To Live Among God’s Faithful People…
What in the world does it mean…’to live among God’s faithful people?’ Whenever an individual joins the church family, we ask them specifically to promise a number of things, first of which is ‘to live…among God’s faithful people’. Whenever our youth are confirmed, usually around the time they are graduating from the 8th grade, we ask them the very same question: do you promise…’to live among God’s faithful people’….to which they will eventually respond with: ‘I will…and I ask God to help and guide me.’
What begins at Baptism…continues all throughout our life’s journey. The question is a good one…because, in order to be the people of God that we have been called to be…we must first and foremost learn to live among God’s faithful people. It sounds so easy…and yet God knows that it is not.
With the season of Lent comes the ever popular soup suppers complete with bread and dessert (if you’re lucky). This year, as your pastors were contemplating what to present in the worship services an idea began to emerge. Baptism, like Lent, is an ever present journey that one takes. One that has a beginning seeped in tradition…being marked by the sign of the cross.
In Baptism one is marked with a watery sign of the cross. At the beginning of Lent, one is also marked with a cross…only this time the water has turned to ash. Both serve to remind us that we do not walk this way alone. There is one that has gone before us…and in fact, is still leading us along the way. Lent, like Baptism, is a time for new beginnings as well as putting other things to rest. It is a time for renewing those things that really matter in this life…while letting go of other things that have simply gotten in the way.
In other words, it is a time for remembering just what it means to really live…to really take the time and the energy to invest one’s entire life in and among God’s faithful people. What does that look like? Do we even have a clue? That is what I would like for us to focus our attention on this night...during the first leg of our Lenten journey together. What does it mean…’to live among God’s faithful people?
As I wrestled with this question, a book…edited by Dorothy C. Bass kept coming to my mind. Entitled ‘Practicing our Faith’ it systematically makes the case for practices of faith such as: ‘not going it alone in a time of change’. To quote the book:
‘Change touches us in our homes,
workplaces, hospitals, and schools;
it tests our relationships and shapes
our desires, altering our sense of
what we can expect from others
and what we can expect of ourselves.
On the grand scale, change shows
up in major technological advances
or global shifts in population.
But in the end it reaches into the kitchens
and bedrooms even of people who
rarely travel and never use a computer.
The basic activities of life are shifting all
around us, and we are being pushed
in directions we never intended to go.’
The book goes on to state that these shifts have set many people on spiritual journeys in search of solid ground. The only problem is…there is such a need for insight that people tend to look for it in many places and often all at the same time. Eastern meditations or Western psychotherapy, twelve-step groups or self-help books, spiritual retreats or private prayer?
Unfortunately, too many of us try to go it alone…only to discover that inward journeys are not enough to meet our need. Our lives are tangled up with everyone else’s in ways far beyond our knowing, “caught”, as Martin Luther King, Jr. put it, “in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny.” And if you want to know from where Dr. King drew such imagery, you don’t have to look any further than the Gospel of John, beginning with chapter 15.
When Jesus talked about the vine and the branches…he was portraying what it means to be “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality”. In other words, no branch can survive a part from the vine. No branch can bear fruit unless it remains attached to the vine. A part from the vine…the branch can do nothing…but die. According to Jesus…you and I are the branches…and he alone, is the true vine. Our destiny is tied to his despite whatever happens to us.
Why? Because we have been marked with the cross of Christ…first in Baptism and again on Ash Wednesday…all serving to remind us of who and whose we are. With all the change that is happening in our lives these days, it would be so easy to lose sight of just how far our journey has taken us. From starting out basically alone in the world, we find ourselves suddenly caught up in the practices of our faith. We have discovered that through Christ we belong to God and have become brothers and sisters to one another, sharing Christ’s love for all people.
As Christians we know that we were not made to be alone. And yet we too are uncertain about the shape of our way of life. With the most ordinary of things we do each day changing all around us, even we who have belonged to the church all our lives wonder how to do these things well…how to do them “faithfully”.
At our core is a most basic need for being in relationship. God knows our need and has provided a way for us to live…and to thrive…and to grow. By living among God’s faithful people…we practice our faith to the best of our ability…knowing full well that we all have room to grow. No doubt, there will be days when God will take to pruning us and reshaping us so that we too will bear more fruit. Because in the end, that is the only way the world will know that we are his disciples.
It won’t be by anything that we say or do…it will simply be because we have chosen to practice our faith the only way that we know how. By choosing to live among God’s faithful people…and relying completely on God to help and guide us all along the way. May this season of Lent find us being faithful in the choices that we make.