I have what I call “bad church days.” Days when I come within a nose hair of finding another job. Days when I get so frustrated with church life that I just want to walk away.
I had one of those days this past week.
But it’s certainly not because of my parish. Comic Book Guy should have a t’shirt made about my church saying “Best Congregation Ever.”
These folks bend over sideways to help me with my ministry. They pay me more than the recommended guidelines. I get in trouble when I work too many hours. They’re creative. They’re willing to try almost anything. The little squabbles we have (how we receive communion, chairs verses pews, etc) are tiny compared to the knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out, see you in hell, holy fist-fights that other churches have. I tell folks that Good Shepherd is the best kept secret in town.
So, it’s not my church. It’s my denomination.
I went to a meeting a few weeks ago. An angry, joyless meeting. It’s like some folks aren’t happy unless they’re righteously irate. It seems like their mission in life is to stamp out heresy rather than to proclaim good news, to complain about what the church is “doing wrong,” to make sure the church stays on the narrow path. It’s as if they love orthodox theology more than they love people.
It’s not to say that doctrine isn’t important. It is. But the way I read the gospels leads me to believe that Jesus was more interested in loving people than correcting their theology with a hammer.
It must have been absolutely galling for folks to hear a Samaritan – someone who bastardized the faith – being portrayed as a model of faithful living over a priest and Levite, those good, God-fearing church folks.
It must have been jarring for Jesus to point to a Roman officer, the enemy, the oppressor, the guy who worshipped Caesar instead of the God of Israel, being pointed to as more faithful than anyone among God’s chosen people. Especially when this Roman officer showed no sign of changing his life and following Jesus.
It must have been the last straw for folks when Jesus chose a friggin’ Tax Collector as one of his inner-circle. These guys were the worst of the worst. They collected money for the Roman oppressors, skimming some off the top. They had money. And they had enemies. Their own people saw them as traitorous. Their Roman bosses treated them like tools. They deserved a horse-whipping, not forgiveness, let alone to be loved.
But Jesus loved them. All of them. Did they change? Correct their theology? Become good church folks? Some did. Some didn’t. Didn’t matter. Jesus loved then anyway. Loved them enough to die for them.
And make no mistake. Jesus got angry sometimes. Really angry. It was usually directed know-it-all clergy and other church-types.
My tribe, Lutherans, we “Ortho-dogs” as one colleague put it, might re-learn something when we return to the scriptures. We might learn that theology is not something that dropped from the sky but has been the result of faithful Christians gathering together to figure out just what God wants from us.
We might learn that Jesus put people ahead of being theologically correct. We might learn that people are more able to receive God’s message of love and salvation if we haven’t beaten them up first.
Maybe Jesus was on to something when he said that the greatest commandment was “to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength,” and the second greatest commandment being “to love our neighbour as ourselves.”
What would our churches look like if that was our starting point? What would our world look like if we really believed it was true?