makes a person think that they are not welcome in a sacred place like this – even to go as far as thinking that God hates them? How often do we seek them out to draw them back in? It reminds me of the different times that I have had parishioners get mad with me over the years, because “the Church” did not visit. I pointed out to one lady (unsuccessfully I might add) that the Church had been looking after her: doctor, nurses, lab techs, custodial staff… she had tried to verbally box my ears for not showing up sooner because until I had been there, the Church, and therefore Christ was not present.
Christ has raised up his people, his Body to visit and redeem his people. God does visit and redeem his people. But we need to see him. We need to hear him, including when he is at prayer. Plus, we need to walk with and enable people to come to a spot where they can let go of their agendas and begin to carry their crosses and to live the dream that God has for them. Seeing and knowing Jesus – reaching out and touching him meant to make us better than happy. Touching Jesus is meant to make us whole and help us to walk with him into eternity.