A seminarian, returning from his weekend duties one Sunday afternoon, gave a lift to a hitchhiker and received a theology lesson in return. The hitchhiker, an older man, asked about the seminarian's clerical collar and interpreted the answer he got to mean that he was, "some kind of preacher." The hitchhiker then commented that the scriptures are clear about preachers and their lot in life. He expanded along that line, and finished his remarks with the quotation, "Behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves." Then, after a brief pause, he added, "I'll tell you, son, there's wolves out there!"
There are indeed wolves out there and they're not out there merely to prey on the clergy. They're not just out for church professionals. They're waiting out there for every Christian, all the time.
But, the fact that there are wolves out there is not the point of today's Gospel lesson. Anything worth doing is going to face opposition-that is a fact of life. What the Gospel lesson is about is what we're called to do, and who we're called to be.
We are called to be the Church. We are called to be the Church, because of those wolves, in spite of the wolves. Furthermore, we are called to believe that being the Church is worth it. We're not called to believe that being the
Church is worth it, merely because we think so. We're called to believe it, because God thinks so.
We're called to proclaim God's love in God's world; to seek out God's people. We're called to seek out people who don't know about God's love for them; to proclaim the ultimate worth of each of God's creatures. We're called to make that proclamation out of our own experience; the experience of knowing our own ultimate worth as children of God.
As children of God, redeemed by Jesus Christ, we are called to be disciples. That means that we are to be students. But a disciple is more than a student. A disciple is an intimate friend. One who lives so closely with a teacher as to become more and more like that teacher from one day to the next.
That's what we mean by "being called to be the Church." We are called to be intimate friends with Jesus Christ, to live in a growing relationship with him, to follow where he is leading us. And, we're called to trust him to be with us-every step of the way.
We are invited to be intimate friends, in the clear knowledge that such friends will, very likely, meet the same fate as their master. The cross hung darkly over the road our master walked, and it looms just as darkly over the road along which we are being led.
This is a part of living in relationship with God in a world that God wants to save. It goes with following where our Lord is leading. Jesus initiated, and lived out, a new mode of life and he calls us to that new life.
As radical and counter-cultural as that may sound, being called to a new way of living is not a new concept. Throughout the record of God's dealings with people, people have been called to announce, and to live out God's love in new, nearly always revolutionary ways.
The scriptural record concentrates on individuals; prophets mostly. These were people whose lives had been so filled by God's love that they simply over-flowed. Prophets were people who had the mind-boggling experience of having God break into their lives. They were filled with the knowledge and love of God to the point that they could not keep silent about it. This was not always a completely pleasant experience for them.
Prophets suffered terribly at the hands of their neighbors and at the hands of the governing powers. So much so, that we wonder why anyone would choose to live such a life. We then must ask if the prophet had any choice in the matter. Take today's prophet. Could Jeremiah have opted for silence? Could he have decided to leave bad enough alone? It appears that Jeremiah saw no reasonable alternative; no other response than to do as God asked.
But just because Jeremiah saw no option, does that mean that others didn't. Does it mean that, when our call comes, we have no choice but to respond? But the people of God have always had the option of not responding to the call. Even today we have the option of turning away from God's call.
It all comes down to choosing between good and evil, life and death. Those choices have always been available and we remain free to choose whichever we will.
But when the infinite Love of God breaks into our lives, when we have been shown through Jesus Christ on the cross that we have ultimate worth in the heart of God, does choosing something other than that life, and good, really make sense?
With that sort of power and love before us, how can we worry about wolves? How can we worry about the difficulties involved in following Jesus, when we know that following him leads to ultimate salvation?
Well, let's not get carried away, at least not yet. Being faithful in the face of wolves is not the same thing as denying that they're out there. Certainly there are wolves, and very real ones, at that. The world did not
turn into a bed of fragrant rose petals the day Jesus came into our lives.
There is still more than enough evil to go around. People who are dear to us fall ill and suffer and die too young. People die in wars that never should have occurred. Natural disasters continue to shock and amaze us. Life still holds more than enough potential terror even for the most committed Christian. So what difference does it make to try to fashion our lives after the life of Jesus?
To put it simply; when we choose to follow Jesus, what we gain is a new perspective. We are given a clearer picture of what we truly need to fear, and of what we do not need to fear.
We are given a deeper look into God's universe. We come to understand what real life is, what real death is, and the striking difference between God's view of these things and what the fallen world would have us believe about them.
As we follow Jesus, as we become more and more devoted disciples, we are shown ever more clearly that true life is to be found along the way of the cross. As we follow Jesus we are enabled to live in the fallen world, without falling victim to it ourselves. As we follow Jesus, we are empowered to be the Church.
In answering our call to be the Church, we are led to see our lives from God's point of view. From that new point of view, we see that our lives have ultimate worth in Jesus Christ. We are assured that God cares intensely about each of us. We are further assured that God wants each of us to find our way, at last, to complete and intimate union with God, by living faithfully, as Jesus lived faithfully.
By the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, we are called to live with confidence. We are called to walk faithfully, in God's light, even among the world's wolves.
We are called to walk faithfully, because the light in which we are walking is the cross of Jesus Christ. That cross, the symbol of the worst the world can do, is our symbol and our ultimate assurance that God has overcome the world -- wolves and all.