Taking ourselves more seriously

Published 12:55 pm Saturday, June 6, 2015

by Andrew Book

The year was 2008, and my wife and I were purchasing our first home. We had searched for months to find the place that was what we were looking for. We had sent contracts back and forth between ourselves and the current owners. We had applied for and received the mortgage we needed. The amounts had been agreed upon, the down payment money was in hand and all that remained was to close on our new home.

The closing was a strange event to the realtors and closing agents. It was strange because my wife and I sat down and actually read the contracts that were placed before us. It turns out that most people, even when dealing with the sale or purchase of a new home, don’t read what they are agreeing to. Instead, we were told, most people simply sign where they are told to sign (as quickly as possible!) and grab the keys. It took us quite a while to read through all the documents in front of us. It was tedious work, but by the time we signed our names we had an understanding of what we were committing to and could make that commitment with some level of confidence that we would be able to hold up our end of the deal.

I was amazed that day to think about the agreements people were making without even reading what they were signing, but this flippancy with commitment is reflected in many areas of life. We live in a world where most of us are reluctant to make an agreement without a legally binding document because, in general, we are not people who can be trusted to maintain our commitments.

As a pastor, I see this most commonly as it relates to the commitments individuals and families make to their faith and their church community. I have painful memories of individuals and families making commitments to grow in their faith through participating and supporting the ministries of the church, only to have those same people disappear within days or weeks of making that commitment. I specifically remember one young woman I confirmed as a member of the church several years ago who left the worship service immediately after the confirmation. I never saw her again. I can only hope and pray that she is fulfilling her commitment to serve Christ as her Lord in another church.

When people join any United Methodist Church, the church makes a commitment to support them and help them grow in their faith, and the person makes a commitment to support the church by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service and their witness. Combined with the baptismal vows to resist evil, serve Christ as Lord, represent Christ in the world, and more, the commitments a person takes on to join the Church are pretty substantial — except when we don’t take them seriously. Unfortunately, most United Methodist Churches have well over twice as many so-called “members” as people who are truly a part of the ministry of the church. These dynamics are similar in many churches. As a pastor it is baffling to me how many people cling to the title “member” when they have no intention of fulfilling the vows they have made.

While my experience is with the church, our struggle to take seriously the commitments that we make crosses into most areas of life. If you talk to anyone tasked with recruiting volunteers, following up with those who have made a commitment to support a non-profit or community organizers, I expect you will find a deep frustration with how easily we say “yes” and how often we fail to follow through.

Jesus told a parable about this dynamic in Matthew’s Gospel. He tells about a father and two sons. The father asks both sons to go work in the family business, a vineyard. The first refuses to go, but later decides to agree to his father’s request. The second son immediately agrees, but never shows up. Jesus then asks, “which one did his father’s will?” (see Matthew 21:28-32) The answer was as obvious to his listeners then as it is to us today: the son who followed through. Yet, as obvious as the answer is, we still often look more like the second son who does not follow through!

My hope for you today is that you will take a hard look at the commitments you have made. Are you living up to what you have said “yes” to? Are you able to take a breath before you make the next commitment to truly ask, “Can I, and will I, truly do this?”

Currently, at Courtland United Methodist Church, we are tackling Jesus’ call, “Follow Me” by looking both at scripture and the baptismal vows that we have made. We all need to take a hard look at our commitments from time to time. Now is that time for our faith community — you are welcome to join us if you are interested in exploring what it means to be committed to Christ and the church, but whatever commitments you make, may you live them!

ANDREW BOOK is the pastor of Courtland United Methodist Church. He can be contacted at 653-2240 or andrew@courtlandumcva.org.