April 7, 2020
Scripture: Matthew 23:13
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
Thought for the Day: This is the first of what are often called the Seven Woes. Jesus does not present his usual compassion, but as he moves throughout this Holy Week, he lays down some challenges, mostly on the religious leadership. So basically most of you are fine, but I’m the one who needs to listen and to feel the discomfort. Today, I hear these words of Jesus with a specific group of clergy in mind. There are some churches that continue to meet face-to-face in this pandemic. Now Christians are always quick to remind me that we do not judge, but let’s be very clear about what scripture teaches us. As followers of Jesus, we do not judge the people around us who are still searching and exploring spirituality. We love these people, as we do all folks. But Jesus, Paul, Peter and other voices in the early church spoke harshly against aspects of their own religious establishment. They judged garbage theology and self-centered religious leaders in the early Christian movement. There was often little room for compassion or kindness if one claimed to be a follower of Jesus but did a poor job of portraying Jesus. What I see happening among a handful of Christian leaders who are opening their church buildings is an arrogance and complete disregard to the central teaching of love. Instead, there is manipulation as a few pastors lay guilt at the feet of the fearful, suggesting that spiritual strength and health are tied to a demonstration of faith – which they suggest is coming to a church service in this pandemic. And of course, these pastors are strangely enjoying the publicity. They might have talked themselves into believing their actions are God-inspired, but it sure appears more like a narcissistic attribute that is inviting others to endanger themselves so that a leader can have his (I’ve only seen male pastors) ego fed. If we want to talk real demonstrations of faith, let’s talk about those who are going into the hospitals each day and placing themselves at risk. Faith is not about getting some sort of magical protection against the virus. Faith is the awareness of a calling from God and the courage to fall that call.
Thus ends the lesson from Bruce’s Soapbox, but let me add that ego is one of the great concerns for most of us preachers. I confess that it is one of the areas where I spend a lot of time in prayer and self-reflection as the desire for praise and affirmation can become more powerful than one’s desire to serve Jesus. This is where sisters and brothers in the faith need to call out one another with honesty and grace. I have a handful of friends who have full permission to hold me accountable, to call me out when I need to be called out. I also go to them for advice and insight, and they have been known to tell me things I did not want to hear. Yet in most cases, their wisdom has been God-given.
Prayer: Gracious God, continue to inspire our creativity in regard to what it means to worship and serve you. Thinking that we must worship face-to-face diminishes our perception of you and how you work in this world. Our thoughts can never limit you, but they can limit our capacity to see you. May your Spirit awaken within each of us a vision of how you are at work in this moment. Amen.
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