The 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Homily
In 2004, Willow Creek Community Church in suburban Chicago undertook a three-year study to measure spiritual growth. They results of the study eventually were parlayed into a book called REVEAL. Over the next six years, additional data was collected from over a quarter million people in well over a thousand churches of every size, denomination, and geographic area. The results from this larger study provided verifiable, fact-based, and somewhat startling findings, drawing on compelling stories from actual people—congregation members of varying spiritual maturity, as well as pastors who are equally candid as they share their disappointments and their successes. This led to the publication of a more substantive book entitled, MOVE – What 1000 Churches Reveal About Spiritual Growth. MOVE provided a new lens through which church leaders can see and measure the evidence of spiritual growth. The local church is uniquely equipped to foster spiritual growth and challenge people to pursue a life of full devotion to Christ. (Amazon.com; from the review).
MOVE revealed that people move through through four distinctive spiritual levels:
- Exploring Christ
- Growing In Christ
- Close to Christ
- Totally Christ-Centered
In today’s Gospel, the character of Zacchaeus provides an interesting “case study” where we can explore in which “spiritual level” Zacchaeus might have been during his encounter with Christ. First let’s describe the found spiritual levels:
People in this level finally move towards a stronger interest in faith and religion in their life. What finally moves them is that they are fighting for their future and looking for answers about life that have eluded them. They typically comprise two sub-groups:
- Active explorers
- Passive attenders
Neither ready to make any kind of serious commitment to God, Christ, faith or church. They are merely investigating carefully and asking questions.
What do they need? They want to know how to develop a relationship with God. They’re looking for people to model this as well. They want to feel that they belong and thus are looking for a welcoming church community. They also desire compelling worship.
GROWING IN CHRIST: People in this group have moved from skepticism and questioning to decisions and practices. Although they are the largest segment of church goers, their faith feels awkward and uncertain as they attempt to integrate intellectual and emotional changes in their faith with their day-to-day life. They are highly active in church activities but are not ready for leadership. Their faith development is still undeveloped. They are still lacking disciplined quiet time, dedicated prayer as well as consistent spiritual practices. In addition the pull of “the world” is still strong in their lives.
They need: Affirmation and encouragement, deeper understanding of Bible and spiritual “coaching” from the church community. Thus, this group responds enthusiastically to socials, small groups and spiritual programs. They are also looking how to develop a deeper relationship with Christ and church leaders who model this.
Notice: Neither of these two group show any serious interest in “love of neighbor.”
CLOSE TO CHRIST: These are the backbone of church. This group is characterized by “ownership” – they take personal responsibility for growth in faith They are your spiritually mature leaders and possess spiritual certainty – even in periods of dryness. They want to be challenged and held accountable for their spiritual life. Thus, they don’t need “church” small groups and hand holding. They are passionate about their faith, willing to share it with others and possess a holistic integration of faith and lifestyle. Church is not just something on Sunday.
Unlike people in the previous two groups, people “Growing In Christ” are dedicated to serving others, often outside of parish.
Their Needs include a deeper understanding of Scripture and how to directly apply it to all aspects of their lives. They’re looking for help in deepening their relationship with Christ and thus look for church communities where members and church leaders consistently “model” how to grow spiritually and reinforce this and challenge them to take the next spiritual step.
Nevertheless, even in this group, the pull of the world is still there and can manifest it in their lives.
TOTALLY CHRIST CENTERED. There is a chasm between people in this group and those mentioned in the previous three groups. Christ Centered people are Christians who offer Christ a blank page with their signature on the bottom. They let Christ write the agenda. Their faith is often cured in the crucible of suffering and they have developed a mindset of surrender-in-place. They know their weaknesses, know their powerless over them and thus have a total reliance on Christ.
Interestingly they don’t appear to be the church’s most “hyper-active” members. They know that activity does not equal maturity. Nevertheless, they are Christ’s workforce. They effectively evangelize and share their faith. Their love for God is greater than other segments.
Nevertheless, one finds two interesting “spiritual gaps” between what Christ-Centered people believe and what Christ-Centered people actually do:
- Stewardship and financial giving: They say tithing is extremely important. They just don’t do it.
- Serving: They have significant spiritual gifts and charisms. They don’t use God’s spiritual gifts to serve others and further the Kingdom.
Ok, back to the character of Zacchaeus In today’s Gospel. Where is he? Totally Christ-Centered? Probably not yet. His faith is too fresh and undeveloped. Exploring Christ? I suspect not. Exploring is someone who just moved from a disinterested or and passive faith. He seems further along or he would not have risked embarrassing himself climbing trees just to see Christ and then invite him to his house for a meal. Growing In Christ? Close to Christ? Somewhere in between?
Here’s the more important question? Where are you?
Audio version of the homily is here: