This morning, we are delighted to welcome M. and R. into the greater family of the Church of Jesus Christ.
The ways in which the teachings of Jesus and the life of the church will really come to shape their lives is something that will emerge in the years to come.
But we hope that they will feel convicted by justice and find a deep commitment to fairness that strengthens them to say things that may be hard to say, and that they learn to stand for things that matter, particularly in a culture that is too often determined to be trivial and to see our possessions as a valid form of self-expression.
The Church disagrees with that diminished vision.
The Church is uneasy with a monthly credit card statement as an acceptable form of autobiography.
It sees judgment in that rather than joy in that, even though we might not be really be ready for it.
In the imagination of the Church, what VISA or American Express provide are not so much bills, but rather a potentially painful revelation for us of what our deeper values and our momentary impulses actually are.
And that’s not always easy to see.
To be honest, in some ways, the Church hopes it won’t be – it hopes that opening our statements will make us think, and even pray.
And yet alongside that, the Church wants so very much to affirm that there is more to us than all of that, and that it sees that, too.
Or at least that there is supposed to be.
If there isn’t, the Church sees something hellish in that.
And so the Church hopes we are a little bit chastened, at least now and again, by how we use what is ours to command, and the Church hopes that we will learn to be more faithful in our living, which is to say: more faithful in our buying, more faithful in our supporting, more faithful in our using and demanding and in our enjoying.
Actually, maybe that’s it.
To be a Christian is to learn to positively enjoy life according to a very different standard than the world at large will use.
Our claim is that life in Christ is about finding the delight in different things – that joy is not to be found simply with our credit cards, but in weird things that the world doesn’t always get very easily.
For example, the Church believes in the notion that the young can love the old for reasons that don’t involve money or presents, and that is hard for some to imagine.
It believes in the idea that the old can love the young when the young aren’t properly attired, properly combed, or properly adept at chatting in the surfacey ways most adults find easiest to manage. That is hard for some to imagine.
The man who effectively served as my Godfather was a good and generous man. He was pillar of the church. Patient and kind.
And more than anything else, what he taught me was how to shake hands…with firm pressure and looking the other person in the eye, and while this has served me unbelieveably well over the years, it hasn’t meant one whit for the Church.
The Church believes in something harder…something he never got to show me: in dignity over luxury, and in sharing over most self-indulgence.
It pushes us.
In ways the world finds incomprehensible, when things get hard, the Church teaches us to start by taking our situation, figuring out what is the most personally difficult way to approach it, and then grappling with the fact that this ss probably in the neighborhood of the right thing to do.
Then it tells us to find not only direction, but actual joy in that.
And if you make people jump a little further than usual and you turn out to be right early enough, they call you a prophet.
And if you do that and the timing takes too long, they call you their former pastor.
That’s the gig.
We say all this by way of welcome for M. and R.
It’s not easy to try to be a Christian.
But we also invoke all this as a reminder of the life of faith as we listen to this morning’s Gospel.
Because the young man who comes before Jesus in this morning’s story is, on the surface, trying to find his way into such a life.
And the Gospel makes clear that he is a Sunday School attending, blue blazer wearing, firm handshake providing, Bible reading, even God fearing kind of person – a Chris Tate, a Shawn Garan, a Max Grant sort of favorite son for any faith community.
Remember when we used to give out pins for kids in our Youth Choir for every stage they reached in learning music theory?
If you stuck with it, by high school you had so many medals for your robe that you looked like an old Soviet general when you were standing there.
This young man standing before Jesus would have had all those pins. Every last one.
We’re told that Jesus sees him and loves him.
How could you not?
But on behalf of the Church…when it comes to that, Jesus doesn’t see him and just say yes…and he doesn’t say no.
He sees this young man and says…hmmm.
Because he imagines the minor moral document arriving each month to this young man’s mailbox from the good people at VISA or American Express.
He imagines some of what this young man hasn’t had to see and wonders what he’s learned to see despite that relative insulation.
It’s clear that faith has been one influence on his life.
But what else has formed him along the way?
William Sloane Coffin used to say that “values are often more caught than taught,” that we are powerfully formed by our relationships in ways that we may not quite realize.
And so the issue with this young man who comes and kneels at the feet of Jesus isn’t whether or not he’s loveable.
It’s whether or not he’s dependable.
Which is to say, how has he come to depend on God?
How has God’s voice helped him to hear all the other voices properly?
Because those voices are there, and those voices are loud.
We know it, too.
How does the Church compete with those voices?
Our own Alexander has a cousin who is a Greek Orthodox priest in Jerusalem.
And as you might imagine, at the height of tourist season in Jerusalem, there can be quite a line to get into the Church of the Holy Sepulchre – the church that tradition says was built on the site of the tomb where Jesus lay.
Ground Zero of the Easter miracle.
And during tourist season, this line is apparently not for the faint of heart.
There are those who try to speed things along, figuring that a little contribution in the right place might speed things along, but apparently, it is not so.
Because the guy at the door is a Greek Orthodox priest, formed over years to be unmoved by that sort of thing, and so if you try, the line is the right.
But if you go to the door and murmur the great affirmation of Easter, Christos anesti, “Christ is Risen”…you get let in immediately.
It doesn’t hurt, saying it in Greek.
But there’s such a thing as a pilgrim and there’s such a thing as a tourist, and it matters which you become.
Coming to be someone who finds joy in patience, joy in forgiveness, joy in charity, joy in loving our enemies and sharing our abundance – all the things the Christian life entails – is not an easy road.
Faith tells us that it’s the right road. The only real choice.
That’s what this young man who comes before Jesus is not prepared to affirm.
That’s why instead of going joyfully forward, he goes sorrowfully away.
Our prayer for these two young men, M. and R., and for ourselves is that together we will all learn how go joyfully forward.
Our new Christian brothers have a lot to learn, and much to teach us.
But Christos anesti! The Lord is risen!
May the light of that affirmation shine through our lives and illuminate a path for all people to rise up.