Have you ever sat in church during a wedding, baptism or a funeral? Have you ever winced (even a little) at the “tourists” unfamiliar with all the usual form and format so familiar? All the stuff so alien to these “happy – or sad – tourists”? I have.
I have looked at their polished dress and hairstyles, the obvious discomfort of some with a pressed shirt and collar, the extravagant and showy hats (and veils?), all the finery on display – a day out – an event – no way is this an intimate joining together with our Lord and Father in sincere worship. Because I notice the hopeful mouthing of the Lord’s Prayer, the sideways looks for signals of when to sit and stand. I have judged them and found them wanting. They look good – but have no idea why they are really here.
Me who rarely goes to church on a Sunday – I have judged them when our paths occasionally cross.
God Soft Hands Jesus offered my memories as I read His words in these verses: “As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff; for labourers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town. Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.” Matthew 10:7–15
This sentence: “Truly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgement than for that town.”
Consequences. Dire consequences. Bad things will happen. Believe or suffer. That old stick with which we punish God through each age, generation, intellectual debate: “So if I don’t believe in you, you will punish me for eternity? Just what kind of manipulative evil “loving creator” are you? ” In one form or another I hear that a lot. From ordinary folk. And – just as the Jewish People were the target audience then – those who have been “saved” are the “target audience” today. The Chosen People are us – we are the “Saved People” – we who have willingly (and consciously) stood before Our Lord and Father and said “I am yours.”
We who willingly and consciously affirm our faith (whatever that pedigree or hybrid may be). We who consider ourselves to have been given eternity, an indwelling peace that transcends, a power over the “natural order of things”, we who believe in life over death, we who emulate being humble rather than superior … gentle rather than domineering … forgiving rather than accusing (see above!) … loving rather than demanding … in a relationship rather than merely relating to religion. Us. You. Me.
Those tourists? Those “Gentiles”? Those who come along out of respect for the person being married, buried or baptised because that is showing respect? Those who have NOT stood before the Lord and said “I am yours”? They have no expectation. No faith in a verbalised God. No relationship with a living Father. Not one they could sign-up to as “we” have signed up. And that personal decision freely offered – for me – is MASSIVE! That is a marriage made in heaven. That is a binding and everlasting contract. That is what makes THE difference. So much of the bible is not written for “tourists”. So much is written for those who have said “take me”.
And when I confuse the two – then I harangue, then I demand, then I lecture, and then I alienate. Then I make our God the “smiter”, the “manipulator”, the “out of touch and up there” God. I make Him that. All the while beating myself up for being a sinner, unworthy, imperfect … every day creating (and re-creating) this personal creation that I despise (publicly) … and privately believing that “no one” is watching or seeing (which is weird when you break that down). Because every day I unthinkingly perpetuate a God who will alienate not just “them” – but a God who I will alienate from myself day by day (which is seriously weird shit)!
I think us Chosen People – just as our Jewish forefathers and mothers and brothers and sisters before us – are so often the very people who turn “the Gentiles” away from God. I think we are so often the worst advert for why “being saved” is the prize of all prizes. And I think we have no idea that we are. I think we are happy so long as the church pews are full (fuller), the weekly collection is enough, and the “happy factor” of a service is there more often than not.
Last night I heard someone say they had read one “Mystery Worshipper” feedback (there really are “mystery worshippers” amongst us???) which gave 10/10 for the welcome, the ambience, the singing, the music, the prayers, the readings, the sermon, the after-service coffee, the toilets … the whole thing was amazing! But they gave 0/10 for connecting with God. No points – no connection.
Last night I heard someone say that church is okay, church is necessary, but church and worship and praise and lament and all that “stuff” we do … that is merely to change us as we “leave” church. That is to change us for the 99% of our living that we do “outside” of church, away from church, elsewhere other than church.
And when you think about it that way – doesn’t that make all of us “tourists” when we “all” go to church?
And when you break that thought down – isn’t that just the weirdest shit?