Fruitfulness and Accountability to God
Thus you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me,
‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the
will of My Father in heaven. – Jesus, Matthew 7:20-21
Jesus’ call to fruitfulness over “right speech/belief” is resonant with much of the public discourse on racial justice today. Many are feeling called to “do something” in order to feel like they are on the right side of history. Jesus was clear, however, that enduring justice always starts with the individual and their relationship with God. He was even clear that it wasn’t about what folks thought of Him (see the story of the rich young man, Mt. 19:16-17), but about whose will was being done. Are we merely satisfying our own desires/hopes/longings, or are we aligning our desires with the abiding desires of God?
Some have interpreted Jesus’ call to “deny [your]selves and take up [your] cross and follow Me” (Mt. 16:24) as a call to abandon our lives and relationships and “give it all” to Jesus. Both Christians and non-Christians alike have suggested the
only way to be truly aligned with God/the Good is to give up everything you hold dear. This interpretation often encourages any experiences of comfort and joy be opportunities for self-loathing. In terms of ushering in God’s kingdom, this perspective misses the mark for three reasons: 1) you are most influential in your deepest relationships, 2) sacrificial thinking leads directly to resentment and ego domination, and 3) your life is a precious gift from God.
1) you are most influential in your deepest relationships
This point might seem obvious, but it bears exploration. The people who trust you most are the people who will be most vulnerable with you, and vice versa. If the burgeoning field of vulnerability studies has taught us anything, it is that vulnerability, not righteous belief, is what leads to transformation, liberation, and peace. The people who know you best are the ones who can say hard things to you in a way that you will have “ears to hear” (Mt. 11:15). In order to follow God, we must be people who are opening up space for honesty and vulnerability. Fr. Richard Rohr shares it this way: “We must try to make it easier for others to love us” (Breathing Underwater, pg. 32), and by doing so, we become allies in the work for God/the Good.
2) sacrificial thinking leads directly to resentment and ego domination
This point probably seems counter-intuitive at first, so hear me out. Fr. Richard Rohr differentiates our “sacrificial” love from Christ ’s compassionate love. “You see, there is a love that sincerely seeks the spiritual good of others, and there is a love that is seeking superiority, admiration, and control for itself, even and most especially by doing “good” and heroic things.” (Breathing Underwater, p. 22) Instead of trying to “give in order to be good”, Christ asks us to first discern what is good, then join with the good as we understand it. Sacrificial thinking centers us and our sacrifices, rather than centering God; this is the true meaning of idolatry - letting something replace God in our lives. In order to follow God, we must regularly reflect on what can unite our deep joy and deep mourning with the joy and mourning of the world. In other words, we must “give up” things only when we realize that they are getting in the way of our ability to connect with God/the Good.
3) your life is a precious gift from God
You do not have to be someone else to be aligned with God. And you have to completely let go of who you think you are at the same time. The God I serve loves a good paradox. I know that I am annoyingly repetitive on this point, but it must be said: your core identity is beloved child of God. Any other identity is ultimately either a clarification of or a distraction from this core identity. In order to tell the difference, we must regularly return to the core and ask, “what does being a beloved child of God ask of me?” Personally, it asks me to identify as both racist AND antiracist. It asks me to be honest AND hopeful. It asks me to recognize my distractedness AND my clarity. Jesus does not actually ask us to give up our lives; He simply asks us to give up
our desire to define and direct them, instead becoming like infants (i.e. infinitely dependent). Once we are willing to need God, we will be able to see how God is already at work on the things we cannot hope to do for ourselves.
We are called to bend our lives towards the will and wisdom of God. We are each uniquely situated to give gifts in this world because of precisely who we are. If we allow ourselves to grow towards the light, we will be fruitful people, people who produce “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22-23). When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19:25-26)
With hope and determination, Pastor Andrew