Brothers and sisters,
One of the subjects of the Men on Fire “Encounter” retreat (the first in a series of four “Men on Fire” retreats that Jim Hyde and I wrote for men several years ago) is “The Church of Fine,” We ask the Men on the retreat to answer a series of questions with the answer “FINE” in order to open eyes to complacency:
How’s it going?....FINE,
How’s the wife?... “FINE”
How’s the Job?... “FINE”
How are the Kids?...”FINE”
How’s your relationship with Jesus?......uh, uh, uh .
It is all too easy to be a card-carrying member of the “Church of Fine.” Membership is easy! It consists of keeping the rules, and keeping our heads down. Of course, I am trying to make a serious point with a little humor here, but the underlying truth is that the Lord calls us in City of the Lord to a life that transcends the ordinary. Now this isn’t to say that the routine and ordinary things of life are not sanctifying and a pleasing offering back to the Lord if done with love. We were taught that lesson so beautifully in the life of Doctor of the Church, St Therese of Lisieux, (as well as so many other Holy men and women through the ages). What I am talking about is that the Lord is always calling us forward and encouraging us to experience “The More” that he has for every baptized Catholic. More of His Grace, more of His Love, more of the power of the Holy Spirit … more of His presence in our lives individually, in our families and as a Community… and consequently less focus on ourselves, as we focus on Him.
I am reminded of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young ruler in Luke 18:
And a ruler asked him, "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: 'Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother.'" And he said, "All these I have observed from my youth." And when Jesus heard it, he said to him, "One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." But when he heard this he became sad, for he was very rich. Jesus looking at him said, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." Those who heard it said, "Then who can be saved?" But he said, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." And Peter said, "Lo, we have left our homes and followed you." And he said to them, "Truly, I say to you, there is no man who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive manifold more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life." (Luke 18:18-30, RSV-CE)
Jesus was calling this young ruler to “More.” In the case of this young man, the price to go deeper with God, was turning from his attachment to wealth. The rich young ruler was apparently a righteous man,though. He kept the rules pretty well according to his own account. But Jesus always raises the bar doesn’t he? Jesus really isn’t ok with membership in the ”Church of Fine!”What price is the Lord asking of each of us to experience ”more” of Him?
I love what Peter says to Jesus in the scripture: “Lo, we have left our homes and followed you” As if to say after hearing all of this about how hard it is to enter the Kingdom, “what’s in it for us? Jesus please tell us it was worth the price we paid to follow You!”
Brothers and sisters, all of us in City of the Lord have paid a price to follow the call of God and live the life we live together. There have been sacrifices, tears, pain, and of course Joy and Love! I want to thank all of my Covenant brothers and sisters that have answered the call from God to “sell all” so to speak and follow the Lord through a life in Covenant Community. But no matter how long we have lived in the Community, we all need to ask ourselves… is my life in City of the Lord just….”Fine?” Am I just following the rules and keeping my head down or Is there more? The answer from the Lord is always “YES!”
As our society becomes more aware of the darkness that desires to “Steal Kill and Destroy” (John 10:10), our mission as a Community becomes more clear. Being a member of the “Church of Fine” doesn’t cut it any more. To be a witness to the light means each of us needs to be aware of our attitudes and the ways the world has invaded our hearts and minds. Romans 12:2 reminds us:
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of our minds”
One small way we can break out of the “Church of Fine” is to make a commitment to come prepared and to worship whole-heartedly at our Community gatherings. Vibrant and dynamic praise and worship as a people, isn’t always comfortable, especially when we are experiencing stress, disappointment or just aren’t “feeling” it. Maybe you don’t like the song selection, or the style of the Coordinator leading the meeting… you know what I mean. Like with the rich young ruler.. Jesus is raising the bar. Showing up isn’t enough. The Lord’s desire is for us to “Have Life and in abundance!” Our community gatherings are not an end in themselves, but are intended to be source of grace so that we have strength for our mission.
Each of us is doing our best to follow the Lord and to lead a Holy life, but we are all sinners and are imperfect. The temptation, like the rich young ruler, can be to rely on what we can control. He testified to the Lord that he had followed all of the commandments from his youth. Most of us do a pretty good job of doing what we are told and observing the minimums. But Jesus asks us to go beyond that and leave behind self-concern and tepidity and to follow him in a new way; the Holy Spirit earnestly desires to fill willing hearts!! This may seem impossible sometimes, but the good news is that Jesus also said:
“What is impossible with men is possible with God”.
Let us as a Community rely on the power of God and not on what we can achieve in our own strength. Otherwise the price Jesus is asking us to go deeper with Him will be too much for us without His grace, and we will be trapped in the “Church of Fine”