In the this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myth that you can follow Jesus entirely on your own. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1, WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.
Here is the transcription of this episode, the audio file is at the bottom.
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
I know this election season has been difficult on many of you. As the rhetoric and vitriol has increased, you have also probably experienced members of your church saying things on social media, or in person, or even your pastor perhaps saying things from the pulpit, which left you feeling angry and frustrated. Or if you’re not a Christian, you may have been watching Christians during this time and wondered how they can claim to follow Jesus given how they have acted politically at this moment in our country. It may be tempting to want to do with so many people are doing these days, to throw in the towel when it comes to organized religion and just to focus on your own personal relationship with Jesus.
Now, as a priest in the Episcopal Church, with an admitted bias toward organized religion, given what I do for a living, I’d urge you not to give up on the concept of church and Christian community. And so, this week I’d like to bust the myth of the idea that you can follow Jesus entirely on your own.
Now before I start, I should be clear that some people are indeed called to live lives as hermits, people to whom the Holy Spirit has given a special vocation to live solitary lives devoted to prayer and service. The fact of the matter, though, is that that is not most of us. Most of us need community in order to follow Jesus better and more faithfully.
I remember when I was in seminary and it seemed to me that several of my fellow classmates seemed to have a chip on their shoulder about the church, something they wanted to prove, or something they wanted fundamentally to change about the church as she was. That wasn’t me. I went in to Christian ministry because I have a deep and abiding love for the church in all of her imperfect glory. And trust me, in over a decade of ministry as a priest I have seen some of the dark underbelly of Christian community.
And yet here I am, continuing to persist and to devote my life as a priest to the community of Christians at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven. Like any Christian I been frustrated at times by hierarchy and I have been hurt by those who wear the name of Jesus. But I don’t walk away because the church continues to make me a better Christian.
The great German Pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was an outspoken opponent of the rise of Nazism in Germany, including the complicity of some parts of the Christian church with the racist and fear-mongering horrors of the Nazi regime. Bonhoeffer was eventually executed by the Nazis in 1945 for his resistance. But before then, he actually ran an underground seminary for the Confessing Church, those Christians who refused to accept their government’s insistence that you had to hate and fear those who were different than you.
And out of that experience, he wrote a book called Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community. In it he explored the way that persisting in community with other Christians, particularly when it is hard, makes you more like Jesus. Other Christians can help sand off your rough edges. They challenge you when you need to be challenged. And Lord knows spending time with other Christians gives you lots of practice in forgiving. He insisted that one of the keys to this is prayer, especially for those members of your community that drive you the most bonkers.
In one of my favorite quotes from the book, he writes, ““The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.”
You cannot learn how to love God and your neighbor faithfully on your own, you need the support, the challenge, and even at times the failure of your fellow Christians to do that, to grow in love of God and neighbor. I know the church may drive you bonkers at times, but she is the bride of Christ, purchased by his own blood, and even those Christians who drive you bonkers are part of Christ’s body… and that means they are still a part of you. As Bonhoeffer suggests, work on loving those around you more than your dream of what you think your congregation should look like. Odds are that you’ll find yourself changed much more doing that than if you go it alone.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.