Saturday, December 06, 2008

the way

Read Luke 21:5-19

When I was around 14, I went through confirmation class in order to become a member of the church. I didn't do it because I wanted to serve on a board, or get to vote at meetings, or even be on the mailing list for the stewardship season. I did it because I was afraid. For I lived in a time and culture which made it pretty clear that if I did not profess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, if I didn't sign on the dotted line as a member of the church, if I didn't stand up and let myself be counted, well, then there was only one destination for me when, and if, I died.

Fear can be a powerful motivator. Politicians know it, and use it at the first hint of any trouble. Teachers know it, and use it to get the kids to stay in line. Parents know it, and can cause it by the look in an eye, or the lifting of a hand. And, sadly, religious folks know this truth as well. I think that is why there is a segment of Christianity which finds passages like this one in Luke to be, perhaps, the most important words Jesus spoke. After all, if we can get folks to take seriously a fearful notion of the end times, to worry about being left behind, to know without a single doubt that they run a great risk of being stuck on earth to live through the great tribulation, then the pews can be filled, as well as the coffers.

But while fear can make us alert when we are walking through a graveyard at midnight; while fear can give us the adrenalin to get through the long days of worrying about a child facing a life-threatening illness; while fear can make us drop a bad habit, and lead a healthier life, fear can only be a motivator, can only drive us, for just a little while. Truth be told, fear has a very short shelf life.

But endurance?

It's that dogged determination to get out of bed on a snowy, frigid Saturday and show up for that tutoring session with a bunch of neighbor kids.

It's that stubborn willingness to keep talking to your kids about faith, that there is something more to life than just IMs and ipods, that there is Someone who is not going to disappoint them or reject them or make them feel like complete idiots. And when they ask you for tangible, rational, touchable proof, to say with wonder, and simplicity, 'it's a mystery.'

It's that belief that spending time in prayer will become more than practice, it will become a way of listening to God and noticing God's presence in others. It's that faithful act of sitting through soul numbing sermons, because God has promised to speak through the Word. It's that foolish, and antiquated notion in today's world, of letting one's decisions be guided by a relationship with Someone who will never show up on the View or Dr. Phil. It's that understanding that while Scripture may not be the literal, inerrant words from God, it can be trusted for faith and practice.

Jesus doesn't tell us at this end of these apocalyptic observations that our fear will help us to gain our souls.

It is endurance. That endurance, Paul reminds us, that shapes our character, and turns us into people of hope, people of Advent.

Prayer: Whether it is persecution or panic attacks, you give us those gifts which help us to endure. Whether facing fear or foolishness, you surround us with folks who can help us to endure. Continue to put up with us, Approaching God, as we struggle to be your people. Amen.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

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