It all starts with Matthew 11:16-30.
Excuses, Excuses, Excuses! Just another blessed excuse!
Martin Luther says, ““Everything that is done in this world is done by hope,” yet when it comes to getting ‘er done don’t we often say, “The dog ate my homework. I have no sharpened pencil. There isn’t enough time, isn’t enough money, seems too risky.”
Don’t we always have an excuse?
“We played the flute, you didn’t dance; we wailed, you didn’t mourn.”
John wails– “Repent, brood of vipers!” — gets shunned, painted as a deranged, rabble-rouser, too off-center, too much of a kill-joy.
So we glance at John and kick him to the curb as some noisy gong or clanging cymbal; another end-time nutter in a long line of end-time nutters.
And then there’s Jesus—the One through whom all things are made–coming around here eating and drinking, providing 80-ish gallons of wedding hooch, carousing with revenuers, “gypsies, tramps and thieves,” so we rebuke him, label him glutton and drunkard because Jesus doesn’t stick strictly to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Rabbis.
Don’t we see Jesus and think, “Why doesn’t he cut the comedy? Does he ever cool it? Is nothing in earnest?”
That’s our crux. We kick John to the curb as too random, too serious, then kick Jesus to the curb as too impudent, too into coloring outside of the lines—our lines. We kick’em to the curb because they aren’t living into our ideal understanding. We kick’em to the curb because they won’t adhere to the Emily Post Guide for Prophetic and Rabbinic Etiquette.
Don’t we always an excuse?
Sunday’ s my only day off. Sunday’s family time. What, me, be an usher, acolyte, assisting minister? I’ve already done my time. Be here each Sunday? Why? I’ve heard it all before; those same old stories about Moses building the ark, and Noah leading the people out of Egypt—I know ‘em all. And the music, too formal, too contemporary, too old, too new, too much organ, too much piano, played too loud, played too soft. And the preaching—too loud, too soft, too many stories, too few, too many questions, too few. I’m telling you, “I’m a good person, I don’t want to go church and hear that I’m a sinner. I mean really, me, a sinner, preposterous! Besides, let me show you my 50-yr Sunday School pin.”
Is Sunday truly your only day off? Haven’t you, off and on, done pretty much everything all week long for yourself? And that business of family time? Isn’t our church family your family? And isn’t your church family rife with opportunity to make family time more amazing than you’ve ever known? Isn’t this the family that God’s put here to love, upbuild, and uphold? And to those saying, “Really, me, a sinner? Preposterous! Look at my 50-year Sunday School pin.” I invite you to make a close examination of the list of the perfect. It includes one name—certainly not mine, and definitely not yours.”
Don’t we always an excuse?
Haven’t we used ‘em all? Worship is too boring. I’m not “getting spiritually fed.” Besides, “I see God as well, maybe even better, golfing, fishing, hiking, on the river, in the pub, at the beach. Anyhow, other places meet my needs, and there’s always TV preachers.”
Don’t we fool ourselves into thinking that God’s church exists to meet our needs?
Don’t we truly believe that God’s church exists for our half-time entertainment?
Where’s any of that written in the words of Jesus Christ?
Don’t we think that we can worship God just as well on our own at river, putting green, pub, or beach? “For sure and certain, but who are we worshipping out there? What are we learning out there? Are we growing and living into the image of Jesus together out there on Oak Island, or are we tightening up our drive on the fairway?”
And should we say that, “Our needs aren’t being met, that we’re not getting spiritually fed,” shouldn’t we wonder if that’s God’s way of inviting us to step back from the Table and get about the business of making space for others, of feeding others, of meeting needs of others.” After all, isn’t wisdom vindicated by her deeds?
Doesn’t wisdom look like the way of Jesus — feeding hungry, clothing naked, healing sick, welcoming outsiders, raising those laid low? And let’s be frank, is such a way a crowd-drawer? Is such a way attractive in our society? Won’t living that way get you labeled? Maybe shunned, painted as a deranged, rabble-rouser, too off-center, too much of a kill-joy, perhaps get you a reputation for carousing with revenuers, “gypsies, tramps and thieves,” labelled a glutton and drunk for not sticking strictly to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective 21st century American Christians. Living the Jesus way is almost as unappealing as checking ego at the door and actively worshipping in Christ First Christ-satisfied Lutheran Church.
Yet don’t we prefer the false-gospel preached at Me First Self-satisfied Lutheran Church? Prefer its profession that financial wealth is what God wants for us, that wealth is a sign of God’s preferential favor, our blessing to keep? Prefer it’s skinny theology in happy-clappy songs that keep us from wrestling with God’s deep challenging Truth, where musicians are “juke box heroes with stars in their eyes,” and ministers preach, “Ask not what you can do for Christ’s Church; ask what Christ’s Church can do for you.”
And, lest you think this is a polemic declaring that wealth and happy-clappy songs are evils, they are NOT! It’s when they are knit together improperly that they become a highly addictive toxic theology. Stewardship of wealth is not bad, so long as our hearts ever sing,
“We give thee but thine own, Whate’er the gift may be,
For all we have is thine alone, A trust, O Lord, from Thee.”
For isn’t our tithe and offering, nothing more than returning to God of a portion of what we already know to be God’s good stuff?
And happy-clappy music is NOT bad—in fact, its lovely simplicity, can take us to the mountain top of emotion and excitement, but can we always live on the “mountain top?” Doesn’t Jesus take disciples down into the valley to minister to people after his own mountain top experience, where none stay caught up in their “Rocky Mountain High,” for they’ve gone down in the valley with the people who need the love of Jesus.
And speaking of needs, it is right to have expectations of God’s Church when we face times of need, but do we ask more of God’s Church than we offer it? Are we expecting more out of God’s Church than we put into it? Do we point to lack of visits, yet rarely get off our duff and visit? Do we have opinions about the music program yet never join the choir? Do we trumpet so loudly how this-that-or-the-other ought to be done, yet take no time to quietly come and do it?
Before age one, Harriet and I were constantly feeding sons. They were babies. Now, they are 20 and 21 years old, and we expect them to feed themselves—no perpetual nursery at the Bryant house. Should there be a perpetual nursery gathered as Zion Ev. Lutheran Church?
Is God’s Church called to be a perpetual nursery for those who won’t grow up, or is it called to grow up into Christ’s body being God’s Kingdom doing God’s good business, in God’s good world? Well, which is it?
Still, don’t we always an excuse? For isn’t being babied so much more attractive, appealing, fun than “adulting?”
And if we avert “adulting,” aren’t we then babies seeking to be fed? And as babies, how can we get to work upbuilding God’s Kingdom? Shouldn’t we admit that being God’s Church isn’t about attraction and appeal to people? Shouldn’t we admit that God’s Church isn’t Hollywood, that we are not called into the entertainment industry? Never have been, never will be. Shouldn’t we just let that stuff go?
For, if the wise way of Jesus were any way otherwise, wouldn’t Jesus have chosen a more appealing, attractive, fun word to describe it than, YOKE?” Sure, Jesus says it is light, a rest for weary and heavy laden alike, but it is still a yoke, and Jesus calls it a burden, too.
Upbuilding God’s Kingdom, shaping disciples is a discipline—a discipline of work, faith, dedication. At times it’s work, at times it’s pleasure—maybe that’s why it’s both “DUTY and DELIGHT.” It always takes faith, dedication–to remain in community, especially dedicated to remain with those we don’t like or with whom we disagree.
What of this wise Jesus way is truly attractive, totally appealing? All of it done through intimacy. How long have you been an active member here as Zion? Not at, but as. Have you grown any? Are you going to grow up? Or are you gathered here today to ask pastor for a pacifier? Are you upbuilding God’s Kingdom here, or are you expecting God’s Kingdom to upbuild you? Whatever we answer, God’s Church, requires work, faith, and dedication from me, from you.
That’s the focus of Jesus; for Jesus makes disciples realize that God’s kingdom grows through the upbuilding faithfully, dedicated work that they do. God’s kingdom is upbuilt when individuals set self faithfully aside, forming faithful communities, who faithfully repeat the process with all duty and all delight.
Perhaps it would be far easier to gamble on a prize horse hoped to win the Kentucky Derby next May? But that’s the wise Jesus way, the only way how the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church is made. It’ll never win any popularity contest, won’t set a box office record, won’t ever compete against Wonder Woman, but it surely works more wonders than she ever could, for it changes God’s good world. And its future is bright for it is tightly yoked to Jesus; whose restful and light burden remains a yoke. And, doesn’t this yoke mean that we must yield, submit, make way, uplifting God and raising others ahead? And isn’t that because there’s so much more to wise Jesus way than the mountain top? And isn’t being God’s Church so much more than meeting our own needs, and isn’t that why we should give up the business of attracting everyone, appealing to everyone, for who will be drawn to a Lord and to a Lord’s people who don’t and won’t exalt self? Truthfully, only those to whom Jesus chooses to reveal the Father, that’s who will be drawn.
Anyhow, universal appeal and exaltation of self isn’t the call for God’s Church is it? Isn’t our call to be a faithful community, answering Jesus’ prayer that we may all be one, doing all that we do in hope?
But, don’t we always have our excuse?
So, we’ve come to it, what’s your excuse? Well, what’s your excuse? What’s your excuse for being here? Name that blessed excuse; then, get up out of your pew. Get out into God’s good world, and in all hope, get God’s good Word out.
*featured image is from Pr. Ann Kelly via the Clergy Coaching Network.