Swimming in the Deep End ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael R. Beckett, OPI

I love the pool!  I love to people watch!  We live at the beach in a vacation community. During the summer there are lots of folks here, and there is a buzz of excitement and laughter and shouting and just noise.  A good chunk of that noise comes from the folks in the pool and the pool is a great place to watch people.  In the shallow end of the pool there is the sound of all those excited children of different ages and abilities and sometimes it can be deafening.  They laugh, they yell, they run.  They cry.  There are no inside voices in the shallow end of the pool.  It’s loud!

Funny thing, though, the only sounds coming from the deep end of the pool are the sounds of experienced swimmers, swimming with discipline and confidence. There is no yelling, no crying, no complaining, no evidence of fear or frustration. They seem to know what they are doing, and are doing it well.

This leads me to believe that all the noise that comes from the shallow end of the pool comes from those who haven’t learned to swim with confidence or are not secure enough to venture into the deep water.

Sadly, many Christians reflect this clearly. The noise comes from the shallow end, not the deep end. Think about it.  The American church-attending public is very style conscious, politically conscious, quite vocal about political issues, and is basically made up of consumers of religion.

In any city there are churches saying in like manner:

“Come to our church. Our preacher doesn’t wear a tie. Our preacher wears golf shirts and jogging shoes.”
“Come to our church! We wear shorts and sandals.”
“We’re fundamental.”
“We’re liturgical.”
“We’re liberal.”
“We’re moderate.”
“We’re denominational.”
“We’re mainline.”
“We’re dispensational.”
“We have video.”
“We have snare drums and screens.”
“We’re into political reform.”
“We have a religious superstar preaching today.”

“We use the King James version.”

Everyone is out front, just like carnival barkers, pushing their style, their religious product, but when we get inside those churches, we find, just like at the carnival, that no one knocks out the balloons or knocks down the bottles. No one wins the prize. No lives are changed. The church of the big idea, the church of the big action, the church of politics, and the church of the big deal somehow leave us empty. Something is missing.  We find that those folks who are the most vocal about issues and politics are often those who reflect very little Jesus.

I have realized in recent years that all we do to establish our niche in the church market may be a cover for an empty heart, a shallow commitment, and a secular mindset. Let’s start the other way. Let’s build on a foundation, a strong commitment to Jesus Christ and see what happens.

Unless a church’s foundation is Jesus Christ, there is no substance, no power. It is sound and fury. It is chaff. If Jesus Christ is the foundation, walks the halls, sits in the pews, and is in our classes, if he interprets the Bibles and sings our hymns, preaches our sermons, then we will know and do our mission effectively. If we do not realize that EVERY person is a part of the body of Christ, we will continue to be ineffective and to divide the church, the nation, and the world.

The Epistle from this morning makes it clear that the church is Christ’s body on earth.

God gives different gifts to different people.  Some, a passion for peace; Others,  a passion for political freedom.  Some,  a passion for life and its sacredness, Others, a passion for forgiveness and mercy.  Some, a passion for a more closed interpretation of the Bible, Others, a passion for a more open interpretation of the Bible.  Some, a passion for evangelism, Others, a passion for justice.  All of these people believe they are working for the common good.  Each and every one of these people  are inspired by the one and same Spirit, the Spirit who gives to each person their unique and different perspective.  For just as the human body is a unified whole, composed of millions of different parts, so is Christ and his body.  The upshot here, though, is that we must be the body of Christ, who taught us to love our neighbors as ourselves.  The Christ who taught us to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  The Christ who taught us to love and to pray for our enemies.

Each of us needs a passionate commitment to Jesus, not a passionate commitment to political, ideological, or stylistic ideas. We don’t need to focus on consumer desires or even on one frame of reference theologically. We have lost our focus.  We are concentrating on everything and everyone except our Lord.

We have to change this.  We have to rediscover our faith, our Jesus.  When we rediscover Jesus Christ, our lives will be revitalized. We must rediscover the beauty, the majesty, and the power of a strong commitment to Jesus Christ. When that happens, we will not get bent out of shape about walls and politics. The central question will be, “Did we meet Jesus?” not “Was my opinion supported today?”

To say that Jesus Christ is the root and foundation, the cornerstone, the vine, is not a way of evading issues. This is calling the church to understand that we are Jesus people. We are members of his body, and the church in all of its power and strength needs to rediscover Jesus.  Yes, issues are important.  Yes, we should be politically aware. However, if we do not view issues through the lens of the Gospel, if we are not acting on our political awareness with love, we are nothing, will be nothing, and certainly will not be effective.  If we do not work for those political and social issues while demonstrating the love of Christ, our love FOR Christ, then we have nothing, are nothing.

If you have these passions in your heart, these workings, but if you don’t have love inside of you for your brothers and sisters who think and feel differently than you, you are nothing. The greatest gift that God has for you is love. Love for people who don’t think like you. Love for people who do not share your point of view on specific issues. You are to make love, your goal, your aim, your greatest purpose for life.

When we rediscover Jesus Christ, our belief will be strengthened and focused. When the church rediscovers Jesus Christ, the people will come for the show, but they will stay to grow. The only noise we will hear in a church, on our streets, in our Facebook feeds, will be people swimming from the shallow end to the deep end of the pool because they feel safe in deep water.

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