8th Grade Faith: Commitment
Welcome to the sixth and final week of our series that we call 8th Grade Faith. We have reflected on how, for one reason or another, many of us are stuck at the level of an 8th grade faith.
This series has been about growing into a more useful approach to our faith. We’ve gained a more mature understanding of God’s law, which we honor out of love, not fear. We looked at seeing faith not as an obligation or a mandatory exercise, but as a beautiful way of life which is how God sees our faith, a beautiful way of life. We talked about the difference between saying our prayers and really entering into prayer, as an honest conversation with God. Last week we looked at taking ownership of our faith in a more personal way by praying the prayer of surrender to God, which we gave you last week.
If you’ve missed any or all of the previous weeks of this series, or you know someone you’d like to share this message with, you can always access them online. Just go to our website, saintmary.life
Today, we’re looking at Saint Paul’s second letter to Timothy in the New Testament. Timothy was a disciple of Paul’s, more like a son than a student to him. Paul mentored him in the faith and selected him to lead the church in the city of Ephesus that Paul himself had founded. At this point, Paul is coming to the end of his life and this is one of his final letters. He’s giving some of the heartfelt, urgent instructions to Timothy. He warns him that leading a church is not easy. He warns Timothy that he will have battles to fight, disappointment to bear, and even suffering to endure. Paul writes this, “In fact, all who want to live religiously in Jesus Christ will be persecuted.” Those are rather sobering words.
Eventually, sooner or later, if you want to be a true Christ follower, there is a price to be paid. It will cost you something. You might lose a relationship or friendship. You will have to sacrifice some of your time. You will be misunderstood by others. There’s some form of sacrifice.
That should not come as a surprise since the basic symbol for our faith is a man nailed to a cross. Subsequently, 11 of the 12 apostles died a martyr’s deaths. Saying that the Christian faith will be difficult and challenging shouldn’t be a surprise, and yet it is for some people. There are two common errors when it comes to this truth. On the one hand, we can over emphasize it. We all know people who do that, they want to hunker down in a religion of only penance and mortification. God is angry, and the end is near. We are sinners in the hands of an angry god.
That perspective risks neglecting the joy and blessing of the Gospel. Gospel means good news. Jesus spoke about sacrifice and service for sure, but he always, connected sacrifice to the promise of reward, reward in this life as well as the next. On the other hand, some of us were formed in a faith that shied away from the difficult parts. Faith was all rainbows and butterflies. Quite often when I talk to young school children about religion their answer to most everything is love, rainbows, and butterflies, per se. Some of us don’t move beyond the rainbows and butterflies perspective.
Well, obviously that approach ignores the depth and weight of our Christian faith. It makes it all too easy and oversimplified. Its only message is, I’m okay, you’re okay. Just try to be a good person and everything will be fine.
It’s fine to have this kind of sunny attitude until life happens. And life always happens! Things don’t work out so well for us, a business partner, a close friend betrays you, you lose a loved one, your marriage falls apart. And all of a sudden you’re no longer okay. I’m no longer okay. There’s a gap between my experience and my expectation, and in that gap I feel like my version of Christianity has let me down.
If you follow Jesus, you will see God come through for you. You will, for sure, see God’s power and God’s pleasure in awesome and unexpected ways, but you will also experience difficulties. Paul doesn’t want Timothy to be taken off guard by that reality, so Paul challenges Timothy to remain faithful despite the coming trials and tribulations. He says: “Be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient.” To be a committed Christ follower requires persistence with a view of the whole reality of our Christian faith.
Now, whatever your view of the faith is, when it comes to following Christ, we all tend to fall into one of three categories. The first group I’ll call Consumer Christians. As a consumer, I show up, I show up. That’s what I do. That’s my part in the equation. The rest is then on the church. I don’t give. I don’t serve. I don’t participate. I don’t want to meet people. I don’t really want to talk to anyone.
One of our greeters was telling me that a woman came into church. So the greeter approached her to welcome her, and the woman says, “I’m just here for Mass. I don’t want anything else. I’m just here for Mass.” Okay. I come because my kids like the kids’ programs. I come because I like the music. I come because I’m supposed to. I come to consume Communion, which gives me some sense of comfort.
We all start at this level. And if that’s you today, if you’re a newcomer or a visitor, or if this is your first time back in a long time, you’re going to consume and that’s exactly what you should be doing. But if we stay there, we never grow, and our faith is simply not useful to us. And it’s easy to stay in that place, eventually falling out of the practice of faith altogether because a one-sided consumer exchange can easily become boring.
The second level is what I would call Comfortable Contributors. I believe in the Gospel enough to contribute, but only in a way that fits my lifestyle. I’ll go to church as long as my favorite sports team is not on TV. I’ll give as long as I have spare change. I’ll serve but not now. I’ll follow Jesus as long as there’s no risk, as long as nobody has to notice, as long as I can blend in. It’s natural for us to want to remain Comfortable Contributors because it’s comfortable. Moving on, growing in your faith, is uncomfortable.
The problem is that this approach takes you to exactly the same place as the consumer approach. It’s a place where your faith isn’t really that useful to you. Your faith is an insurance policy that can be turned to when bad things happen, and it’s a nice thing to do when there’s nothing else to do, but it’s not really useful. You’re stuck in that eighth grade level of faith.
The most useful approach and the place where we definitely want to be is what I call Committed Followers. I commit to following Christ, and what I’m committing is my life. Not all at once, probably, but maybe more today than yesterday and maybe more tomorrow than today. And here is the thing – that commitment, that giving on my part – is not giving into a vacuum, it’s not giving and sacrifice for the sake of giving and sacrifice. That giving on my part is always matched by God’s giving.
God always matches my giving, and we can never out give God. The exchange is enriching. The exchange is enriching and responds to the deepest desire of our heart. Because the deepest desire of our heart is really to spend our life committed to things of value, things of eternal value. Now you might say, “Well, I’m already doing that because that’s my commitment to my family.” And that’s true. And you’re right to say so. But even that commitment, if it is not rooted in faith, runs the risk of becoming dysfunctional, unhelpful, disappointing, or even worse, heartbreaking.
A growing commitment to Christ is simply the most useful way to live and gradually awakens us to the deepest desires of our heart.
A growing commitment to Christ, that perseveres, through joy and sorrow, through blessing and sacrifices is the most useful way to live, and ultimately the most successful. It requires growth in our commitment to Christ.
So this is what we want you to do. Make a commitment to grow in your faith. On the cover of our bulletin, take a look at the next steps listed there. In your quiet time this week, ask yourself, evaluate yourself, where am I? And is it time to take my next step? To move on, to move on to a more mature, useful, faith. Are you a committed follower? What will be your next step?
From our Bulletin Cover:
Next Steps to grow in your faith.
Step 1. Focus more on your relationship with God and seeing your faith as an ongoing beautiful way of life rather than a list of mandatory obligations.
Step 2. Move beyond saying your prayers to entering into prayer and conversation with God based on the events and details of your life. Don’t expect to hear from God what you desire. Instead in prayer, learn to desire what you hear from God.
Step 3. Pray the prayer of surrender we gave you last week. This type of prayer requires a mature faith whereby you let go and trust God. This will change your life.
Step 4. Take a look at your budget and how you’re spending your money; where are you spending your money to help advance the kingdom of God on earth? Am I reflecting the generous heart of God? Am I thinking about my money in the light of eternity?
Step 5. Grow in your faith by getting involved in the life of the parish by committing to service in one of our ministries here at Saint Mary.