Monday, October 17, 2011

Religious, Not Christian: Year A, Ordinary 30

This Week's Lectionary Texts
Deuteronomy 34:1-12 or Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18
Psalm 90:1-6, 13-17 or Psalm 1
1 Thessalonians 2:1-8
Matthew 22:34-46

This Week's Resources
A Prayer for Pastors by a Pastor
Dear God who continues to call us, we come to you, broken, hurt, abused, and confused. Like Paul, we too often feel mistreated by the very people we long to serve in ministry to you. We struggle constantly with the question of how to be in the institution, but not of the institution. Help us, God. Help us when we are victims of the religious. Help us to remember the moment when we knew beyond a shadow of doubt that you had called us to ordained ministry. And, help us when we become religious leaders forgetting how to truly follow the Christ. Heal us. Heal the Church. May the healing of one aid the healing of the other so that the body of Christ on this earth become the true representation of his love. Amen.

A Litany
One:  When the religious elite stone the woman caught in adultery,
All:  Love God. Love your neighbor.
One:  When the lineage of the Messiah is called into question,
All:  Love God. Love your neighbor.
One:  When Moses is taken just to the edge of the land promised,
All:  Love God. Love your neighbor.
One:  When the Apostle Paul is mistreated by folks in the church,
All:  Love God. Love your neighbor.
One:  When the single teenaged mother comes into worship,
All:  Love God. Love your neighbor.
One:  When the man with autism yells out in the sanctuary,
All:  Love God. Love your neighbor.
One:  When we can't agree on the color of the new fellowship hall carpet,
All:  Love God. Love your neighbor.
One:  When the rules are broken,
All:  Love God. Love your neighbor.
One:  "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind."
All:  "This is the first and greatest commandment."  
One:  "Love your neighbor as yourself."
All:  "All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Amen.

Think on this:
What are ways in which your congregation could physically represent putting God and neighbor above our religious nature in the Church? I do not intend to imply that being religious is only negative (I am very religious!), but in the context of these passages this week, how can we put ourselves in the place of Pharisees and Sadducees and ask God to help us to be more open to the top two commandments that Jesus shares in the Matthew passage rather than excluding people because of our religious notions of what the rules mean? 

Is there a particular wrong in the life of the congregation that was caused by religiosity taken too far? What symbols could be used in worship to represent a letting go of that event? Would a renewal of baptism or a service of healing be in order?

To take the idea of setting rules aside that may stand in our way of serving Jesus to the extreme, perhaps your congregation should do away with a bulletin this week (if your tradition is to rely on such). Or maybe this Sunday is the day to bring forward some persons who would not normally be acceptable in the sight of the members. Have them participate in leading worship by reading the scriptures or singing an appropriate song.

This Week's Reflection
I attended a conference for ordained ministers last week and I realized something. Most pastors have been through some kind clergy killing event within a particular congregation. I heard pastors repeat again and again, "I come to this conference every year because it is just for us clergy so that we can worship and be fed and taken care of." My first call after seminary ended only two years later and it was not pretty. As I told my kids just today, "It takes two to tango," but at the time I felt persecuted, abused, and unloved. If I'm being honest, there are still moments when the sting of those days sneaks up on me again. I mention the conference because I realized how many of us have had similar experiences. I mention these kinds of experiences because of the passage this week from Thessalonians. Paul is still stinging from trouble with the Philippians. It seems that he has even considered dropping out of the whole pastor business. Even though he and his companions have been treated so poorly by the church, he brings the love of God to the people in Thessalonica saying that with that love, he also brings his very self to them.

Today my mother said to me, "People who are judgmental are religious, not Christian. Unfortunately, our churches are full of the religious." We know that Paul is not the only one who came up against this fact. In the gospel lesson from Matthew, we come to the end of the many questions that the religious authorities brought to Jesus in an effort to trap him, to judge him, to make him look bad in front of others, and in hopes of getting him out of their way. "What is the greatest commandment?" Beyond anything they could have ever imagined, Jesus' answer was "The greatest is to love God, period. And, immediately behind that is to love your fellow human beings as much as you love yourself." To these religious people hell-bent on following the rules (pun intended) even when it meant hurting one of God's children, Jesus says, "Could you just love each other? Could you love God, really love God, and then share that love with everybody you meet? Could you do that, please?"

As Kathryn Matthews Huey points out in her Sermon Seeds, all of the questions by the religious folk had been to trip up Jesus, to prove that he wasn't a good Jewish rabbi, that he didn't truly understand the faith. So, to put an end to all the nonsense, Jesus asks them a question to prove that he understands very well the faith, in fact, he understands much better than they. "Whose son is the Messiah?" When they give their very church-y answer, he puts them in their place to show them and anyone who happens to be listening that they don't have everything all worked out as well as they think they do. Sadly, that is what happens to us when we try to wrap God up in a nice neat package as if we have the ability to understand God and God's ways. Luckily, we have Jesus to remind us that we don't have to understand in order to experience God's love and to share that love with others.

Simplistic, yes. But, not simple. Moses was lead right up to the edge, but did not cross into the land that was promised. Even so, the passage from Deuteronomy speaks of the love that God and the people had for Moses, saying, "Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses." And, of course, we find the source material for the Matthew quote in Leviticus when God spoke through the beloved Moses to tell the people, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord."

There are too many religious people in our churches and too few Christians. Don't get mad at me for saying it. Blame my mother! Who, by the way, is the sweetest and most devoted church lady you could ever find. I know that if she and I were to unpack that statement of hers that we would quickly come to disagree about how we define those terms and who we would categorize as each - religious and Christian - but there is truth to be found in that statement. Truth that Jesus fought against and truth that we preachers and pastors better be fighting against too - even if it means we don't get to cross over into the promised land.

Simplistic, yes. But, not simple. This Sunday may God give us strength to preach the truth of love that is God through Jesus, the Messiah. May our religious ways be continuously transformed into Christian ways by the power of the Holy Spirit. Love God, period. And, love everybody else too.

This Week's Artwork
(in order of appearance)
Job Rebuked by His Friends by William Blake
Love your neighbor as yourself by Tom Raterman
blank masks borrowed from