Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Too Much Like Church

So this week I'm preaching on Luke 15, the stories of the lost coin and the lost sheep. Jesus tells these stories (and the more famous lost boy - or "Prodigal Son" - story) in response to getting ripped (criticized) by a bunch of religious folks for hanging out with the sinners.

I've had 2 weeks off from preaching, thanks to Jackie and Julene, so I've been thinking about this passage for a while. Today, continuing these ruminations in the John, I had a mild revelation. We're too much like church - "we" meaning us in the church. The church has become too predictable, a religious institution with all of our religious ways, churchy songs, churchy words, churchy sermons, churchy handshakes and greetings, churchy bulletins - everything is churchy.

This may not seem like such a big deal, but I think it is. Jesus got into a lot of trouble with the religious folks of his day because he didn't follow the institutional rules. He wasn't "churchy" enough. He didn't wash his hands at the right time. He didn't do the right things on the Sabbath. He drank too much alcohol. And worst of all, he hung out with a bad group of people. Even the Bible says, "Bad company corrupts good character" (look it up!).

So Jesus was running in the face of many, many years of tradition. He was a living scandal. He ate and drank with tax-collectors and prostitutes. He was a religious leader who frequented the ancient equivalent of bars and night clubs. He was equally comfortable teaching the Bible to "church" folk or downing a glass of wine with a hooker.
How did we get so churchy in this process of following Jesus? If we're really following this guy, this Jesus, who lived and breathed scandalous relationships with religious outsiders, how did we get to be such insiders, propagating and furthering insider focused religion? What happened? What went wrong?

And I'm not just throwing stones at those other churches out there somewhere. I'm painfully aware that over the last 2 years, I have slowly withdrawn more and more from my "secular" relationships into the cocoon of the church. I have become way to churchy. I don't think the answer is a tattoo or an earring or even a beer, but maybe the answer is something in that direction, at least in the direction of actually having some genuine friends who seldom go to church.

We're too churchy. Maybe we need to be more like a bar. Anyone is welcome. The music is good. Come as you are. Get a drink (or some coffee). Find a table, and start talking.

Maybe we need to go out of our way to get out of the old "church" molds. Maybe those old molds are getting moldy and crusty. Maybe we need to create a different "feel" for church as part of the process of actually doing church differently.

I'm still thinking about this. Any comments before I write the sermon on Thursday?
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