By Frank Wessling
We say we believe we are saved by love. But we don’t remember that or live it very well.
By what we say and do we seem to actually believe we are saved by military power, by walling off people who disagree with us politically, by accumulating money and property, by keeping the poor and strangers at arm’s length — or behind walls and bars.
Our lives say we don’t so much believe as fear. Over and over Jesus tells his followers, “Fear not.” We don’t hear him very well.
We seem to be shallow believers, afraid to jump fully into the ocean of trust that flows through the Gospel.
That we are shallow may better explain why so many young people aren’t interested in us. We think poor liturgy, mediocre preaching, bad clergy behavior and a challenging sexual ethic drive people away, but that’s because we like to find technical, programmatic fixes for everything. Then any problem is solvable by moving a box or two, setting up a training session, arranging consultations, finding the right “leadership,” getting firm with discipline and shifting the rewards culture.
But what if the reality is something else: that we simply aren’t abiding in love.
If the real problem is in our souls rather than the arrangement of chairs and the words we use in church, the way forward appears too cloudy. It’s a mystery, yet we’ve got to move, to change something. There must be a solution.
No, there mustn’t. The Gospel is not about Jesus bringing solutions that exist out there, separated from what happens within. They killed him partly because he turned out to be the Great Disappointment rather than the expected problem-solving messiah.
He had no plan for Israel’s expansion, its security, its greatness. Instead, he only attended to the little people, the disposables, the despised, the blind and dead, the useless, all of the suspicious “others.” He went about stirring up gratitude in the lowly and hope among those who felt their sin, which led to new and unpredictable life.
Of course we need well-performed liturgy. Low-grade art seldom inspires.
Of course we need good homilies. We hunger for great vision.
Of course we need a sexual ethic offered in friendship and invitation to wholeness.
Of course we need clergy who lead by example, and use the way of Jesus as their management model.
We need each other, so of course we need to communicate, have meetings, listen to each other, cooperate and make plans.
But the world is redeemed through sacrificial love — at home, on the street, at work, at play, in our politics, at school, in church. If our faith does not show this, if love does not form the pillars of our house, we simply are not believable as models of good news. The people who walk away aren’t abandoning the faith; too often the reality is that they’ve met us and are still looking for it.
Another reality is that it’s never too late, thank God! We can risk being open to the love we find in the Gospel, letting it rule us. We can turn to it every day, place more hope in it than we do in our 401(k) or the national defense budget.
If we do that, the kids will notice. They have choices today. The choice for us will have to come from a very deep place in their hearts.