Many years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who was feeling drawn to Jesus ... drawn to Christianity. Neither one of us was a Christian at that time. There was no church in our lives, and - in all honesty - we were pretty wild!
So when my friend said to me, "I've been thinking really seriously ... about becoming a Christian," do you know what I said to her? I said, "WHAT? Are you crazy? Why would you do that? Don't you know it's nothing but a bunch of rules that no one can follow, and you NEVER get to have any fun?"
Well, I did my best to talk her out of it, but the Spirit had been working in her heart, and the pull of God's love was irresistible. She dropped like a rock. And, through God's tender mercies, it wasn't too long till I dropped like a rock, too. And there we were ... church ladies!
Rules, rules, and more rules - no fun at all - how many folks see Christianity this way? I know I used to believe that Christianity pretty much set up people for failure. There were a thousand rules. It was impossible to keep all of them, church itself was usually pretty boring, and ... yes ... life was no fun anymore. Who'd be in a hurry to sign up for that?
So what do we do with a verse like II Corinthians 3:17: "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom?" Tons of rules, failure, guilt - where's the freedom in that?
Surely, one of the kindest and most amazing things Jesus did was to take all the Old Testament laws, the ones we worry so much about, and condense them down to two simple commandments. His instructions?
* Love God.
* Love each other.
Imagine what would happen to us, to our lives and the lives of those around us, if we actually obeyed those two simple commandments. Love God: spend our day with him, tell him everything, repent when we need to, receive forgiveness, thank him all the time - loving God can be the easiest, most natural, most non-boring thing in the world.
And love others: be willing to put others' needs ahead of our own, help folks, look beyond someone's bad behavior to see what's really going on with him or her, be compassionate, listen generously, be forgiving. Love God. Love each other.
If we're really doing that, we actually don't NEED a lot of rules. If we act with love, we don't need the Law; we already know what God wants, because we love him, and he shows us what it really means to love others.
When we do that ... we catch a glimpse of freedom. And it's exhilarating, not boring!
Do you know what's hard for us? We have a very hard time RECEIVING God's love. We have trouble believing it, we try to argue God out of it, and we think if we're not happy with ourselves, then God's not happy with us, either. And there goes our freedom. We feel as if we're being set up for failure, and discouragement sets in.
Here's the truth! Scripture is very clear that we've been forgiven, cleansed of sin, and born anew through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But, since we don't always FEEL sinless, we figure our feelings are more accurate than scripture itself. We can't believe God could really love someone as weak and sinful as we are, and we have a terrible time loving ourselves, and after all that, it's just about impossible to love others.
What a ridiculous mess we create for ourselves! We have to get it through, not only our heads, but our stubborn hearts: God knows us completely, and loves us anyway. It's a gift. Our job is to say thank you, and, because we know God actually does love us, follow the commandments Jesus has given us: Love God. Love others.
Christianity is all about freedom! Knowing that we're loved by God gives us freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom to love him back, and freedom to love those around us. It's not always easy, but it's NEVER boring, and it's the most fun we can ever have on earth. As the song says, "I'm here for the party!" Isn't it time we all joined the fun?
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.