Being Popular

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.”   -Luke 6:22-23

The Beatitudes give us insight to the life goals Jesus thinks are important. Jesus acknowledges some very real carrots or goals our culture puts before us and counters them.

Our culture would have us make all the money we can and strive to be among the wealthy. Even our religious institutions, for all we preach about God favoring the poor, love to give glory, laud, and honor to wealthy parishes. Jesus counters by teaching God favors the poor, those who don’t make wealth of money a life priority because they are deeply aware of their role as treasures of God.

We live in a culture of over-indulgence. Eat all you can eat, regardless of the impact our consumption has on others in the world. Fill yourself with no regard for what you may not leave for others. Jesus offers us a way to recognize satiation of soul is not found by over-indulgence.

Our culture, and sadly even many Christian preachers, teach a message that if we follow Jesus, we will be eternally happy, unicorns will dance daily, and rainbows will brighten our path. Jesus rolls his eyes and shakes his head, well-aware of the damage that ridiculous standard causes so many. We will weep, we will feel disappointed, sad, and despairing in our lives as Christians, not because we aren’t living right, but because we are living faithfully and feeling the range of emotions our encounters with each other will bring.

And then there’s the final blessed: blessed are you when people don’t like you on account of Jesus.

We hear the message over and over and over to aspire to a good reputation. Be likable, be nice, get good reviews. Smile. Like my post. Be my Facebook friend. Affirm me.

Jesus reminds us striving for a good reputation among all is a deceptive goal. Popularity becomes what we love, not integrity. Too often as a priest, I’ve watched clergy privately support a particular issue, whether it be full inclusion of LGBTQ people to welcoming refugees, while publicly trying to be liked by all the various factions. They bend to popularity and leave love and justice orphaned in a corner.

I understand the desire not to disappoint. I understand the pain of having to make hard decisions that will disappoint and even hurt others. But again, Jesus reminds me happy is not the goal of a Christian life. Faithfulness to love and God is.

Jesus’ life and the lives of the saints are filled with examples of their faithfulness to love and to God. They spoke truth to power. They recognized the treasure of the marginalized and outcast and loved them. They dedicated their lives to embracing God and eschewed the pursuit of cultural power, prestige, and popularity.

Their stories are also filled with examples of the struggle this faithfulness caused. Jesus was demeaned and crucified. Saints were excommunicated, flogged, degraded, humiliated, and martyred. People were scandalized by their faithfulness to God. They got gossiped about in the church parking lot.

They, without a doubt, failed the human popularity tests of their day.

Nevertheless, they persisted in love.

Where do we put our time and energy? Are we worried what the neighbors will think if we put a sign in our yard proclaiming our welcome of the refugee? Do we lose sleep over how our parishioners will react if we spend more of the church’s budget on those in need than renewing country club memberships for clergy and staff? Do we weigh the cost to our reputation if we proclaim the challenging parts of the Gospel versus if we proclaim only parts of the Gospel that don’t invite sacrifice and controversy?

Do we love our good reputations more that Jesus?
The Rev. Laurie Brock is this week’s writer. She serves as the rector of St. Michael the Archangel Episcopal Church in Lexington, Kentucky where she can cheer for the Alabama Crimson Tide in football and the Kentucky Wildcats in basketball. She blogs at DirtySexyMinistry.com, tweets at @drtysxyministry, and is the author of an upcoming book on the spirituality of horses from Paraclete Press. She has co-authored and contributed to many books about women and faith. When she’s not doing priest things, she is letting her horse Nina (The Official Lent Madness Horse) teach her about patience and peace.

2 thoughts on “Being Popular

  1. Harlie Youngblood

    Laurie, were you being poetically ironic or literal when you wrote that there are churches where the budget includes country club memberships for clergy and staff? If you were being literal, all I can say is : Wow. What a gross misuse of funding.

    1. Laurie Brock Post author

      That example was from an actual example, and one more common that we’d likely think across denominations.

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