It is strange to me how connected success and Christian culture have become. In book after book, TV sermon after TV sermon, popular Christian culture seems to attach the idea of achieving fame, wealth and power to our Christian faith. Our faith seems to be more about winning and achieving. Jesus seems to have become a marketing tool for the creation of a new Christian culture of cool, where there are the right songs to listen to, right things to wear, and hip language. You can be down with the JD. And you can feel good about the money you amass because success is a sign of God’s blessings.
When did that happen? How did it happen? How do we reclaim the radical faith of those who did not climb to the top of the world, but transformed it from the most humble of places?
I believe part of this process must involve reclaiming meaning and purpose in scripture long ago lost in the race to bless our lifestyles and sanctify our choices. Jesus came to speak a radical truth into our lives. One that still today turns everything upside down. We must reclaim scriptures like the Parable of the Talents, stolen as a blessing of wealth making, and reclaim it for what it is — a story of Jesus would reject the entire Roman system of making wealth on the backs of others. I understand why we did it. But I think if we are going to be radical followers of Christ, we must sometimes face the hard truths of Jesus’ teaching as well.
How did achievement and success become the cornerstones of faith for the people who follow an impoverished and outcast Jesus, born in an obscure part of the Roman Empire?
Our faith will never be defined by where we succeed. Sometimes faith looks a lot like failure. Success is not what makes faith. Sacrificial love is. True faith is following the Spirit of God wherever that leads, even if it is to something that looks very much like failure. After all, did not the cross appear to be failure until the resurrection? God does not promise to lead us to achievement; he promises to free us to love — radically love — and look beyond class and money into the hearts of his other children and see them deeply with compassion. To live in communities where we fight the evils of this world: hunger, sickness, poverty, loneness, and war. And with humility, to follow Christ.
Jesus was an outcast. He was hounded, chased, and had no place to call home. He spent his time with prostitutes, beggars and lepers. God’s only begotten Son rendered to poverty on this earth to show a new kingdom with a new type of king. One where the lonely and sickly would be first, and the King’s coronation would be a horrible death in a trash-heap, turned on its head into the glory of the resurrection. Christ has come for an outcast people. An outcast Lord for a lonely, hurting people. If our faith leads us to become those who outcast others, then we can be sure that no matter where we began our journey, we are no longer following Christ, because he will always be with the outcasts.
Jesus says the Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed. Small and humble. The tiniest and smallest of seeds. But we know that the smallest acts of love beget love. And like the mustard seed spreads through the garden, love spreads through the lives of those around us.
No matter how far you are from home, how much you feel you don’t belong, or how lonely and cast away you are, God is with you. He has always been with you. God has always been most present in the hardest, saddest, and loneliest places of our lives because he loves us too much to leave us alone. And you will always have a place among God’s people.
May the spirit of God in her richness keep your hearts safe in the knowledge of Christ’s transformative love.