I’ve recently been doing some cleaning out of my closet and dresser drawers lately. I have an ever growing pile of things ready to take to Goodwill. There are some things that don’t even make it to Goodwill–they make it straight to the trash. But every once in a while I will come across an article of clothing that I just cannot throw out. The memory, sentiment, or perhaps, intention behind it is just too strong to let it go. The biggest reason I don’t throw things out is because they are comfortable. I have this thing about being comfortable. Most of the things I can’t bear to get rid of (but should) are worn, a little too big, a hole here or there, and spot or two, and filled with memories. These are clothes I picture snuggling up in and reading a book during a snowstorm.
It must be genetic. My mother has these khaki colored cargo pants that I think were purchased the last time the BeeGee’s had a hit on the top 10. My mother loves these pants. Any Saturday when I saw my mom come down the stairs wearing these pants, I knew she meant business. They were her business pants; the business of the day being cleaning. She could shove things in those cargo pockets and wouldn’t get sidetracked. We often joke that we will bury mom in those cargo pants. But, I think all of us have something that we just can’t bear to part with because it makes us comfortable.
Maybe for you, it’s that old sweatshirt that you keep promising you’ll donate but instead just hide in another place. Or maybe it’s a hand knit blanket or scarf that no longer keeps you warm in temperature but keeps you warm in memories. Perhaps it’s your first pair of 501’s that you keep around even though you haven’t had a 34 inch waist in some time. Maybe it’s not clothing but that old Lazy Boy that you just can’t part with. Whatever it is, I have this theory that at some point in time we all like to be comfortable.
And comfortable isn’t bad, right? Comfortable is familiar. Comfortable is reassuring. Comfortable is guard down, no inhibitions, free to be me, no judgement, loveliness. And so I guess that’s why it’s so hard for me to come to grips with the fact that the last thing that Jesus desires from us is to be comfortable. Now, I think there are aspects of Jesus that we may find comforting but that’s not the same thing as being comfortable. Because here is the truth, my friends, as hard as it may be. When we get comfortable in our faith, the Gospel message ceases to spread.
Let me repeat that again because it was just as hard for me to say it/write it as it may be for you to hear it. When we get comfortable in our faith, the Gospel message ceases to spread. After Jesus rose again on the third day just as he promised, and after he had a bite to eat, he once again taught the disciples (who, as usual, were a little freaked out and confused) . “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures,and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’”
Jesus said what he said for a few reasons. First off, it was just yet another method of proving that he was who he said he was. He had already shown the disciples his hands and feet. He ate with them, just as he had done before his betrayal and death. And finally, he tells them once again what he had told them all along. And that last line is crucial. “You are witnesses of these things.” Unlike other stories in the Bible when Jesus says “don’t tell anyone what you’ve witnessed” this time he actually says [paraphrase] “hey! You all have seen that I did what I said I was going to do. Now…go and tell a lot of people.” And we hear about how the disciples went about doing that in the book of Acts. It’s called “Acts” for a reason. It implies ACTION. It’s not called the “book of passive-shy-invitation to new life.”
And it’s not just for the disciples, it’s for us too. We are also witnesses to the work of the resurrected Christ. But here is where it get’s uncomfortable. Verse 47 makes says something and I want to make it abundantly clear. “…Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations” [emphasis mine]. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in Rome, the once proclaimed empire that is now crumbling because the real king and messiah has returned. Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in the temple where scribes and pharisees plotted to kill Jesus.
Now you just might want that familiar sweatshirt or blanket now because I am about to make you uncomfortable. Repentance and forgiveness of sins being proclaimed in God’s name to all nations means that we start with those who have hurt us the most. Forgiveness of sins, remember, doesn’t mean that we condone what was done. And as far as God is concerned, a sin is a sin is a sin. There is no “ladder” of severity. But we get comfortable in our faith; maybe even lazy. We hold the sins of others against them as collateral. We may be thankful to receive forgiveness but withhold it from those who need it the most.
One of the easiest things we can do to spread the good news of Jesus Christ throughout this world is to proclaim God’s forgiveness of sins to anyone who needs to or wants to hear and experience that. It is easy to get comfortable in our faith and draw our own little lines as to who we think God should and should not forgive. You may come here every week harbouring a grudge against someone and your faith is not growing. You may just have trouble forgiving yourself and your faith is not growing.
Faith, brothers and sisters, is one of the places we cannot afford to become comfortable. Here are a few ways you can get uncomfortable in your faith (because really, that is the most efficient way for the Gospel to be spread). Pray for your enemies. Don’t pray that they would change their ways but instead, pray that they know they are forgiven. As you watch the news or read the newspaper, pray for those vilified by our society or by their own actions. Next time you see someone asking for money, don’t just give them a dollar or two. Take them for a cup of coffee, listen to their story and you just might be surprised how alike you are. Take action. Call up your congressperson or representative, let them know you are praying for them and then talk to them about the topics you’re passionate about. Volunteer. People everywhere, including people in these pews, need to know that they have not been forgotten. The more uncomfortable you get, the more likely you are to see Christ at work in you life, in the lives of those around you, and in the world.
So this week, I dare you to get uncomfortable. Do something that will stretch your faith, just a little bit. And then come back and tell me about it. I want to hear how you got uncomfortable this upcoming week. Don’t just rest on faith, challenge your faith. Get prepared to be uncomfortable.