The Dangers of Sentimental Religion

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:39, NRSV)

Jesus makes demands of his followers that most of us just gloss over as if Jesus never said them at all. For instance, are we willing to forgive someone who has wronged us multiple times (Luke 17:4), or are we more likely to hold a grudge, plotting how we will get our revenge? Did Jesus really mean for us to love our enemies and to bless those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44), or are we exempt from that because our enemies are so much worse than any enemies in his day? Are we willing to seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33), or do we seek our own kingdoms first? Do we do everything we can to preserve our own lives (Matthew 10:39), or are we willing to give them up for the cause of Christ?

Most of us prefer a more sedate and mild form of Christianity that makes no demands of us or at least requires minimal sacrifice on our part. We prefer a sentimental religion that ignores and denies the harsh demands of being a disciple of Jesus Christ for a serene “church in the wildwood” experience where the worst we can expect is mosquito bites (or chigger bites) at the covered dish supper “in the little brown church in the vale.” A sentimental religion denies that Jesus requires us to count the cost (Luke 14:25-33) before we make a commitment, lest we find ourselves unable to fulfill the extraordinary sacrifices that any true religion will extract from us.

Alternating experiences of exhilarating joy and all-consuming fear marked the lives of Jesus’ first followers. The hearts and the minds of the disciples were filled with the ecstasy of seeing people healed miraculously. But also deeply inscribed were the adrenaline-drenched times of intense fear associated with the persecution and rejection of those who denied the reality of Jesus. My experience of the Christian faith has probably been more of the exhilarating joy rather than the overwhelming fear. How about you?

We can each take stock of the demands that our faith in Jesus has made on our lives and determine if we have taken his gospel commands seriously. For me, I am more comfortable figuring out how Jesus makes demands of others than how he makes demands of me. I am praying for a greater sense of awareness for what it means to be a Christian in the 21st Century. I am praying for the courage to engage in whatever sacrifice is required of me for me to be found more faithful to God. There’s no telling where this kind of prayer may take me. I just hope I’m up for the journey. How about you?

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Rev. Dale Cohen

Senior Pastor of Canterbury United Methodist Church