Before beginning my ministry at Holy Trinity my prayer has always been, “God, I do not want to be the pastor of a church that is only interested in taking care of itself. I don’t want to believe in the gospel of Christ, but never do anything about it.” And the truth of the gospel of Jesus presented in our sacred story this past Sunday (Matthew 21:23-32) was loud and clear. The question Jesus raised was this: Who are you like—the religious hypocrite or the irreligious righteous? So many religious folk speak with authority, and claim that they know what God thinks and wants. But they resist being open to the folks that God brings into their walls; the outsider, the irreligious, the questioner, the unbeliever. And whether these religious folk like it or not, many unchurched and dechurched people find them to be hypocrites. They can see right through them. Hypocrites make the gospel ridiculous. The good news is no longer good news, but quite frankly is unbelievable.
It is so easy to pay lip service to the gospel of Jesus. It’s so easy to sit in church and say, “Amen, pastor. Preach it!” But never to do anything about it. Easy to declare loyalty to Christ, maybe even to proclaim that you are a Christian, but never live it with the person next door. And everyone of us can find ourselves doing the exact same thing. Nobody has the corner on hypocrisy.
We can all be guilty of talking about love, understanding deep thoughts about love, waxing eloquent, passionate statements about love – but doing nothing about it. That is what Jesus wants us to hear. If you want the world, this church or even your own life to look different, then stop complaining about it, trying doing something about it. Take your authority and be the church that God is calling us to be.
Do you believe the church’s responsibility is to tell our neighborhoods about the good news of Jesus? Or is it to continue our own ideas of religious life? Are we more worried about comfortable seating, and taking care of each other? Or opening our doors to those who have been pushed out by others? If we hold up a spiritual mirror to ourselves, what will we see?
This video clip I showed on Sunday from the Wizard of Oz is one of my most favorite scenes in the whole movie…perhaps in any movie. Because just before Dorothy clicks her heels together, Glenda shares a little secret with her: https://youtu.be/ZrotkcWJFwo
Holy Trinity, you’ve always had, inside you, what you always needed to come home. Because the simple fact is, you are the gospel. And Jesus says, that if your version of the gospel means demanding that people believe the way you believe, or being stingy with your money, or complaining about what’s not right with your church, then you probably won’t like God’s kingdom. And if we really believe, I mean really believe the gospel—then it really isn’t about us, is it? Being a home is, and always will be, for those outside the church, those who act irreligious. The same ones that Jesus came to liberate and be with. There are lots of congregations out there doing the church the same old way, year after year, only taking care of each other and ignoring their neighbors. And I don’t think there really is a need for one more.
There’s an old saying that I’ve tried to base my pastoral ministry on. Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. If you’re not comfortable with the way church is and has always been, then good. You are right on track. If you want our church to grow, and be inviting to everyone—no matter who they are, then your behavior will reflect it. To you I say, “Join me.” The gospel is already within you. It’s the good news. And it’s never too late to get saved by it. Amen.