Friday, June 6, 2014

Set out for the deep and lay your nets. . .

What kills the Church more than anything is when we settle for less than best, when we become comfortable with mediocrity, and when we choose what it easy over what is difficult.  The Church has not failed because we set our sights too high; all our failures have come when we set our sights too low.

John Paul II said once "Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch."  He got it right.  The fear of failure is often the singular cause of our easy goals and hopes.  We are so afraid we will fail, we find it easier not to dream or hope or expect or even trust in the Lord for great things, only for small.

I know it of myself and I know it in the congregations I have served.  Settling is death.  It kills the spirit of the community and it dooms us to succeed only at that which is mediocre, trite, and banal.  Let me be clear here.  I am not directing us to be self-important snobs.  I am not thinking of an entrepreneurial spirit or even the spirit of adventure.  I am not speaking here of unbridled optimism or of the independent streak of the pioneer and his or her can do attitude.  I am speaking of faith. 

Luther once said that something must be dared in the name of Christ.  He got it right.  We cannot wait until all our ducks are in a row, until we have banked all our resources, until the last volunteer is signed up.  The Church will die waiting for the risk to be minimized and the goal set low enough so that we can call our failures successes and comfort ourselves with small victories.

I see this in our stewardship of God's resources when what we can afford trumps everything else.  I see this in the way we lay our plans.  I see this in the way we turn the other cheek to beauty and settle for what will get us by.  We look out at the pews and we clergy wonder why our people are so fearful, so hesitant, and so unwilling to trust in the Lord whose mercies are new every morning and whose grace is the profound suffering that gave us life on the cross.  They only mirror our own fears and insecurities. 

Preachers who wait until late in the week to begin thinking about the Sunday sermon have condemned themselves to what is passable or what will fill the time slot instead of wrestling with the text, putting to bear the full resources of the mind and heart, and laboring to write as nobly as the Gospel we proclaim.  Parishes in which we settle for squeak boxes instead of organs and pay a pittance to someone to play the wretched instrument because we are sure we cannot afford better (the Church of Bach where Bach cannot be played because the organ cannot handle it and the organist is unskilled).  Missionaries who are forced to beg from us for a dollar here and a dollar there while the field is ripening as the clock clicks away the time.  I could go on... You know better than I what this is about.

Jesus did not die so that His Church could play it safe and easy.  Jesus did not rise so that His Gospel would take second place to comfort, convenience, and affordability.  High expectations go with the Gospel.  We are daily and richly confronted with the currency of our salvation -- not silver or gold but the holy and precious body and blood of Christ in suffering and death.  But it is too dang easy for us to allow God to be generous while we choose what is ordinary.  There is nothing ordinary about the Gospel.  There is nothing ordinary about the means of grace (for even there the ordinary element is transformed into the spectacular by the Word and Spirit of the Lord).

It is like we sniff with Judas and the other disciples about the waste of expensive ointment on Jesus because we know if this woman is lauded for it, we might be expected to return to Him something more than average. As I look out at my own parish, I so often wish that someone would speak up at a meeting and just once challenge us "Why not???"  Why not increase our support of missions... why not support the work of another called Pastor in our midst... why not expect every member in worship and Bible study every week... why not sing in the choir or serve as acolyte or teach Sunday school or work in the food pantry or whatever... 

We all know why not...  Trust is not easy, beauty is not affordable, sacrifice is not without pain, service is not without cost... We are like the Emmaus Road disciples who do not recognize Jesus in our midst... The crucifix stands before us but we are distracted from its glory... the Word is read and proclaimed among us but we hear only the voice of the Pastor... the table of the Lord is set but we smell only bread and taste only wine... all because we fear that if it is all what it claims to be, we cannot remain the same old people we were... and that is exactly the point!

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