It has been said that every great reform movement in Christianity has been and always will be evangelical, i.e., a return to the gospels. When Christians have found themselves challenged by the prevailing culture, when they begin to lose the zest of their early spiritual life, they have recovered that vitality by returning to the gospels and the other books of the New Testament with a commitment to understand them anew in their new life circumstances.
If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul.
Fort Necessity in Pennsylvania
These words keep ringing in our ears:
Today, please listen; don’t turn a deaf ear as in the bitter uprising. Hebrews 3:14
Contemporary Americans live in the most affluent culture ever known in human history. To many this affluence, while enjoyable in many ways, seems to compromise their ability to live the kind of life that Jesus described. Is it even possible for us to conceive of "losing our lives so that we can gain eternal life" or "taking up your cross daily and following me?" Jesus regularly spent time praying in "deserted places" away from the trappings of his much simpler culture. We can easily despair of ever being able to do the same. Our culture is all consuming and omnipresent in a way that frustrates our desire to be with the Divine One and pray. It is all too easy to just give up and settle for the easy, expected Christian life of regular religious observance and public rectitude. But when we do, we still know that something is not right. It doesn't feel right. We often deal with that nagging doubt by simply not listening "if today we hear the Divine One's voice."
I think the only way to deal with this is by returning to the gospels and the life of the early Christians described in the Acts of the Apostles. What would that look like today? If I reduce the Christian message to the basics as Jesus taught them, what would that look like? When I do that, I learn what Christians have always learned: Christian faith is radically counter cultural. It does not and really cannot exist comfortably with this contemporary culture or any culture. The failed ideal of "Christendom" was an attempt to create a human culture which would not only be compatible with Christian faith but would incorporate that faith into its very essence. There would be no separation between civil and religious and somehow everything would be as the Divine One intended.
But as Christ and St. Paul constantly pointed out, there is enmity between the "flesh and the spirit" or between "the world and the reign of the Divine One." We cannot serve both. We only fool ourselves into thinking we can. The result is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." We think that we can avoid the hard reality of the incompatibility of the world of faith with the world of human affairs but we end up degrading our faith to the point of non-existence.
A regular reading of the scriptures and reflection on them keeps that conflict alive in our spirit so that we are more likely to hear the voice of the Divine One who constantly speaks to us in multiple ways if only we tune in. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews is telling his readers exactly that: hold on to those first insights, those first stirrings of your spirit in response to the gestures from Jesus. Constantly return to them and your remembered experience of them in order that you keep your bearings today and be open to the path of Jesus that opens in the future.