You’d be unlikely to discover that, however, if you went to church on Sunday. Our Sunday worship services are too tame, bland, fluffy. They have all the nutritional value of marshmallows.
TV has had an injurious influence here. Now, those of us in the pews understand ourselves as spectators. As sophisticated media consumers, however, we demand a liturgy that is smooth and upbeat, with a well-rehearsed choir (or praise band), a dramatic reading of a short passage from the Bible, and an entertaining pastor. His time with the children up front should be one of short stories, visual aids, and little giggles. If she is more serious during her sermon, her words should nonetheless remain rather abstract so that none of us will find them too personal and possibly discomforting. She must never speak concretely enough to challenge our self-centered adoration of the Olympian gods. That would be meddling. Instead, her sermon should be the moving retelling of a story either about herself or some non-threatening, pre-approved other. We want to leave church on Sunday with a satisfactory sense of having experienced something pleasant. Whew!
Our insistence on this deadly dull routine every Sunday effectively excludes any meaningful word today from our good leader and savior Jesus Christ. That leaves us with the soporific drivel of the fatally dreary Olympian gods with their falsehood, indifference, and death as our only rewards.
Let us pray that Jesus Christ will speak anew and deliver us from this ongoing Sunday agony. Let us pray that he saves us from it—preferably our congregation as a whole but at least the prophetic mission group of two to twelve Christians we participate in (or start!).
Before we pray to Jesus Christ for a renewal of his living word, however, let us first count the cost (Luke 14:28). Let us recall that through the prophet Isaiah, he’s already told us, “My thoughts are not your thoughts,/ Nor are your ways My ways” (55:8, New American Standard Version, here and following). Consequently, to discern and affirm his words today, we must realize that his words will always be surprising to us. Worse, given our wholesale indulgence of our very Olympian ways, as Christians and churches to our shame, we must expect his words often to be irritating. If he does speak to us, we may rest assured that our days of Olympian complacency will be over. And not a day too soon!
If you read the Gospel according to Mark, for example, you will see that Mark begins the story of Jesus just before the public ministry of Jesus begins. Yet Mark has only two chapters and five verses to begin to unfold that ministry before he is forced to tell us, The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him [Jesus], as to how they might destroy Him (Mark 3:6). So quickly did others find the words of Jesus, their savior and ours, offensive!
As Jesus speaks to us anew, he will be constantly irritating in small ways as well as big. Take, for example, a short passage from what is called his Sermon on the Mount. Here Jesus is encouraging us to pray to Abba—his father in heaven and ours. To make his point, he says, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:11). Did you hear what he just said? In the most matter-of-fact way, and simply as an aside, he just called us evil. Any pastor who said “you are evil” to any entertainment-seeking congregation today would be unemployed tomorrow.
Descending from a mountain after being transfigured in the presence of Peter, James, and John (Matthew 17:1-8), Jesus is confronted by a man. This man begs Jesus to have mercy on his son. His son suffers terribly and the disciples of Jesus were unable to help him. To which Jesus responds with the words, “You unbelieving and perverted generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I put up with you?” (Matthew 17:17). When he talks to us again, as Christians and churches, he will surely say the same words to us. We are, in all truth, an unbelieving and perverse bunch. Are we ready for that? I say tough words from Jesus are far better than no words at all!
When it came to the leaders of Yahweh’s people, Jesus spoke his most unsparing words: “Woe to you…hypocrites” (Matthew 23:13), “blind guides…fools and blind men!” (vs. 16, 17), “whitewashed tombs…full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (v. 27), “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (v. 28),“You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” (v. 33). Certainly not by continuing down the same broad road leading to destruction we’re on now. It would be nice to imagine that the Pharisees then, and their spiritual kin today, would be the only ones to whom Jesus would speak through those words. Surely not us!
So let’s tell Jesus we’re ready for him to speak to us again as Christians and churches. Let’s demonstrate that he’s already started to by repenting of our desire for marshmallow Sundays. Let’s assure him that we want him to tell it like it is—even if that means hearing that we have been, truly, nothing better than a brood of vipers deserving nothing more than his condemnation. Let’s pray this—for his glory and our good!