What does it mean to follow Christ?

At the church that I serve here in the city of brotherly love, we recently embarked on a summer sermon series that focuses on some of the smaller and lesser known letters in the New Testament canon.  Beginning with the letter to the Hebrews (yes, I know, Hebrews isn’t exactly a “small” letter.  So sue me.), we have been listening to excerpts from these “dispatches” from the early church, with a particular focus on the following question:  in what ways might these early “pep talks” from church leaders to struggling churches also teach/inspire/encourage/challenge us in our own context? 

Well, this week we reflected on the message of the epistle of James.  You know, the one about how faith without works is dead?  The one that is very clear that our actions speak volumes about the character of our belief?  You know, that one?

So of course we spent a lot of time reflecting on the challenge of this letter, and also how consistent it was with the life of Jesus.  We asked ourselves:  did Jesus spend his time reciting the Apostles’ Creed and demanding others to do likewise? Or did he, more often than not, walk out of the synagogue and out into the streets to heal and forgive and bless?  We were reminded that the one thing that Jesus asks his disciples over and over again is that they “follow Him,” or “take His yoke upon them,” or “carry their crosses.”  In other words, he calls them to actions, specifically actions that will in turn form them (and their words), into people of the WORD.

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Well, I got a little taste of what this challenge can feel like this morning.  An striking photo (pictured above) of a young girl caught my eye, and suddenly I found myself reading this article.  The article, featured in Foreign Policy Magazine, is essentially an overview of the practice of swara justice in the Pashtun region of Pakistan, what we often hear called the Swat Valley.  Swara is part a tribal justice system in which elders in tribal communities meet in local assemblies called jirgas to ensure the rule of law in remote areas where traditional courts are either non-existent or not trusted.  Swara is essentially a form of compensation that is intended to resolve disputes between families, and often the compensation ends up being girls, sometimes as young as 5, being given to the wronged family for marriage.  These girls often suffer greatly as a form of revenge against the other family, and it is often extremely difficult for families who wish to protect their daughters to protect them.

So what does this have to do with James?  As I read this excellent article, my conscience nagged at me.  What are you going to do about it? I found myself wondering.  Will you link to it on Facebook and let that be enough?  Or will you struggle with this, will you feel the pain of it, will you search your heart for a way to respond?  

I have to admit, many times, I read something, nod my head in agreement, and move on.  But this time was different.  Maybe it was the message of James working in my heart, but I know that reading is not enough.  Agreeing is not enough.  Christ calls us to respond.  I am still not certain what the response will be, but I know where I can start.  I can begin in prayer, and then move in the direction of generosity.  I may not be able to give my presence, and my body to this cause, but I can certainly give my money (Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are both very active in the region.  There is also the Women’s Centre at Edwardes College in Peshawar, Pakistan, and the activist featured in the article, Samar Minallah, is the Director of this organization that is involved in good work).  I can absolutely share this article with others, and be a part of a conversation.  That seems like a good start.

 

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Ah Annual Meeting.

Long day at church today… because of the Annual Conglomeration’s meeting for budgetary and other administrative Issues.  In other words, CHPC experienced an annual 2 hour recap of last year and the challenges facing next year.  It was brutal (not as brutal as the session meeting on Wednesday) but it was also amazing to see people committed to the church speak up about their commitment.  The best part in fact of the meeting was that people seemed unified about mission and about direction, something that you don’t always see in a church, no matter what the size.  It looks like we are setting goals this year for membership, and I think we might just make them, to be honest.  The goal the pastor set was a 25% increase in membership, a steep feat for anyone, but then again 2 people approached me after church today and indicated that they want to join, so it can’t be that bad, can it?

Really it all comes down to discernment I guess, if you think about it.  This church has a mission that it is so clear and vocal about—but somehow the mission doesn’t always translate to action.  And I guess thats the real doozy, isn’t it?  I think one of the things I have really begun to realize about church ministry is that the buildup to action is the biggest roadblock to change.   Because it’s so easy to talk, and really it is easy to act too–but so often we tell ourselves that action is hard, that it will take too much out of us, that perhaps it will be a waste of resources.  The risk of failing makes action all but impossible.

Recognizing that, and then realizing how little it requires of us to actually act on our words, is the situation I find myself in this afternoon as I reflect on Clarendon Hill.  We have an amazing opportunity to give to the community of God, to the community of Somerville.  What we need is the faith to do it, or perhaps otherwise stated the courage to act on our professed faith.  I think it will only seem difficult until we do it.  And that’s where I am now.  I am trying to figure out how I, as an intern, can help this church have courage to act.  I don’t think its something I can accomplish alone, but if I can figure out how God is calling me to help it along, that’s a start, right?