by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, July 15, 2012:
The Gospel lessons of both last week and this week should dispel any aspirations of glory and fame that we have as Christians. It's an idea that's almost antithetical in our society.
Our society has become one that worships fame and publicity. Now young people don't want to just earn a lot of money--they want to do it in a way that brings them fame. In her fascinating book, Generation Me, Jean M. Twenge recounts interviewing hundreds of adolescents, each one of whom was convinced that they had brilliant careers ahead of them in major league sports or entertainment.
The Gospel for last Sunday and this one define success differently than modern people would. In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus sends his disciples out two by two. They're sent out with no supplies, no money, and no real plan. And the Gospel for this Sunday paints an even starker truth. John the Baptist, someone who has remained true to his mission, is killed by King Herod. And why? A mix of motives, but the Gospel mentions King Herod wanting to impress a young woman and Herod's unwillingness to hear the truth and to admit the truth.
So, John the Baptist loses his head. Literally. Not a comforting vision for those of us who struggle to live our faith day by day. This reward is what we can expect?
Jesus never promises us an easy time, at least not the kind of easy time the world dangles in front of us when it attempts to seduce us. We see this even in Christian communities. We feel like failures when our churches aren't megachurches, when we're not the Rick Warrens of our communities. We feel like we're not a success when we have to struggle to find the money to pay our church’s bills (or worse, when we have to cut staff and programs).
But if we look at the portrait of the earliest church, we'll see that it wasn't the megachurch model. The early church builds on an idea of cells, tiny little house churches of committed Christians. Some days I shake my head in awe at what a small group of people can accomplish.
And then I laugh at my own lack of memory. My History and Sociology classes years ago taught me the exact same thing: the most fascinating change is often created by small, committed bands of people. And the most successful changes are often made by people who are grounded and rooted in some kind of larger faith vision.
Yet the Gospel for this Sunday reminds us that success may not be at the end of our individual stories. We could commit ourselves to Christ’s mission only to find ourselves wasting away in prison, a victim of a corrupt society.
It’s a risk worth taking. We know how sustaining our faith can be and how important it is to build a faith community. We know how larger faith communities can change the world for the better.
We know how to do this community building. We meet on a regular basis. We share a meal. We look out for each other and pray for each other. We take care of the less fortunate. We invite and welcome the help of the Holy Spirit. And if we're lucky, our efforts transform the larger society, which is always in need of our kind of transforming.
The larger society needs our gifts. It might not always welcome them, but it needs them.