Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Holy Week, The Death of Church

The single most important week of the year is upon us. This week we track Jesus as he moves from the upper room, to the cross, to the grave, and finally to resurrection. Without these events which we celebrate this week, the Church would be pointless. This is also the week where many people who have filled in the box Christian on the questionnaire remember there is the place called the church where the Christians gather. The rest of the year with the exception of Christmas unless it doesn't fit the schedule, many live lives disconnected from Christ and the church which he founded. Then Holy Week comes and there seems to be a remembrance of being Christian.

It might seem that my tone in the above paragraph is sarcastic or condescending. This may be, however it is not my intent. There is no redemption is being condescending toward the way people have chosen to carve out their lives. Rather I want to offer another option for how we interact with Christ through the church. It begins with a confession. I am going to be so bold as to offer a confession and apology on behalf of the church. For far too long the church has not looked like its creator intended it to. There has been more concern over human developed rules and regulations than following the works and teachings of God through Jesus Christ. It seems as though more attention is paid to who is wearing what clothes, or if the people are behaving as is considered to be appropriate. Basically, the church has become stuffy, judgmental and missing the point. I for one say I am sorry to all the people who are turned off by the church.

It is a tragedy that we in the church have not been able to keep the life of Christ so visible in our community that we actually turn people off to God. It is not the fault of those who attend church once or twice a year that their memory of being a Christian is so short-lived. It is the church which has faltered. In many cases we have taken the most exciting invitation of hope, and made it mundane, boring, or even irrelevant to most people's lives. No wonder people have trouble remembering they are a Christian until the egg laying bunny shows up. Christmas and Easter Christians is the lingo used in church circles to describe the folks who only show up twice a year. I was taught all through seminary and my early years as a pastor to have a mild if not full out disdain for folks in that category. I am deeply regretful to say that for years I was sucked into such reasoning. Now, I see things a little differently.

I am sorry the church has so lost is way that it has become boring, and just another thing on an overloaded to do list. It grieves me to think the church has become a place where we talk about Jesus but never live like Jesus. People hold the church to be a optional part of their life because the church has allowed itself to become trivial to the day-to-day life of those who would follow Christ. Perhaps it is not the individuals who need to remember they are Christian. Perhaps it is the church which needs to remember what it is about.

I wonder what would happen if in the next few days churches all around the world used the events of Holy Week to truly follow Jesus. That on Thursday night, we would dine with Jesus at the table celebrating the God who brings people from captivity to freedom. Then of Friday as we reconnect with the death of Christ, we would nail ourselves and the church to the cross and let it die. What if we crucified the church and buried it Friday night? Then on Sunday morning allow God to bring forth new life. I wonder what would happen if churches didn't just talk about the resurrection this Sunday, not just experience it like a TV show. What if the church of Jesus Christ embraced new life and vitality.

May we the church die this week, so that we might experience resurrection. May we no longer serve the forces of injustice, and may we no longer trivialize the most important message for all of humanity. The life and work of Jesus Christ is too important to reduce it to human derived rules and regulations. It is time for the church to be free. A place where Christ is not simple talked about, or simply celebrated, rather a place where Christ is embodied. May the Spirit of God sweep through our churches, revive us, make us whole again.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Health Care and The Church

So I wonder if there is anything else happening in the world other than the United States health care bill, Tiger Woods return to golf, or NCAA basketball? These three things seem to fill the news airwaves no matter where I turn. Tiger and basketball will pass within a month, the health care bill, that will take longer to work with. Many people have many opinions about the health care bill, and there is no shortage of people who are willing to share the opinion with great energy and certainty. Being the pastor of a church many have asked me what I think about the health care reform bill, and have left unsatisfied with my answer. My intention in writing today is not to offer my opinion on the bill, if you think you have figured out my stance could you email me and let me know what my stance is cause I am still sorting that out and could use some help.

Much in terms of resources and energy has been spend and will continue to be spent of the issue of health care reform in the United States. Left in its wake are the real issues of health care in our world such as eliminating preventable diseases in the developing world, or getting the care to people in areas of the world experiencing disaster. It is amazing to me how self-centered and Amerocentric, not sure that is even a word, the whole debate is. Whether we have private or state-run health care the fact remains we have a health care system. There is actually access to care and preventable diseases are not running out of control. The over whelming majority of people do not have their very life threatened daily by a mosquito. Once again our American arrogance is showing a little more than I am comfortable with.

What does this have to do with the church anyway? The title if the entry is Health care and The Church, when do we get to that? Right now. No matter what particular version of the church you are engaged in there are people who hold opinion as to the greatness of the health care reform situation. At the core of the divide is a common thread, the role of the government in the day to day life of an individual. There are certain ways people feel the government should function but at the core all sides of the issue are creating the same challenge. They expect the government to be the ultimate source of security, direction and function. Biblically there is a word for this, idolatry. The church of Jesus Christ in America is relinquishing to the government the role and responsibility that the church has been given since the beginning.

Governments will do what governments do. No matter what decision is made there will be people who agree and others who do not. A policy enacted today can be changes the next, or when those on the other side of an issue gain "power". The reality is the government cannot save us, nor can it destroy us. Through the centuries governments have come and gone, and the styles of government have come and gone, and come around again. In it all there still remains the church of Jesus Christ. Pilate couldn't stop it, nor could any of the early Roman leaders. Stalin, Hitler, or any other world leader has been able to stop it. Sure there have been times when it has been more difficult to be a follower of Christ, and yes there have been countless numbers of people who have been put to death for their faith. None of this has stopped the church of Jesus Christ. Through it all God has remained God, and the call of the people of God has not changed.

What is the call of the people of God? Love God above all things, with everything within and outside of you. To share the story of God and humanity with all people everywhere. To bring good news to the poor, naked and blind. And to not stop until as many people as possible experience the Kingdom of God in their midst. No matter what our national health care plan is, the calling of the people of God does not change. I wonder what would happen in people in the church of Jesus Christ spent less time debating a government policy or plan, and invested their resources, time, talent and treasure, into being good news to the poor, working to eliminate preventable diseases all around the globe? Is health care like we have in the United States a divine right? Do we have to carry a little card proving our health care coverage to be fully embraced by the Kingdom of God?

When it comes to health care and the church, what a government does or does not do should not change what we do. Let us stop worrying about a Republican or Democrat plan. Let us stop worrying about who has coverage or not. May we, the church of Jesus Christ, work to see all of God's children have the opportunity to have live. Whether in the United States or any place in the world, let us not rest until preventable diseases stop killing people.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Why Either/Or?

It has been over a month since I have offered my thoughts in this way. This morning my heart is stirred by many avenues. I could take time to enter into the Glen Beck statements about social justice, already have given too many words to that. I could take about the luck of the Irish, and most seem to think that luck is simply found by getting drunk, again already spent too many words on that. Instead what about the guy behind all this green, shamrocks and poor Irish brogue attempts. St. Patrick is often lost in the midst of the day which carries his name. It is interesting that when so much discussion about social justice, and/or the Gospel are in the mainstream, we would come across St. Patrick. Before getting any further I want to recommend a book about Celtic Spirituality, " The Celtic Way of Evangelism" by George Hunter III. This book opens a window into the life and work of St. Patrick all should see and hear.

I am not sure there was much of a debate for Patrick when it came to the Gospel or Social Justice. The two seemed to be deeply connected by the way he lived his live and encouraged others to live. In fact there is much of St. Patrick's life which we find a sense of both/and living rather than forcing a choice which is a limiting choice. That is what happens when we force people or ourselves to choose between things like Social Justice and the Gospel. It can and has been argued by myself and others far smarter than I, that you cannot have a Gospel without Social Justice, and you cannot have Social Justice without the Gospel. To force a choice is to limit both.

Why is it that we as humanity, especially we in the church, like to force people into an either/or corner? Often doctrinal, or scriptural purity is lifted high as the battle cry. Problem, whose doctrine or purity of Scripture shall we use? There is so much more to God, and the Scriptures given to us by God than we as humans can fully comprehend. No, my impression is the enforcement of the either/or is truly designed to great exclusivity. If we can force someone to choose one way or another, we can know whether they are with us or not. Better said, we can determine if they are truly a follower of Christ or not.

The reality the One we follow was the master of the both/and. Jesus did not simply say commit verbally to following me, and hold pure doctrine. Likewise, Jesus did not say just go around doing good deeds and working for justice. No! Both things were deeply connected to the Kingdom of God, which by its very nature is a both/and kind of place. It is both present and future. It is both fulfilled and yet to be fulfilled. It is at hand, and yet to be embraced. I wonder what would happen if people who claimed to follow Christ began to see how broad, and deep God is. Life is not as easy as forcing a choice. Many messes are created by allowing room for both. Yet who ever said Kingdom living would be easy, and neat?