I accepted an assignment to give two sermons yesterday at Elgin Community of Christ, one at the traditional service and one at the contemporary. Elgin congregation is a warm and growing community. It’s a congregation I admire because of their commitment to venture out into new territory with God, worship, and ministry.
After preparing two sermons this past week, I felt convicted to abandon my notes for both sermons yesterday. Instead, I felt led to speak from my soul – risking all my imperfections and idiosyncrasies. It was a vulnerable experience for me. But, I didn’t realize it until both sermons were over. I spoke from the passion I feel for the Gospel. In particular, I tried to get at the promise and the challenge that the Gospel always presents to us as a dynamic and living Word. I’m still prayerfully reflecting about all I was feeling. Last night, I even had a vivid dream that I was inside a huge new motor home barreling down the road that I was struggling to control!
If I’m honest with myself, I can’t hide how real the Gospel is to me. I can’t hide how much I’ve needed God before, how vulnerable I really feel most of the time, how fragile I think love and hope really are in our world, and how I’ve experienced God’s Love wash over me and completely change me. It’s difficult to hide the passion I feel for the Gospel because, for me, both the hope of salvation and the Kingdom come together in ways that are so real. For me, they never come separately.
And, the need for both in the world haunt me.
The longer I live, the more I realize that accepting Jesus and his prayer – “thy Kingdom, Come” – is not something accepted once and for all. Baptism marks the beginning of a life of conversion. This conversion is not limited to some religion, belief system, or moral code. Baptism is the beginning of a new life and prayer – “Thy Kingdom, Come” – and living into the possibility of that Kingdom in Christ each new day. Confirmation is the promise of the Holy Spirit as a companion on this daily walk.
Sometimes, I wish the passion I felt for the Gospel – its fullness, felt through both the promise and challenge that come simultaneously – was something I just made up. Maybe, someday I will discover that this understanding of Jesus and the Kingdom is just some relative interpretation, something that came to me out of my life’s circumstance. Maybe, I’ll learn that someday.
But, that’s not how I experience it. The Good News and challenge of the Gospel is not how I have come to the Gospel, but how the Gospel has come to me. When God comes to me in my life, this is how God’s Word interprets me. My life – its purpose, short-comings, and value – are all put in perspective. My deepest aches and inadequacies are mended and I am left with the passion to give the Love and Hope that I’ve been given – and to wrestle with that all my days.
As I spend time with scripture, I am convinced (cf. Romans 8:38-39) that this challenge of the Gospel and the promise of its salvation always come together – as one. I don’t know how Christ’s salvation and the challenge of discipleship can be separate. I believe this is Paul’s relentless message of Christ: putting on the mind of Christ, becoming the new creation and the coming of the new humanity.
If Jesus is any example, living the Gospel is not tidy. It is fraught with challenges – some from within church, some from principalities and powers, even from those closest to him (Peter’s denial; Judas’ betrayal; James and John desire to be the greatest among the disciples).
Despite appearances, the life of discipleship is not a life well-scripted.
Reading the scriptures with care, we find evidence everywhere. Faith in God comes with struggles and challenges. But, God answers those struggles with a heart filled with passion. This passion, God’s passion – the passion at the heart of Gospel – is exactly what we need to feel and believe. We don’t need all the answers. Not perfect vision. Not a perfect record of right decisions or the perfect program or inpenetrable finances. But, passion. Passion for the promise and challenge of the Gospel – Christ and the Kingdom that comes in him.