Sunday, July 26, 2009

Pentecost 8 - Year B

“I'm sorry, pastor. I just don't feel fed. I'm going to find a church that feeds me.”

One of the hardest critiques a pastor hears is when someone leaves the church say, “I'm not feeling fed. I need to go to a church that feeds me.”

When I ask what they mean by “not being fed,” often, they can't really define it. It's a feeling they can't describe, a need they can't articulate.

But somehow, I, and those in leadership positions, are supposed to meet that unarticulatable (is that a word?) need.

It would be easy to shrug them off as being “consumer Christians” more interested in fuzzy, spiritual feelings and pretty Jesus words than following Jesus in the way of the cross.

We can dismiss them as being more concerned with inner-spirituality than in serving the world in Jesus' name.

We can ignore their concerns, saying that they're what's wrong with North American Christianity: self-centred, self-obsessed, self-satisfied purchasers of goods and services, treating churches as spiritual Wal-Marts rather than people who know their need for salvation.

But then again, who can blame them them? Maybe we've set up the church to meet peoples' consumer expectations.

I have a whole row of books on my shelf outlining how to properly advertise our worship services, how to make sure we have a comfortable, non-threatening worship space, how craft worship experiences that can compete with the new Harry Potter movie.

Rick Warren, in his book The Purpose Driven Church, for example, says that the best way to grow a church is to “Find where there's an itch [in peoples' lives] and scratch it.” Our job as Christians, he says, is to meet “felt needs.” He says that's how Jesus ministered to people – by meeting whatever needs they tossed at his toes.

I'm not sure I agree. Mainly because know I have some “felt needs” that I'm quite certain that Jesus has no interest in meeting.

It would be easy to raise a condemning voice, point a criticizing finger at those who want to turn the Church of Jesus Christ into a multi-national corporation.

But then we have today's gospel reading.

A huge crowd followed Jesus. They liked his preaching. But I guess they forgot to pack a lunch. Jesus decides to use this as an opportunity to mess with Philip's head.

“Ummm, Phil, how much money do you have in your pocket? I forgot to stop at the ATM and these people gotta eat,” Jesus says.

While Philip stares blankly at Jesus, Andrew arrives with a couple of loaves of bread and a few fish. A decent lunch. A fish sandwich. Carbs and protein. Fibre and Omega-3s. All that's missing is a salad.

The people had a need – lunch. And Jesus met that need. Therefore, our job as Christians is to meet peoples' needs as they arise. Right?

But then, as Jesus realized. People can be black holes of need, needs which can never be fully filled. They will always come back hearts empty and hands out. We human beings are insatiable when it comes to having our needs met.

Jesus found this out the hard way. The crowd gathered around him and tried to put a crown on head, whether he wanted it or not.

They wanted someone in charge who would meet their needs the way Jesus did on that hillside and in their homes. They wanted someone who would satisfy every hunger, who would always find the right words to soothe their aching souls, someone who was always available when they called.

They wanted a king who was their best friend, their greatest companion, their most devoted servant, their most tender lover.

They wanted a king that would stop all their nightmares and make all their childhood dreams come true.

But Jesus didn't want to be THAT king. He WASN'T that king. Which is why he slipped out the back door and ran for the hills.

His disciples, probably thinking that the crowd has scared Jesus off for good since he'd been gone for hours, long after the crowd disappeared and the sun had set, got in their boat and headed for their next stop.

But a terrible storm swoops down on them. And if the rough waters weren't enough to smack them upside their heads with terror, along comes Jesus moseying across the water to find them. Since they left without him he had to catch up some how.

And John notes that the disciples were “afraid.” No doubt. How WOULDN'T be afraid if they saw someone saunter across a lake without the need of a bathing suit? It's no wonder they thought Jesus was a ghost.

Jesus tells them to “not be afraid.” A common refrain to his students who have trouble believing their lying eyes.

But even as they arrived safe at the other side of the lake, I don't think they stopped being afraid. Afraid of Jesus. Not because of Jesus' heat seeking sermons, or because threatened them with eternal third degree burns.

I think they were afraid of Jesus because they couldn't control him. I think they were afraid of the change Jesus might bring to their lives and to the world.

They probably didn't really know what they were getting themselves into when they heard Jesus' call to follow him, and probably didn't know why they left their old lives behind and started a new one.

They thought they were going to learn about God, how God can help them with daily living, how to navigate the ethical traps they face, how to raise their kids to be good citizens, how to be better husbands and wives.

But instead what they got was a crash course in God's savage healing, a front row seat when God's power upsets peoples' comfortable lives, hands-on learning of God's suffering love, nose-to-nose with God's kingdom at loose in the world.

Following Jesus couldn't have been easy for them. There are times when they probably wanted to walk away from the whole thing. There were probably moments when a peaceful existence stashed away in the suburbs looked mighty enticing.

I don't think that fear went away. In fact, the disciples' fear probably deepened the longer they followed Jesus. So, it was no surprise they disappeared when Jesus' was arrested. It was probably the last straw for many of them. The climax of a difficult ministry.

Sometimes I wonder if we feel like that too. I know I do at times. Times when I wonder if this whole Jesus thing is worth my time and effort. Time when I look back after putting my hand to the plow.

We tend to see faith as something that helps us get along in the world, comfort for our sorrowing hearts, ethical guidance in a morally ambiguous world, a connection to a presence totally removed from our daily living but at the same time deeply embedded in our lives.

We think of faith as something that makes our lives better. A spiritual shot of adrenalin when life weakens us.

At least that's how I often think of it.

But Jesus isn't interested in making our lives better. Jesus is interested in our salvation. Jesus is interested in transforming the world – beginning with us.

And transformation means that some things get left behind. Things like our assumptions of how the world works and even our place in it. Even our expectations of who God is can be left behind. Especially when our expectations of God are more about ourselves and our own comfort than they are about God's kingdom breaking loose in the world.

But transformation also means that what we gain is far greater than what we lose. It means that God is working hard within us, cleansing us, forgiving us, turning us into the people God wants us to be.

And that can be a fearful thing. Martin Luther said that the old Adam - our old, sinful ways of being – the old Adam is a good swimmer. He won't easily be drowned in the waters of baptism.

But drowned he was. Our old Adams and our Old Eves were lost at sea when God threw them overboard. This means that you are the beautiful, clean, forgiven person that God wants you to be. When God looks at you God doesn't see you as the sum of your worst deeds, God doesn't see you as damaged goods.

When God looks at you, God sees someone worth dying for. Someone whose face shines brighter than a hundred suns. Someone who's pure, radiant, whole, and holy.

We may not see that. But then Jesus has a view from the cross. God looks at us from the future, a future where all people will be transformed into who God wants them to be.

May this be so among us. Amen.


Blogger Peter said...

Good article. I lot of thought put in it.
People may possibly not feel fed in that they don't connect with anyone in the church they attend. They hear sermons and they are fine but they don't feel that they are friends with anyone there. Without true friendship in the church it is just a lonely boring place.

8:35 AM  

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