Being a Great Church

A little girl our mission team met and helped in Nicaragua earlier this year.
A little girl our mission team met and helped in Nicaragua earlier this year.

Mark 9:2-4, 33-37 NRSV

Today is Consecration Sunday. It is the day that we ask God to consecrate our pledges and bless our commitments—all to make our church great! That is what we want, isn’t it? To be a great church!

But what does it mean to be a great church? Well, we really do not have to ask, do we? For all we have to do is listen, and we will hear countless voices telling us exactly what we need to do in order to be great.

Do you want to be a great church?

As the pastor, don’t ever be too real. Don’t let people know that you are a sinner. Don’t let it slip out that you sometimes have doubts. Make them believe that since Jesus came into your heart you no longer struggle, you never question your faith, and you have all of the answers.

Do you want to be a great church?

Don’t make people think too much. Don’t give them too much to ponder. Don’t make them question those things they have always believed. Don’t ever challenge them. Allow folks to check their brains at the door. Tell them what they need to believe to be a good Christian. Keep it simple. Make it black and white.

Do you want to be a great church?

Make church a little more entertaining. Do you really need to have communion every Sunday? That’s a lot of work. And besides, come on, no one wants to hear about sacrifice, spilt blood and a broken body every Sunday. Trade the bread and juice for some coffee and doughnuts or, on special Sundays, some cheese biscuits. Make church a little more fun.

Do you want to be a great church?

Remove the pulpit, or at least step out from behind it. Do away with your manuscript. Look people directly in the eye and tell them exactly what they want to hear. Give them some chicken soup for the soul. Give them something that will make them all warm and cozy on the inside.

Do you want to be a great church?

Don’t ever criticize folks inside the church. Instead, criticize folks outside the church. Create a “we-verses-those” mentality, an “insider-verses-outsider” way of thinking. And remind the congregation every Sunday that we are “in,” and those who disagree with us are “out.” Make them feel righteous, holy, superior, knowing that while we are on their way to heaven, those who are unlike us are on their way to hell.

Do you want to be a great church?

Look, it’s is fine to welcome all people to church. And I guess it is ok to say that all means all. But you don’t have to say it every Sunday! Don’t over-emphasize it. Don’t over-broadcast it, because that is only going to attract those who are bad for business.

Be careful what you put on facebook. Sidestep anything that might be offensive. Avoid race baiting, and stay away from that rainbow filter.

And you know, you really shouldn’t let some people, you know, those people, serve in any leadership positions. Don’t make them deacons and for God’s sake, never let them teach your children.

And don’t use words like “inclusion” and “diversity” so much. Because, the truth is, we like to be with folks who think like us, act like us and look like us.

Do you want to be a great church?

Don’t let babies, small children, or folks with disabilities disrupt the service. And don’t talk about helping the poor so much. Don’t talk so much about helping the marginalized of society so often. Because, if word gets out, you know what will happen. They will take advantage of us. They will use us until all of our funds run dry!

Do you want to be part of a great church?

Have more programs that are uplifting and edifying for the members. People come to church to be spiritually fed. So keep everyone satisfied, happy and comfortable. Don’t pressure members to do things that are outside of their comfort zones like building handicap ramps for strangers; serving in the Soup Kitchen, delivering Meals on Wheels, assisting the poor with their utility bills, or visiting nursing homes

Do you want to be part of a great church?

Preach what is popular. Instead of preaching extravagant grace, preach “love the sinner and hate the sin.” Instead of preaching social justice, preach “God helps those who help themselves.”

Then Jesus comes, and he asks:

“What are you talking about?”

We are silent.

But Jesus heard us.

He sits down, calls all of his disciples together, and says: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he brings a little baby out of the nursery; and taking it in his arms, he says, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

In other words, Jesus said: “Stop worrying about being the greatest and start worrying about the least. And when you do that, when you take care of those who cannot care for themselves, when you feed those who cannot feed themselves, when you clothe those who cannot clothe themselves, when you welcome those who usually feel unwelcomed, especially by organized religion, then you will be welcomed, and you will be blessed by the one who sent me. You will be sanctified and you will be consecrated.”

I do not believe it is a coincidence that these words from Jesus are recorded in the same chapter as “The Transfiguration” of Jesus, that scene Jesus appears to the disciples, dazzling, in all of his transformed, consecrated glory, with Moses and Elijah representing the law and the prophets.

Holding that baby in his arms, it is as if Jesus is asking: “Do you want to dazzle the world? Do you want to be transformed, transfigured and consecrated? Do you want me to bless your pledges and sanctify your commitments? Then listen to my voice and listen to the voices from the law and the prophets.”

Jesus is saying remember the voice of Moses who commanded:

If there are any poor…in the land…do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. …Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need (Deut 15:7-11).

Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in your towns. …True justice must be given to foreigners living among you… (Deut 24:14-16).

Jesus is saying to remember also the voice of Proverbs, as we learn exactly who God consecrates:

…blessed are those who help the poor… Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but helping the poor honors him (Proverbs 14:21, 31).

If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord— and he will repay you! (Proverbs 19:17).

And listen to who is not blessed by God:

Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need (Proverbs 21:13).

A person who gets ahead by oppressing the poor or by showering gifts on the rich will end in poverty (Proverbs 22:16).

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed (Proverbs 28:27).

So,

Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8-9).

Remember the voice of the Psalmist…

Give justice to the poor and the orphan; uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute. Rescue the poor and helpless; (Psalms 82:2).

And remember the voice of Isaiah:

Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of orphans. Fight for the rights of widows. “Come now, let’s settle this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool (Isaiah 1:17-18).

“In other words,” says the Lord, “when your pledges help the least, when your commitments side with the poor, I will transform and transfigure them. I will consecrate them!”

“Do you want to know how to have a successful consecration Sunday?” asks Jesus. “Then listen some more to Isaiah:”

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains of injustice. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. The Spirit of God will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind. Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply, ‘Remove the heavy yoke of oppression…Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon’ (Isaiah 58:6-10).

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want us to be a great church. I want us to be a consecrated church. I want us to be a transformed and a transfigured church. I want us to be a Christian Church that is welcomed and blessed by God. I want us to be Disciples of Christ who are led forward by the Lord’s Spirit like the dawn, a light shining forth into the darkness. I want us to be a church that radiates love and light. I want us to be a church that dazzles the world!

More than once, I have heard Billy Lovic talk about serving some of the most impoverished folks living in our hemisphere in Nicaragua He says something like: “It is hard to describe, I have never felt more at one with the Holy Spirit than I do when I am with those folks.”

I can just imagine those impoverished children looking up at Billy, at the compassion in Billy’s eyes, at the love of Christ in Billy’s smile, and I can imagine those children being dazzled his presence!

Today is Consecration Sunday. However, the consecration of our pledges will depend on what we do throughout the year. It will depend on how we serve. It will depend on where we serve. And it will depend on whom we serve.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Being a Great Church

  1. Jarrett, I just read your About and Issues of Homosexuality pages and want to say, “Thank you,” for being counted among those of us taking a standing to spread the love and grace of Jesus. Even though sometimes it feels as though I am writing to a void, other times, I know people are beginning to embrace the true message, the actual Gospel of welcome and inclusion and acceptance.

    May His word continue to spring from your voice; may you continue to focus on The Word and His heart.

    Blessings,
    Susan

    1. Thank you Susan for your encouraging words. I have read some of your recent articles also. Thank you for being a light of love and grace, of mercy and compassion in this world that is too often filled with the darkness of hatred, bigotry and apathy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s