One of the great laments of modern Christianity is that it has become a noun. Much of what I read abut faith, is about the what rather than the how. To be a follower of Jesus has gone from following Jesus to being a follower of Jesus. The point of this creed is not only to give us language for what we believe, but for what we do with what we believe.
In the book of Genesis we learn about the father and mothers of the three Abrahamic religions. Their names were Abram, Sarai and Hagar. The amazing thing about their story is that it begins with being sent by God to a new place. They had no idea where they were going or how it would end. They left home, community and inheritance of land to go to a place God would show them. I believe it was this being sent out that prepared them to begin something new.
TEARS AND LAUGHTER
The Angel of the Lord came to Abram and gave him a new mission to become a father. This happened, after what one can surmise, was a lifetime of trying unsuccessfully. A whole list of verbs had to take place before he could be the noun, father. I picture candles and soft music and much cajoling his wife who was 99 to give it one more try. In Judaeo Christian circles we often overlook that Abram already had a son with Hagar and as Sarai laughed, Hagar wept.
What accompanied this promise to be something new, was the reason why. The Angel of the Lord said, “I will bless you (with a child) and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.” This is the core of our identity too. We have been blessed to be a blessing. When God chose Abram and changed his name to Abraham, it came with promise and a call. God’s call then and now is to bless, “All of the nations of the earth.”
THE CALL TO GO
The call of Moses included the daunting task of liberating God’s people from Egyptian slavery. The call of David was to face Goliath and later to lead with justice and righteousness. When Jesus was calling his disciples he told them they would be "fishing for men". Jesus’ last words to his disciples were to go into all the world and make disciples. The point of being blessed is to go and do and be.
CARROTS AND STICKS
This past October we celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The central question being debated at that time was: "How can we be saved from the fires of Hell? Is it by grace or by purchasing merits in the form of indulgences?" This was a much needed argument at the time. The church had set up a point system that included things like, attending mass, viewing religious objects, going to confession and giving money to the church. The carrot at the end of the stick was heaven. The noun at the end of the stick was, “saved.”
Threats of Hell or promises of Heaven have been a great motivator for the church for a really long time. These promises have lost their effectiveness to motivate people to attend church and give it their money. It is in part, why people in droves have left organized religion. Thankfully they have not left the idea of loving their neighbors. Millennials have become the most giving and sharing generation of the planet. They give a higher percentage of their income and time to charity than any other living generation. Unfortunately for the church, it is not in the offering plate or serving on a committee.
It is time for the church to "shake off the rust" of the reformation and get to work. The point of the work can’t be saving souls. Like Abram, God is calling us out to a new place, to make our communities our focus rather than our churches. We gather for worship so that we can connect and be reinvigorated to go out and love our neighbors. As you may see from my writing, proper grammar is not my strength, I am however committed to getting my nouns and verbs right, and not forgetting the prepositional phrase, “so that.” We are blessed, “so that,” we can be a blessing.