This morning, we thought long and hard about what “the good fight of faith” might actually mean. Our published curriculum said it was the fight against “all that was false,” and we thought that perhaps this amounts to a “fight against ourselves,” in particular because we are often tempted to seek goods other than God, in particular money. (Since “the love of money is the root of all evil” and because “in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” 1 Timothy 6:10, and we thought recent newspaper headlines might offer a very public illustration of that.) Maybe because we think security comes from money, or maybe because we value comfort or leisure; or whatever it is besides God. So that remembering and trusting that God really is the greatest good is part of that struggle of faith. And so is not letting go of that remembrance and trust, even when the formulaic way people say “God is good” sometimes when it is the “right” thing to say at church ends up sounding more like “I’m a really good Christian. What about you?” We have all had our issues with church. But we keep coming back.
Then in church, where for Lent we are thinking about “Who is God? Who are we? What are we going to do about that?”, we were reminded that “if it were up to me” is an often ominous phrase, the prelude to a conflict – as in “if it were up to me, we would have left on time …” The Bible gives us a lot of glimpses into situations in which characters are essentially saying “if it were up to me …” – like in Mark 8:31-35, where Peter tells Jesus not to go on about being rejected by the authorities and killed … but, it isn’t up to Peter. And if it were up to us we would probably prefer to be able to follow Jesus without having to take up a cross and lose our lives as a prerequisite. But, it isn’t up to us, either. And it’s not because “Jesus wants to be the boss,” but because Jesus actually is the boss. And difficult as it is for us to wrap our heads around this sometimes, God actually does know us better than we know ourselves, and certainly loves us better than we love ourselves. Jesus’ greatest interest is our best interest. When Jesus tells the disciples – including us – that the way to life lies through and beyond the cross and death, it’s basically about informed consent. We don’t have to go that way … but that’s the Way Jesus is going.
[It reminded me: Almost 20 years ago, I got to go to Petra. Mom told me she had always wanted to go to Petra, from the time she saw pictures of it in a magazine when she was a girl. So I promised her I would bring back pictures of all the “buildings.” It turns out one of them is a serious hike, up rocks, above the main valley, not a walk designed for a middle-aged fat girl who hadn’t quit smoking yet. Informed consent. Because I didn’t have to make that hike … unless I wanted that picture for my mom. Mom got her picture. And I survived, but that’s another story.]
And then after church I got to go sit with the grownups because sometimes that’s how things work out. The group is reading A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz, and discussing it. We all struggle with trying to imagine what that bigger table will look like; how, concretely, to overcome our certainties and tribal loyalties and think about really being present with other people, in all their annoying difference from us … as our pastor has been thinking, that presence really seems like the embodiment of what we mean by grace. It’s not like we have to learn to see past all these dividing lines and remember and trust that our enemies are also made in the image of God and are no less beloved of God than we are … but that’s the way Jesus said to go.