I don't know a lot about the actor Ethan Hawke except I've enjoyed watching his films over the years. Last Tuesday, however, I was in my car on the way to do some visitation at the local hospital and I heard Hawke on the radio being interviewed by Terry Gross of National Public Radio's Fresh Air series. Hawke has just starred in Richard Linklater's twelve-years-in-the-making cinema opus Boyhood playing the role of a divorced dad learning how to be a parent. During the interview, Hawke said something which had me shouting “Amen!” from behind the wheel of my car. “Unless you meet your responsibilities,” the actor said (and I hope I'm quoting him correctly), “there is no happiness.”
Truer words were never uttered about parenthood, life, or faith.
It no longer seems weird to me that my Roman, Anglican, and Orthodox male colleagues are addressed as “Father.” Being a parish pastor is a lot like being a dad—you have complete responsibility for something over which you have ultimately no control. But faithfulness is about fulfilling responsibilities even when we are unsure about the outcome.
The gospel lesson appointed for the Second Sunday after Epiphany (John 1:43-51) depicts Jesus calling the first disciples. The words disciple or disciples occur hundreds of times in the gospels and the book of Acts. Disciple comes from the same root as discipline—training which develops self-control or character as my dictionary explains it. Jesus does not call fans or facebook friends or Twitter followers. He calls those who listen, believe, and expect to have their lives changed so that they may be change agents in the world.
In John's gospel we meet Philip who is so blown away by Jesus that he feels compelled to share his encounter with another, Nathaniel. I love the gentle way he approaches this. When Nathaniel gives him gas about the itinerant rabbi's hick origins, Philip doesn't browbeat him. He simply asks him to “come and see.” The incredulous Nathaniel, recognizing that Jesus sees him for who he is, gets this wonderful promise from Jesus: “You will see greater things than these. Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (vv. 50-51)
That's a heck of a big promise given to the followers of Jesus. We will see greater things. Unfortunately, I fear that too often we in the church don't even expect great things. We seem to be content with the same, comfortable things.
I spoke recently with parents who felt it was their responsibility to see that their children made their confirmations, but then treated that milestone as if it were a graduation from church. If all we expect is that our kids will go to Sunday School through the eighth grade than that is the best we can hope for. Why don't we expect that the young will see an active, vibrant community of faith which will inspire them as it has inspired their parents? Maybe because the parents don't seem to be that inspired.
Perhaps we have lowered our expectations—and, subsequently, our sense of responsibility—to the point where the church is only about our individual salvation and sense of comfort. For too long American Christianity has settled for nit-picking purity issues and not believing the promise that followers of Jesus will see great things. We have to ask ourselves if we really believe that responsible discipleship and faith can bring about the healing of this world, the alleviation of poverty, disease, and strife. Do we believe that we are called to see the great things, the miracles Jesus has promised?
I think that when we read about the call of the disciples we should reevaluate our own call to discipleship. Face it: if we put the bar for church membership any lower, we'd have to dig a trench.
I feel compelled now to step up my game as a pastor and ask and expect more from the people of my congregation than just sitting in the pews on Sunday and hoping to be comforted. We are called to lead others to Jesus, and in taking that responsibility we will find our true joy.
I saw a great billboard recently which defined Christians as “Beggars who tell other beggars where the food is.” I like that definition. It implies responsibility.
God bless, my friends. Thanks for reading.