Gal. 5: 1, 13-17, 22-25 Rev. Dr. Galen E. Russell III
Luke 9: 51-62 June 30, 2019
“… his face was set toward Jerusalem.”
Prayer: May your Spirit influence us deeply, O God. Amen.
Recently Barb and I were in a department store on the hunt for some new front porch furniture to replace the old chairs that were tattered and frayed. After a maybe 2 minutes of looking around, a salesperson showed up. Pretty quick… understandably because he was working on commission. “May I help you?” he asked. “No thank you… just browsing.” He knew what we meant… we weren’t come back as soon as we were no longer browsing, but ready to make a commitment to buy the chairs and table.
So, we were narrowing down all the options, asking bunches of questions: “Does it look nice? Is it good quality? Does it meet our needs? Is it in the budget? Is this the color we want? Should we keep looking at other department stores?” And on and on… These were all decisions… choices we were making in the browsing process. The questions were all about us.
We make these kinds of choices all the time, don’t we? Someone looking for a job browses through the Help Wanted section of the Merchandiser or the Advocate, asking important questions: “Does the job fit what I want? Do my abilities match what the employer is looking for? How much does it pay? How much vacation time is there? Will I be satisfied?”
People often visit our church. Quite frequently they say to me, “We’re church-shopping.” I know what that means… they’re just browsing. Checking us out. Experimenting. Getting the feel for it. Asking questions: “Is it friendly? Did people talk to me? Am I bored? Am I entertained? Did I laugh? Is it pizazzy? Is it dull? Does it suit my needs? Was my faith inspired? What about that pastor?” And so on.
This browsing process is important in our lives. All the questions are valid and play a role in helping us make our decisions. When we finally make the choice, that’s going deeper. It’s making the commitment to buy the porch furniture, to apply for the job, to decide to join a church. There’s a time for just browsing...and there’s a time for deep commitment.
On the journey of faith, we often are just browsing… asking questions like “What is the cost to me by following Jesus? Does it suit me to be a Christian?” So many people say to themselves, “So, if I decide to follow Jesus, what’s in it for me?” Most of those questions are “I” focused questions. That’s just browsing in the faith.
To go deeper in commitment of faith, I think asks different questions—such as “What does it mean to follow Jesus? Do I believe what he says? Am I willing to act on what he says? Am I willing to act on what he says? What can I do to please God? How can I live out my faith mimicking the ways of God shown to me by Jesus?” The focus is more on God, and less on my owns self and my own well-being.
Jesus brought his followers right up to the point of that decision. They were either just browsing in the faith, not so serious about it, or they could make a commitment and go deeper and follow him to Jerusalem.
They all had that choice. The Samaritans had a choice to receive Jesus or not. When they understood that he was determined to go to Jerusalem, no doubt to face great struggle and distress, they were like, “Nah...we’re good.”
Other followers expressed some noble sentiments of following Jesus wherever he would go… and he was like, “You do know you will not have a regular bed to sleep in…”
Some other would be followers heard a stern reply from Jesus saying essentially, ‘If you are going to follow me, then do it! There is no halfway. You’re either all in—or you’re not. Don’t be distracted—even by the things you think are important to you, like burying a loved one, or saying good-bye to your family. Remember to seek first God and God’s righteousness, and all the other things which are important to you are in God’s care (see Matthew 6:33). Trust God. So, don’t just browse around your faith. Follow me. Totally. Have deep commitment.’
I think this means, in part, that we can choose to make God the #1 influence in our lives. And, when we do, we start to realize that our needs do not command as much attention. Because our trust in God goes so high that we know that God understands our needs. Can we learn to say, “God’s got this?” The timing may not work out the way we think… the actual unfolding of events may not happen in the way we see them happening, but deep commitment means having faith even when we can’t see the way forward. That we don’t understand why things turned out the way they did, but we understand God covers our needs. And, our needs are covered in the process.
I have the privilege of mentoring several people on their journeys toward ordained ministry, and last week I met with one of my mentees who just graduated from LTS in early May. She is getting her ordination paper ready and is preparing to put her UCC profile to be sent to Search Committees at local churches. She remarked that she would need a church job with a certain amount of hours, and a certain salary that would need to replace her full-time salary that she receives now. She would also need to remain in close proximity to her adult children. All valid concerns. But, I asked her, “How do you feel about trusting in God with all those concerns? Letting God handle them? Choosing to make God the #1 influence in your life, and throwing your profile out there so that every search committee in the US would have a chance to look at it?” She said, “Pretty nervous.” I said, “Yeah, but going deep in commitment means trusting in God all the way.”
How about you? Ask yourself, “Am I just browsing around the faith, or am I going all in with deep commitment to letting God be the #1 influence in my life, my decisions, my attitudes? Am I following Jesus and his ways?”
For another part, I think having deep commitment means understanding that the stronger we move into deep commitment and less browsing we do, the more God gets active in our lives… and the more we see God creating moments when we live out our faith. If God brings to our attention a person who is in need, whether it is support, or compassion, or food, or whatever it is, are we just browsing in faith, or does deep commitment cause us to act?
If God brings to our awareness unjust actions taking place, of bullies oppressing others, of hatred and violence becoming condoned, are we just browsing in our faith, or does deep commitment cause us to respond?
Author Rev. Emily Heath tells the story that in the aftermath of the white supremacists rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, people of her town held a vigil. They stood with candles in front of the town hall and pledged that they would not be silent in the face of neo-Nazi rhetoric. As they were leaving, a young girl, no older than eight, came up to Emily. “Excuse me,” she said. “What are we going to do now?”
Emily says the question shook her. They took a good first step. They refused to give a pass to white supremacists by turning their heads the other way. But what now? She bent down and explained in as age-appropriate way as possible that now they had to keep working. They need to build a town where friends and neighbors would always be safe and loved. They would need to learn how to tell the truth about God and God’s love when people are hateful. That’s going in with deep commitment to following the ways of God in Jesus, I think.
Funny. The little girl looked confused. She said, “No, I mean, what are we doing right now? Are we all going home? [Are we going to get something to eat?] Or, are we going to do something else?” (Heath, Emily, Courageous Faith, Pilgrim Press, Cleveland, 2017, p. 130).
That’s just browsing in the faith. It’s good to show up at vigils. It’s easy to feel like you’ve done enough by making a response. But, what happens after that? Do we go home? Eat? Or, can we go deeper?
It’s good to write an ONA Covenant. But, just writing it… is that just browsing? Can we go deeper? In a minute here, Bruce is going to lead us in affirming our faith as we recite our ONA Covenant, and this is good. But, just reciting it… is that just browsing? Or, can we go deeper with commitment? This July perhaps we can support Lancaster Pride? June is Pride Month. Maybe next June we can find ways to support members of the LGBTQ community?
To go deeper in commitment I think means to live out our faith, not just to speak it. It means choosing to respond to prejudicial jokes or comments saying that’s just not cool. When we hear something hateful or hurtful or untrue about a group of people not represented, it is our job as people of faith to disrupt it, to tell the truth—that from God’s point of view… everyone is made in God’s image. All human beings are our kin… part of the kin-dom of God (just in case you were wondering if that was a typo in the Prayer of Dedication for our offering—it was not.)
Having deep commitment to faith in God is a choice. Let us choose to live by the Spirit, walk in step with the Spirit, committing to loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. May God help us. Amen.