16 May 2011

the idolatry of church

This past Sunday I spoke on Luke 10:38-42, the story of Jesus, Martha and Mary. It is simply an object lesson on the priority of Jesus, especially in a world full of tasks, objectives and distractions. The story is a prime example of the complex simplicity of Jesus - here is a lesson that can be fully understood on an initial reading of the text, yet remain eternally challenging and applicable.

Although my sermon was focussed in its own direction, this scene continues to gnaw at my perceptions of church.

Jesus always makes it clear that he is to be the one priority in the life of the believer, and this scene highlights such a demand. I wonder, when we say that Jesus is our one thing do we really understand the implications . . . and are we truly willing to embark on such a journey? The issue for Martha is that she is consumed with the activity which is around Jesus. Martha obviously believes that her activity is as important as Mary's, perhaps more so. Jesus sees it otherwise.

What is profoundly applicable in this passage is the extent to which we also believe that our Christianized activities are on the same plane as entering into the presence of Christ. We see this when our church communities become consumed with their own rituals and behaviors, or when the shouting over ministries and structures becomes more vital than hearing the still, small voice of the Spirit, or when we make any attempt to create a subculture that will shield the community of faith from the world around.

The apostle Paul said that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Ephesians 5:5). Two points lie in the background of his statement: 1) We are the church that Christ loved, 2) The church has already had someone give themselves up for her. Our task then is not to give ourselves up for the church, for that would be self-love at Christ's expense. We are called to love Christ with everything - the reason why Paul crosses the metaphors of husband-and-wife with Christ-and-church - and give ourselves up for him.

Perhaps our role with church has become skewed in that we believe that our work for the community is equal with our love for Christ. Yes, Jesus did tell Peter that love for him was to be fleshed out in feeding his lambs (John 21). My contention is not that the two do not intersect, but that there is nothing in the world - no matter how small or great - which can be equated with the priority of Christ. We are called specifically to care for the church, but to serve Christ.

It must also be said that Jesus told us simply to Love God and Love Others (as ourselves). This has become known as The Jesus Creed, and I have said it daily for the few years I have become familiar with it. I am not making an attempt to split the command which Jesus gives, for a simple reading of this passage does seem to equate love for God with love of others. My position here is that there is a certain nuance in how that love is shown, that it becomes a love for others on behalf of Christ and not on behalf of ourselves, our tradition, or our churches.

The passage with Jesus, Martha and Mary seems to be a scene which is based on Deuteronomy 8:3, ". . . man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." And here is Jesus, the Bread of Life and Word Incarnate, who offers himself to us and waits to discover whether or not we will be consumed with the physical bread of daily sustenance or the the eternal significance of his presence.

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