What might our personal and congregational lives look like if we took Jesus’ words more seriously at home, work, school and in our communities? Might we experience more of the stress and division Jesus speaks of if we were to push our community leaders or stretch our personal and congregational budgets to care more fully for the poor? What holds us back from embracing the kingdom life Jesus both describes and demands? What fears, pressures and stresses distract us from the mission to which Jesus has called us?
This isn’t to suggest that we have intentionally shirked our responsibilities. No, the pressures and stresses we feel are real. We have families to care for, jobs to tend, responsibilities to all manner of people and organizations. But we also live in a culture that equates wealth with character, that elevates consumption to an art form, and that teaches us to look out for our own well-being above that of all others.
So what kind of sermon might encourage us in leading the kind of life that Jesus modeled? Perhaps one that takes the stresses of this life seriously, that reminds us that Jesus understands these stresses, and that promises that the baptism of fire that Jesus underwent in his crucifixion he endured so that we might have the promise that wherever we are, Jesus has already been, and where Jesus is now, we shall someday be. Jesus dies, we regularly confess, for our sins, those of both omission and commission. And the promise of the gospel is that there is nothing we can do to lose that forgiveness or the larger inheritance of abundant life that Jesus won.
Sometimes that promise leads us into a kind of pious indolence, where we come to believe that our failures and shortcoming aren’t all that serious, for we have been justified by faith. But sometimes—and perhaps this is one of those times—that promise of forgiveness and life might also lead us to a kind of holy engagement, where we—as individuals, households and communities of faith—commit ourselves once again to being “people of the Way,” people who strive to follow Jesus in word and deed, knowing that the path we trod follows his own and that he accompanies us on it.
Perhaps our efforts will lead to strife and division, at least for a time. But they will also lead to a deeper sense of that peace that passes all understanding, as we are caught up in the abundant life that comes from following our Lord. As with the words Jesus speaks in today’s reading, Working Preacher, so also your words may not be easy to hear or to speak. But they will be faithful. And that, ultimately, is what we are called to. Know as you work on and deliver this week’s message and endure the stress it may occasion that I give thanks for your willingness to follow that call, for your faith and for your preaching. What you do matters, and I am so very grateful for your labor.