I got to church rather late today, which no one seems to mind...one thing that makes the Old German Baptist church a good fit for me, even if it is an unlikely fellowship and full membership is unreasonable.
When that happens (frequently) it tends to highlight whatever the minister-of-the-moment is saying in the first few minutes I'm there. I like to think that God gets me there just in time to hear what I need to hear.
This morning, there was a series of questions: "Are YOU part of the light of the world? Are YOU part of the faithful? Are YOU the salt of the earth?" I try to honestly answer these in my head as he goes along: "I TRY to be; I'm as faithful as I CAN be; I HOPE I am." I relax into reflection on my way of life, my daily actions, my thousands of little choices and efforts that are the fruit of my attention to Jesus' commandments and examples. I think about these questions a lot...in Alanon, it's part of the program to keep "taking my inventory" on a daily basis to make sure I don't fall back into crazy, self-destructive ways of thinking. I don't always act the way I want to, but I do know that I am committed to being a light for others, to living out my faith in every aspect of my daily life, to being "salt of the earth". I think I generally do a pretty good job. I feel generally pretty good about my Christian practice these days. I know I have a long way to go, and will have a lot of opportunities to practice what I believe...that's kind of the whole point of living, to my way of thinking!
And then an iron-hard statement blasts out from the minister's tongue: "If someone is living a life of sin, they aren't really a Christian."
My feeling of resting in God's merciful love, safe in the fellowship of gentle Christian souls who, like me, strive to live out their faith "in the world but not of the world," shatters. I know I sin. I lead a life of sin--though many Christians might disagree with me on the exact nature and severity of my sins.
I start picking up the pieces.
- How much I've grown in my program and in my faith! Instead of reacting in hurt, anger, or resistance, I felt calm. Here is a statement that challenges me. But I know I AM a faithful Christian. This man is not my judge...no man is my judge. God, and God alone, will judge whether I am enough of a Christian to satisfy Him. And God isn't done with teaching me yet.
- In times past, I might have felt personally attacked by this. Maybe I SHOULD feel personally attacked by this, because I think this is the same minister that seemed to repeatedly weave apparently irrelevant "anti-gay" texts into his closing comments the first few times I visited.
- Being personally attacked doesn't mean I have to accept that attack. I don't agree with this statement, and I don't have to agree with it. According to my understanding of Mennonite doctrine, as set forth in our Confession of Faith, baptism marks the beginning of a Christian's journey. We will spend our whole lifetime on that journey. God isn't done with me yet...but He DID call me to follow Christ, and I've been doing that as faithfully as I know how for more than 10 years.
- Man is imperfect. We all sin...in thought, word, and deed...daily. It's the human condition. So we ALL "lead lives of sin". Therefore no one is a Christian?
- Jesus is very clear about many sins...especially judging others; love of money/possessions/fame (or anything else) more than God; adultery.... Some of these are very easy to measure: a person is having sex with someone else's significant other, or they aren't. Period. But some of them are difficult to nail down. How can someone else know whether you love your car "too much"? Where's the line between giving someone friendly feedback and passing judgement on them?
- If "living a life of sin" refers to homosexuality, Jesus was pretty quiet on the matter. He also demonstrated enough particular affection for one particular disciple that several of the gospels mention "the disciple that Jesus loved". I'm not convinced anyone really knows what Jesus felt about the kind of love I have felt for other women...and I don't think we ever will.
My thought settle on a Quaker friend's strong, soothing words when a mutual friend was rejected by someone who accused him of living a sinful life: "Any house where people live is a house of sin. AND a house of grace. Too bad he couldn't see that. Come to think of it, failing to see grace is a pretty major sin."
I want to live life as gracefully as I can. Sin will always be there, too, but I can't let it be my entire focus. Staring at sin begets fear; fear eats away at faith. I want to keep my life focused on God's grace, to feed my faith. Then faith will triumph over fear. I want to keep running towards God. If I just try to run away from sin, I am lost.
It would be easy to let a comment like this sway my decision every Sunday whether or not to drive an hour or more (round trip) to attend the Old German Baptist service. After all, I'm not a member and don't expect to be one. But I keep going. Because I want to. Because I crave the fellowship and the insights of other Christians...whether they are "really" Christian or not.
Jesus made it pretty clear: We need one another. We need to gather in His name to follow in His Way.
Somewhere the scriptures speak of one strand being weak, while a cord of several strands is not easily broken (maybe someone can hunt that chapter and verse down and add a comment? I don't have a real concordance since my Canadian adventure (one of the few things I regret letting go of), and I've never figured out anything on-line.)
And long before that, right at the very beginning, God said "It is not good for Man to be alone." We need companionship on our faith journeys, for better AND for worse. Would Adam have eaten the forbidden fruit if Eve hadn't suggested it? Perhaps not. And likely Eve would not have eaten it on her own, either. Sometimes two heads are NOT better than one, when we put our weaknesses together instead of our strengths. Ask any two 7 year olds after a misadventure, when they are busily blaming each other.
Of course, that gives us lots of learning opportunities. "Good judgement comes from experience, and a lot of experience comes from bad judgement."