More or Full?
The folding chairs used for chapel at my Christian high school were always uncomfortable. I found myself squirming in my seat as much from the old chairs as from the speakers. I remember one chapel in particular when one of our administrators spoke in lieu of the typical guest preacher. His text was Galatians 5 and he titled his message, “Freedom in Christ”. While I do not recall what he said, I remember sitting on the edge of my seat, listening to every word, rather than my customary squirming. I was a senior at the time, my fourth year at the school and, for the first time, felt that the words coming from our administrator’s mouth were “good news”. As he drew his message to a close, he turned to application and said, “What’s the big idea? Make sure you bring in your money for the Walk-a-Thon,” our annual fundraiser for the school’s athletic department, which all students were required to participate in, even we non-athletes. As I leaned back in my folding chair, I glanced at my best friend next to me and will never forget the look of disgust on his face. I am sure I wore a similar one. Our administrator had woven a beautiful image of life with Jesus and turned it into a pitch for us to make sure we helped the school raise money. While such incidents were commonplace with this administrator and others in my Christian school, this was the clearest declaration of the message preached there: “The Good News is this: obey our rules and do whatever you can to support our school and it will go well for you.”
The message I learned in Christian school and time in Sunday School was always similar: “Give more.” “Behave more.” “Learn more Bible facts.” “Know more doctrine.” In many ways, my name was “More”. During my time in high school and college, the message to learn, study, and know more deeply affected me. I once broke down during a prayer group with some college friends and said, “I live my life as if the day I stand before God for the Final Judgment, He will set me in a room by myself with a test in which I am required to parse every Scripture passage correctly and write essays on all theological topics and significant theologians. I live studying for the exam, needing to know more, as if I have to pass the test to enter into God’s love.”
Yet as I poured myself into these studies, diving into Scripture and the great theologians of the Church, I found the message I had been told did not match the Good News the Church has held to for centuries. In the Old Testament, the Gospel Evangelists, St. Paul, the Protestant Reformers, and the Church Fathers, I read about a life with God shaped by the cross and resurrection of Jesus. United to Him in baptism, I learned I had died to that which enslaves, whether that was my own sinful desires or my own attempts to earn God’s love and now share in the resurrection life of Jesus, nourished and fed by the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. As I learned more, I had a thirst to experience it and sought out liturgies and the spiritual disciplines that had sustained Christ’s saints. More and more, I find my name becoming, “Full”.
As I work in Christian education and look to future ordained ministry, I do not want to be a figure saying “More” to my students and congregants. I want to be able to invite them into the full life of Jesus, wrestling with Scripture together alongside them, praying, and feasting on the body and blood of Christ.