When a church like ours entertains a Candidate Sunday, you never know how it will go. Perhaps that is why it so interesting and edgy. A candidate comes, presents, lays bare his soul, makes a case for his leadership, and then you and I get to decide. Having been in this circumstance six times, I will tell you, it is very much like those dreams where you go to school, and everyone else is fully dressed, but you forgot to put your trousers on.
Kudos to lay leaders like Phillip Jacobs, John Wygal, and, John Wilson for their detailed, behind-the-scenes attention to Candidate Sunday that put us all in a position to succeed. I have seen many things go wrong on Candidate Sundays, but last Sunday it all flowed. We Congregationalists can be an opinionated and individualistic lot, but as we assembled the Holy Spirit gave us a sense of unifying around what is best for FCC, D as community.
I saw your faces as you heard Benjamin and gave him the respect of your full attention. When he spoke in such honest ways and talked about authenticity as the mark of youth ministry, he was right in our wheelhouse. You discerned that and said, “He is one of us.” Discernment is the operative word here. It is not so much about opinions and voting, but seeking a higher will for this community, letting us thrive to make a Christilike difference.
As I listened to Benjamin preach, I couldn’t help but ponder and smile at what I call the “sermon within the sermon.” Tracing his journey and telling his story, Benjamin didn’t exactly use these words. But he taught us the difference between believing in Jesus and following Jesus. Many churches far make too much of believing in Jesus, that is, giving your assent to some abstract propositions on his nature as the Christ, how he saves, the ultimate meaning of death and resurrection, and the general architecture of the universe.
I am not claiming that belief is unimportant. The difference between the right truth and the almost-right truth is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. I have devoted much of my life studying (and even enjoying) arcane works debating such truth.
But beliefs are like the skeleton that gives the right structure to a church and its life. We trust our skeleton to help us stand up and walk. But a skeleton doesn’t not need to be outwardly visible all of the time. It is enough to see its contours through our living flesh.
Following Jesus is the visible shape of that living flesh that is the body of Christ we call the church. If I had to choose between those who can fine tune Christian doctrine and mince theology very fine, and those who are imitating Jesus and living Christlike lives, I’ll choose the latter every time. Following Jesus is loving as Jesus loved, not in the selfish ways we humans too often love. Following Jesus is forgiving as Jesus graciously forgave, not like an accountant keeping track of who “gives in.” Following Jesus is putting pride aside and not always having to be “right” because reconciliation is way underestimated.
Did you notice the turning point in Benjamin’s journey? He was taking on the strongest Christians he could find, debunking their beliefs as wrong and backward, de-converting them, right? As he did so with one group of Christians who listened carefully to everything he said (as Jesus would), they then told him, “All of that is very interesting. We are going to play some games. Want to come with us? We can talk more about it, if you like.” By doing that they put following in the way of Jesus Christ ahead of insisting on right belief. Informed by the Bible and by theology, that’s exactly the people God wants us to become.