I remember my first time I received a perfect score on a paper in college. I remember it not because of a sense of accomplishment, but the strange lack of emotion this paper brought. I enjoyed the topic and was proud of the grade, but it was neither a hard paper to write, nor really challenged me to learn anything new. I did what was expected and the grade followed. I asked the teacher after the fact why he allowed us to write on something we knew about, and he responded “You’re complaining about an easy assignment?”
For years I have thought about that. I did well in that class, but I cannot say that I really ever learned anything. Everything he covered was review of other classes I had taken, and I wondered why I was wasting time for a good grade. I looked around the class and recognized that there were a lot of people that were just taking the class to boost their grades to make their transcripts look better, and I thought, WOW what is the point of that?
Well, I figured out the point, having a very high GPA opens some doors and can make life easy in some ways, but I would never pass up the amount of things I have learned through the struggles in education and life for the success just to pad my resume. Looking at churches and those which appear to be growing and those that are floundering come down to how they deal the situation that they find themselves in.
The relevant congregations (congregations that are having an impact on their community) are spending their time and resources learning and coming to know their community and needs. Instead of trying to seek out a simple solution or prescription for how to become successful, they embrace who they are within the context that they find themselves. The problem with this way is that it is hard.
Curiously, early in his ministry Jesus preaches this long sermon known as the Sermon on the Mount, found starting in the fifth chapter of Matthew. This sermon starts in an interesting way with the Beatitudes. The fascinating thing about the sermon starting this way is that it addresses every fear the new believer might have and instead of saying, “accept me and life will be easy!” They say, “Hey, follow me, the journey is hard, but when you follow God, your life will be blessed.”
This week in the Gathering we are going to explore the Beatitudes. This pericope is central to our understanding of how we are called to live out our faith. If we look deeply at the text, we come to see that the way to be a good Christian is not about having a checklist or proving to be the best, but struggling in the moment. More importantly, it is not just struggling in the moment, but struggling with a cheerful demeanor and great joy, knowing that we are living into a life that is truly fulfilled.
I think back to the classes that I took and the ones that I struggled in the most and was always thankful, because those were the classes that I enjoyed the most because they helped me to transform and grow. When I look at my life and where I am today, I can see that the constant for me is knowing that God has a plan, and though I only see a glimpse from time to time, I know without a doubt that God is doing something with me and that even in my most difficult time, God is bringing me to a new place. But it starts with a faithful understanding that God wants something more for me in my life.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen