Practicing Christianity

How does one get to Carnegie Hall?  Practice, practice, practice.  If you said 57th & 7th, you would be right.  But it won’t be the answer I was looking for.  One definition of practice: to perform or work at repeatedly so as to become proficient, so as to become perfect.  …

Some people are better than others at some things because they have the innate gift or talent.  But just because it comes easy doesn’t mean you don’t have to work hard.  Hard work makes you only get better.  Take for instance, the musicians who perform at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  … I think you have to be at the top of your craft to even get on stage, unless you have lots of money to pay someone for the privilege, or you’re on the cleaning staff, or you work lights or sound backstage.  But many performers will speak of much struggle and sacrifice, rejection and setback, retooling and reinventing on their way to that prestigious venue.  And when they finally arrive on that stage, they experience tremendous satisfaction, pride and gratitude for the support of those they love and their own dedication and persistence on that long, difficult, but rewarding journey.

Then there are people who do certain things very well because they have the necessary education, training, and hours and hours of hard work … intense, focused, dedicated work.  Let’s say you’re a natural teacher.  It helps to have the basic academic background, including some educational philosophy, methodology and practical experience, and up-to-date, relevant on-the-job training.  … but becoming a good teacher requires more …  It requires, among other things, a deep passionate love for your art, a willingness to acquire more and deeper knowledge and experience so you continue to master your art, and you don’t go stale, a lively enthusiasm that is not easily deflated in the face of difficulty, a readiness to sacrifice your own comfort for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of other people.  … But very important: practice, practice, practice.  You need it wherever you want to be effective.  You can’t just rely on innate talent and goodwill.  And if you are truly effective, other people will want to do what you do.  If your life and your work are that exciting, it will show, and others will be inclined to ask why.  If they appreciate your passion, they might at least support your cause, or themselves work to further that cause.

Then there are people who try some things here and there as they search for what might potentially develop into a lifelong pursuit – air guitar, writing haiku, backyard barbecue grilling, micro brewing, moonshining, skateboarding, gambling, zombie hunting, cyber-stalking, computer hacking, wiki leaking, giving your pastor grief …  I apologize if any of these things is your true passion or lifelong pursuit.  But most people eventually realize there is little future in any of these, so they switch gears, go back to school and get a real job.

And then there are those who it seems have little or no passion, who are satisfied with mediocrity, who do not pursue any socially acceptable form of excellence, who are content to be remembered primarily for what they accomplished in grade school or high school, who are dismissive of those who are passionate and enthusiastic about something beyond their social station …  Few people will be all these, of course.  But none of us when we were younger ever looked at someone who was without passion or fire and resolved to grow up to be just like them.  I can’t say no one, I just haven’t met one yet.

Scripture today applies to the practice of our Christian faith those elements that fuel our secular and worldly passions.  Jesus tells us, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.”  Now few people consider their Christian faith an art.  …  We might begin with an innate talent or desire to love God and our neighbor, to be kind and to leave the world a better place than we found it.  But we learn from our family and our faith community how to bring these talents and desires to maturity in the context of daily life.  And over time, with study, struggle, personal resolve and practice, we can become better at being disciples and followers of Jesus Christ.  If we are able to convince others by our words and our way of life, they might be inclined to ask why we are Christians, and learn from us how to be Christians.  And if we’re really good at it, we might convince them to support our cause, if not themselves work to further that cause.  The pursuit of Christian Discipleship is truly an art.  One needs to practice, practice, practice if they desire to perfect that art.  As with all our other professional pursuits, we understand the value of on-going education and training.  These become opportunities to reignite our love for what we do, to remind us what we are good at, and to challenge us to inspire a new generation to pick up where we leave off.

“Take these words of mine into your heart and soul,” Moses instructed his people.  “Bind them at your wrist as a sign, and let them be a pendant on your forehead.”  We make use of whatever we can to remind ourselves of our baptismal commitment, that we might grow in knowledge and understanding, that we explore the implications of taking up our cross each day and following in Jesus’ footsteps, that we rise from our mediocrity and live with deeper conviction, that we witness joyfully the values of the gospel in our words and our way of life.  Or we can simply go through the motions as many people do – we come to church each week, say our prayers, put money in the collection, avoid murder, stealing, lying and adultery, and still be without fire … still be without passion for our Christian faith.  And when the world around us pulls farther and farther away from God and the values of the gospel, we throw up our hands and complain that someone should be doing something about it, but we ourselves do nothing.

This past week we all heard the Supreme Court’s decision regarding free speech and the activities of one church in Kansas that calls itself Christian, a decision that flies in the face of common decency and a characterization of Christianity fundamentally opposed to our faith and our way of life.  Do we sit back and complain that someone else should do something about it?  Do we resort to unchristian behavior and still seriously consider ourselves disciples and followers of Jesus Christ?  Why are people who are opposed to the kingdom of God more passionate and enthusiastic about their cause than we are?  Maybe it’s because most Christians consider their faith merely a hobby, a pastime or a weekend pursuit.  Except unlike most hobbies, pastimes or weekend pursuits, they would prefer it cost them absolutely nothing.  There is no passion or enthusiasm in the practice of their faith.  I call it part-time Christianity, which is no Christianity at all.

“Do the will of my Father in heaven …”  Or Jesus will not be afraid to tell us, “I never knew you.  Depart from me, you evildoers.”  Strong words.  And whether we possess innate talent or goodwill, our Christian faith requires a lot of practice.  There are those who call themselves Christians, and there are practicing Christians.  Which one are you going to be?