Christianity is not about morality.
To follow Christ is to emulate his example. To be sure, morality plays its part. Jesus was a good and honest person. Never do we find Jesus at the horse track in a drunken rage, cursing his misplaced bets while swiping popcorn from his neighbor. Make no mistake, Jesus is the model for moral behavior.
He did hang out with prostitutes, though. Ate with sinners, that sort of thing...
I would say more here, but I think you've heard this sermon before. At least, I hope so.
Here's the problem. When moral behavior is our ultimate objective, we neglect much of our calling as disciples. Following in Jesus' footsteps includes time spent with sketchy people. It demands the nerve to challenge the pious fuddy-duddies of our day. Following Jesus means endeavoring to be holy, not simply moral. It has to do with where we spend our time, money and energy, and how closely related those things are to communion with the Father.
So here's the tragedy that occurs in our churches - from the admittedly less than objective standpoint of a full-time youth worker:
We parents are increasingly concerned for the safety and well-being of our children. Rightly so - our world is getting scarier all the time. We Christian parents see hope in the morality of our faith. While others' kids struggle with teen pregnancy and alcoholism, our young people have a chance to avoid all this, simply through adherence to a Christian moral initiative. We parents recognize this, almost instinctively.
We ask, "What would Jesus do?"
That's a no-brainer. Jesus would wear a Silver Ring and preach abstinence to his friends.
Maybe he would. And so should our young people.
We affirm, "That's what Christianity is all about."
So, as parents, we do everything we can to insulate our young people. Keep them pure, keep them clean, keep them safe, at (almost) all costs. We say things like:
"As long as they are keeping busy..."
"As long as they are hanging out with good people..."
And we assume that busy-ness and responsible company holding will protect the moral development of our young people. Not only does this make sense, it becomes high priority when morality is our ultimate objective.
Here's the rub:
Annie finds her niche in volleyball. Volleyball keeps Annie busy. Annie's team is full of good and mostly "moral" people. Through volleyball, Annie can stay busy (keeping her out of trouble) while spending time with a good (relatively moral) group of people. Thus, volleyball can be Annie's salvation.
It can also become her God.
So, with the best of intentions, Annie and her parents embrace the volleyball God. Annie plays competitively four months each year, not including a handful of tournaments in the off-season. Annie attends two volleyball camps in the summer and a team retreat in the fall. Annie trains and conditions with her team almost year round.
She is busy. She is hanging with a good crowd. There's no time or influence to become pregnant, thank God.
The youth group at Annie's church volunteered at a homeless shelter this past weekend. Annie did not participate - she had a tournament on Saturday.
On Sunday mornings the high school class at Annie's church has been studying spiritual disciplines. Students have selected disciplines to employ in their lives, and each week the group reports together on their experience. Many have said this class has had a profound impact on their faith. Volleyball has consumed Annie's weekends this season. Annie has not been to class in months.
Annie's involvement in volleyball insulates her to some degree. It keeps her busy, safe and moral to the extent it can. If morality were the objective, good parenting coupled with a full volleyball schedule may indeed be Annie's salvation.
But we all know (don't we?) Jesus is Annie's salvation. Not volleyball. Not football. Not drama club. Not choir. Jesus.
Jesus calls his followers to more than just morality. We are called to service, fellowship, worship and proclamation. We understand our identity is found in rich community with other believers. We know that following Christ is often following others who have followed for much longer than we have. We know that faith is nurtured in the home, supported by the teaching and example of our greater faith community. We know volleyball can't provide this for Annie.
Yet, as long as morality is our ultimate objective, we parents will strive to keep our kids busy and out of trouble. We would love for them to be more familiar with their Bibles; to serve and worship regularly. We want our young people to be deeper and more mature in their faith. We want our kids to be right with Jesus.
Sadly, there is just no time for that. We have exhausted ourselves keeping our kids moral. As long as no one is drunk or pregnant, we have fulfilled our charge.
Have we really?