I have often heard people saying what they like about the Catholic Church is that it is predictable. It is true you can go to mass in any country of the world and feel at home with the service. I have friends who told me they converted to the Catholic faith because you know what to expect; the rules are clear they said. If that is all we want from our faith we have confused how we practice of our faith with how we live our faith. Is predictability really what God wants for us to experience by following him? Somehow I believe that if God had wanted all things to be predictable or never changing he would not have given us free will.
Do you think that Moses standing by the Red Sea while the Egyptians were closing in to enslave them expected the sea to part? Do you think that David had visions of becoming King before Saul anointed him? Do you think that Mary could have ever believed that she would be the Mother of God? Do you think that the disciples would have ever envisioned that they would preach and heal as Jesus did? How can we who know the history of God with us ever believe that our faith journey can be anything less than unpredictable?
Why would we settle for a comfortable and unchallenging faith instead of a life of surprises by being in a relationship with God? God’s plan for us was always to be in an intimate relationship with him in that perfect place. A place the scriptures refer to as the garden where there is no sickness, no death, no mourning and God interacting with us each and every day. But because of free will we lost that place but God’s plan for us has never changed; he still today desires for us to be in an intimate relationship with him daily in the kingdom Jesus established on this earth.
The scriptures today speak of the New Jerusalem where there is “no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.” That place is our future home provided for us by the death of Jesus. Meanwhile we live in a kingdom that Jesus came to establish on this earth where there is sickness, pain and mourning. Daily we are besieged with natural and manmade disasters we have no way of controlling. Predictability in how we worship is still there but in living our faith we will encounter derision, pain, and ostracism. If we are not then we are not living our faith but instead we are practicing our religion. The scriptures are clear about this when they say “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” The Christian life is not how we worship but is what we do when we are not in church.
If our focus is only what we do when we are in church then we have failed to respond to the call to follow Jesus and spread the good news of the kingdom of God. When we do not allow God to bring us to the edge of the Red Sea and fear the oncoming disaster, we are failing to experience the wonders of God in our lives. When we fail to listen to God’s voice telling us he wants to change our hearts we fail to experience the joy of the Holy Spirit transforming us. God desires to change us so we reflect the glory he intended us to have as sons and daughters. God ‘desire for us is that we grow in holiness is not so we would stay put in predictability.
Jesus in that upper room the night before he died tells us “I am the vine …every branch that does not bear fruit he will take away…and every branch that bears fruit he will prune so that it may bear more fruit” (Jn. 15:1-2). That my brothers and sisters does not sound like he wants us to get comfortable, instead he will continually work at shaping us in a way that produces more and more fruit. It does sound like he does expect us to go out into the kingdom and do the work we were created to do and bear fruit by helping others know the joy of following Jesus.
It is not really a challenge to our faith to travel to Washington D. C. to join with others in a Right to Life march. The real challenge of being a disciple is when someone is openly being hostile to Christianity; will we then ignore the cost and stand up to defend our faith in Jesus. The gospels will always challenge us to go beyond where we are comfortable. If we depend on that moment when we feel we are prepared then we will miss out on exhibiting our faith by being totally dependence on God to guide us. If we miss out on that then we will miss the wonder and awe of watching God at work within us.
The scriptures today challenge us to go like Paul and Barnabas to places where God can use us to give witness to his work of salvation. The challenge for us is to find a place where we can love the unlovable, to give hope to the despairing and make Christ alive to the unbelieving. Our coming together as a community of faith serves a purpose of support, encouragement and yes teaching in order to continue to do the work of going to those who need to experience the love of God. It is not a place to protect us from hardship but it is instead a place where we learn that to encounter hardship is pure joy.