"Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem." (Luke 9:51)
While we may not like it - do not like it - we Christians are called to follow Jesus on the Way of the Cross. Luther was right in rejecting the dominant theology of glory (theologia gloriae) and embracing the theology of the Cross (theologia crucis), but we are more likely to agree with Luther in theory than in practice. We may sing, "In the Cross of Christ I glory," but we are slow to embrace the demands of the Cross. We are reluctant to join Jesus in the place of humiliation. We are reluctant to accept the humiliation of the Church.
This is particularly true of Christians in the United States where we very much wish that the label that Jesus applied to the disciple community, little flock, wasn't true of our congregations. We want to be seen by the world as big and successful. We have ignored the admonition of Paul in his letter to the Church in what was then the world's super-power:
Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity. (Roman 12:2, Phillips translation)
We have let the world's ideas of success seduce us into believing that bigger is better, that a mega-Church is more pleasing to God than a faithful congregation of twenty-five. Margaret Mead was right when she said, "Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world. It’s the only thing that has."
And so these little flocks of faithful Christians are companions on the Way of the Cross. Companions, those who share bread, the Living Bread of the Eucharist and the Bread which is the Holy Scriptures. (In the tradition of Lectio Divina the meditative reading of Scripture is described as Feasting on the Word.) There is no room here for a privatized Christianity, we are fellow travelers, pilgrims together.
This is true not only for those little flocks who gather Sunday by Sunday for the Eucharist. It is also true for the whole Church - we are companions with people we will never meet this side of the Last Day. We are companions with people we like and with people we don't like, with people who share our convictions about important matters and those who don't, with people who embrace theologia Crucis and with those who cling to theologia gloriae. Following the Christ is, after all, a messy business!
When Jan and I lived in England, I was often struck by the realization that the Scriptures that I read and prayed in the Daily Office were the ones that friends back home were reading and praying. We were companions in spite of the thousands of miles between us. One Sunday, after we had returned to Massachusetts and I had been ordained as a presbyter, I was driving to preside and preach at one of the congregations in our area ministry. As I drove, I found myself praying for the other congregations in the area ministry, and then for other congregations - Baptist, Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Assembly of God, United Church of Christ, Methodist - as they gathered for worship. Found myself praying because what was happening to me was a gift and not some good work that I was doing.
This coming Sunday, June 27, will be the last Sunday that I spend as Rector of Saint Matthias Church. I have been blessed in more ways than I know by this congregation's sharing of its journey with me. The journey has not always been an easy one. Some of our sisters and brothers left the parish because of serious and important disagreements - and maybe some trivial ones as well. Others have joined us during these years and have enriched our life together. We are a smaller congregation than we were ten years ago, more of a little flock, and our dreams of becoming bigger have not been realized. But we have been what matters most, companions on the Way of the Cross, and we will continue to be that forever. Deo gratias!