Friday, 3 October 2014

They like the church, but not Jesus

  A few years ago, a guy called Dan Kimball published a book called, 'They like Jesus, but not the church'.  The thesis was that there are masses of people outside the church who actually really like Jesus, who respect what he's about, in various ways.  I confess I haven't read the book (my wife has), but I certainly agree with the concept.  It seems there are many people who like the historical figure of Jesus, who respect and even attempt to practise some of his ethical teaching, but have no time for the church, or organised religion.  There might be others who recognise that Jesus is the only, the true, or the best, way to spiritual enlightenment, salvation, fulfilment, or some such idea.  But these people find the church to be at odds with Jesus - either it is hypocritical, or it is too restrictive to facilitate the sought-after spiritual exchanges.
  I would like to suggest that a parallel phenomenon is also occurring - a mirror or shadow version of what is happening outside the church is happening inside it too.  It is, sadly, true that there are a great many who like the church, but not Jesus.  These people may be horrified to realise that Jesus, in fact, did upset the apple cart.
  Jesus talked about stuff - real stuff, God stuff - often dealing in questions and open-ended stories, rather than polished, Hallmark platitudes or finely-tuned and unassailable doctrinal statements.
  Jesus spent more time outside his church building than in it.  (Granted, the 'church' per se did not exist in his time)  In the Gospels, Jesus spends little time at synagogue, and probably less time at the Jerusalem temple (the place to be for the seriously religious).  And some of his visits to these places ruffled feathers (literally on at least one occasion).
  Jesus met lots of people in their homes or on the street.  In their homes.  To talk about God.  Imagine...
  Jesus spent time - lots of time - with 'undesirables'.  He didn't seem to care about his reputation.  Jesus sought out the excluded, and included himself among them.  People like lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors.
  Jesus loved children.  He welcomed them, even when others thought they were noisy and disruptive.  And Jesus' care for children seems pretty sincere to me.  He didn't just see them as 'the future', an investment, an asset, a resource.
  Some people will be shocked by this: Jesus got tired.  Jesus got hungry.  Jesus wept (John 11:35, shortest verse in the Bible, it's in there!).  Perhaps worse, Jesus laughed!
  Jesus was prepared to challenge authorities: social, religious, civil, spiritual.  Jesus was prepared to speak and act on behalf of the hurting and hopeless, the voiceless and vulnerable, the lost, the last and the least.  In fact, these were his people, his brothers and sisters (that's in there too, for example, in Matthew 25:31-46).
  Jesus was prepared, for God's sake and ours, to put himself where he could get hurt, in real danger.  He risked everything.  Sacrificed everything.  For others.
  God's love and human suffering - rather than tradition or doctrine - dictated Jesus' actions.
  Lots of people who had been excluded, who didn't fit in, loved Jesus.  Lots of people who had issues - issues that were obvious and public, that they couldn't or wouldn't hide - loved Jesus.
  Lots of religious people hated Jesus.  They didn't like the way he challenged them.  They didn't like the way he tried to mix things up, to move boundaries that had been built up over a long time to protect decent people and the faith and God.  After all, isn't that what it's all about?  Looking after our own, and keeping God good, like Sunday best?
  It seems to me that not too much has actually changed.  There are still people today who like the church, but not Jesus.  They are fully paid up members of the church, but they don't recognise the Jesus you've just read about.  They wouldn't like him.  They'd find him too controversial, too difficult to handle, too outrageous to follow.  They'd probably want him out of the way, so they can get on with church business in peace.  Without fear of being challenged.  Challenged about how we do church - or where or when.  Challenged about who it's all for - who are we serving, who are we including?  Challenged about how we live our lives, on all kinds of levels.
  Trouble is, the Jesus you've been reading about is, to me, inescapably the Jesus of the Gospels.  He's Jesus.  Like it or lump it.  Like him or lump him.
  The good news is, Jesus includes everyone.  He welcomes everyone (even the kind of people who actually don't like him or find him inconvenient).  He might challenge us, but he welcomes us.  What we do about that is up to us.