As far as I can recall, I’ve always been attracted to the ocean. My love for the ocean has always transcended what most people notice on the beach. To me, the ocean has always been a sort of “sacrament,” through which I experience the presence, life and power of the living and only God.
If I could live near the beach and pastor a little, white-picket fenced, ocean-front church- I would be extremely happy.
But what would be the cost?
I could convert to one of the many rich, liberal denominations of America and willingly let “progressive” aristocrats pamper me around as their Latino prize. I could claim to have had a “Damascus experience,” which they would believe after reviewing my sermons for the last five years. I would probably be considered to be a new “Apostle Paul” for the new, enlightened “Christianity.”
I could claim that I’ve “seen the light” on abortion and LGBT issues. I could become “all-inclusive” and deny that Jesus is the only way to salvation. I could change my traditional stance on the Bible as the ineffable and inerrant Word of God, and consider the Bible to be a badly, pasted-together conglomeration of patriarchal-biased teachings that suppress everyone, but the men on top. I could drop my support for the nation of Israel, and claim that Jesus is not coming THAT soon…if at all.
That little white church by the beach would pay me a good salary. It would pay my retirement. I would have an expense account, a secretary (or two), and the ability to enjoy several paid vacations a year, without worries. I would win the “respect,” appreciation and admiration of an upper-class that would come to church in order to be loved and entertained by my charisma and ability to make people smile and feel important. They would love my hugs…my loud laughter…my simple lifestyle.
I could pretend that Christians are not being persecuted around the world, and teach them that Jesus loves them, just the way they are. I would never challenge them or express disapproval towards their quantifiable apathy and greed for control, food, money and lust. I could simply let them “be,” while sharing with them the beauty of a Christian “spirituality” that never challenges them to love God with their whole heart, soul and strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
I could tell them that since Jesus paid for their sin on the Cross, that they can be assured of their place in heaven. I could preach a Christianity that does not require a life of “discipleship” or cross-carrying. I could tell them that they really shouldn’t be concerned about reading the Bible, or prayer, or fasting, or almsgiving. I could give them very elaborate, high-church rituals…filled with smells-n-bells and fluffy sermons…
Actually- I could delve into deep theology that transcends their understanding; while creating an environment in which they can pretend to have understood me.
I could stop being me… all for that little, white-picket fenced, church on the beach. But I wonder if I would still encounter the living God on the beach as I do now.
A beach devoid of God is just sand, water, birds, and noise.
Now I have no salary. No retirement plan. No expense account. No secretary… My church can no longer afford the photo-copier. Now we have no organist and we have to depend on recorded music. All the upper-crust people have left the church, and they’ve left all the bills behind, too.
Now would be the time to sell out. To become Episcopalian… To shoot for that little beach-front church on the Florida Keys or California.
While I’m at it… I could probably even claim to be a celibate homosexual (that would really make me into a super-star!) and leave my wife. That is…until I find a pretty rich lady that knows all about expensive wines and beautiful Easter outfits.
But would I find God on the beach?
With what face will I be able to stand before God? What good will it be to live near the beach but far from God’s will? What will I say to God when he reminds me of my betrayal? I would be just another Esau who sold his birthright for a morsel. I would be just another Judas Iscariot who sold the incarnate Word for a few coins.
No sea on earth will ever compare to the beatific vision that I will see after I pass from this plane of existence… or even the beatific vision I see NOW in the eyes of the poor, the simple and the rejected that are coming to our church.
We have a man in church who has been cured from his long-standing, suicidal tendencies since he’s been coming for the last four months. Another man who has struggled with alcoholism all his life is now serving as an usher. Next Sunday we have another adult baptism… a young man who has been struggling with a terrible addiction to narcotics. These persons are not good enough for the upper-crust…but they are the special guests at Jesus’ table- and I am HONORED to serve them.
“…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28
I am determined to close my eyes and draw my last breath with a clean conscience, knowing that I preached the Word of God, uncompromisingly. I will never sell-out my Lord or his Apostles. I am of one heart and mind with the Apostolic Fathers and their disciples.
They can keep the little, white-picket fenced church by the sea. I’ll go to the Salvation Army and buy that Easter dress for my wife… She’s a servant of the Lord Jesus who’s not ashamed of being poor for the Gospel. Jesus Christ has something better in store for us. We have Jesus Christ himself, and that suffices. I am Christ’s faithful servant, and that is enough.
“Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.”