Normalizing Jesus

9 12 2014

Tuesday Re-mix:

“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.  He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.  And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’  Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”  He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”  Luke 10:33-37

Christmas churchIn the Coffee household, we have been on our usual Christmas steady fare of Christmas movies.  Christmas, it seems, is such an enormous cultural event, Hollywood just cannot make enough “Christmas miracle” movies.  It’s a standard template: there is a hero (or a heroine) who is flawed and relatable in some fashion and who does not believe in the magic of Christmas.  Enter conflict (or an antagonist or dire circumstances or a hilarious parade of unforeseeable events) and there is an ensuing struggle.  Finally, there is a Christmas miracle and our hero is saved and now believes in the magic of Christmas.

This year, my attention has been grabbed by how the church is portrayed in these Hollywood versions of Christmas (if it is portrayed at all).  It seems to me that, more often than not, the church is portrayed as a bit silly and irrelevant and disconnected from anything, well… normal.  I don’t know, but I strongly suspect these portrayals betray the writers’ own stories about their church experiences growing up.  I watch these almost farcical portrayals of church and find myself asking, “Is that really what you think of church?”

I know you know this feeling.  Being made fun of and ostracized as “weird” or “abnormal” is painful.  Wouldn’t Christianity be much easier if everyone in our country, our state, our community a Christian?  If only Christianity were the norm…if a Christ-centered Christmas were the norm…then we would be so much happier.

There is one very large problem with that attitude.  Jesus, the founder of this revolution we call Christianity, was not normal.

It was Jesus who taught us to love our enemies.  It was Jesus who hung out with sinners and tax collectors and referred to the esteemed religious leaders of the time as a “den of vipers” and “children of the devil”.  And it was Jesus who told ground-breaking stories like the parable of the good Samaritan.  There is nothing normal about making a much-despised Samaritan the hero of your story and making a priest and a Levite the goats of the story, and then getting a Pharisee to admit to those very things.  And it was this same Jesus who said on numerous occasions that we who follow him would be hated by this world, just as he was hated.

Jesus, it seems, wanted to be seen as abnormal. He thrived on being strange and culturally odd.  Maybe we need to adjust our perspective on it as well.  Jesus, I suspect, would note Hollywood’s portrayal of the church and of Christmas today and say, “Yep. That’s about what we expected.”

There was nothing normal about Jesus.  There is nothing normal about his followers.  And there is nothing normal about Christmas.  It is all freakishly abnormal.  And I’m OK with that.

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com




We, the Brood of Vipers

31 05 2011

Tuesday Re-mix –

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.  John answered, “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”  Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”  “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them. Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”   He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.” Luke 3:8-14 [selections]

John the Baptist was given the assignment of preparing a people to receive a savior.  God would use John to help the people see that, beyond a political hero, what they needed most was a spiritual savior.  So, in fulfillment of this calling, what do you suppose are the first words out of his mouth in issuance of this “wake-up call”?

“You brood of vipers!”

That’s just mean.  Right?  Those words are just harsh.  But they seem to have gotten the people’s attention.  It wasn’t long before they were asking John, “What do we need to do?”  He then started rattling off impossibly inflexible rules for them…bad conduct that was the most deeply ingrained in their culture, things it would have been extremely difficult to change.  It would have required a huge shift in how they thought about other people.  It would have caused them to think, “Wow, that’s nearly impossible!”  And that, of course, is exactly the right response.  John would have said, “And THAT is why you need a savior!”

So, it got me thinking.  If John were to come to the church today in order to get us ready for Jesus to return, what would he say to us?  Assuming we too are a “brood of vipers” and in desperate need of a savior and assuming we need an entirely different way of thinking about some things we are doing (or failing to do), what might he say to us?  Let’s write an addendum to this story.  The next line reads:

Then some 21st century churches asked him, “What about us?  What must we do?”  John replied…

What?  How would he reply?  I have some possible responses.

1.  Stop making outsiders feel like they have to clean up their acts before they come to your church. We’re all pretty good at befriending people after they have become Christ-followers (pretty good, but not great).  Why is it so difficult for the church to befriend people before they actually believe?

2.  Stop using your faith to gain political power. The Christian faith was not born out of political strength and has always grown strongest under political oppression.  Why, then, do we spend so much time trying to gain the political upper hand?

3.  Start praying together as if you really do believe it will work. We say we want prayer in schools.  We say we want prayer at football games.  But our churches’ scheduled prayer meetings have tumbleweeds blowing through them.  We say we believe in the power of prayer, but our actions and our lifestyles say otherwise.

4.  Start looking for and finding Christ in one another. The way we treat each other in the church is sometimes just embarrassing, and it is offensive to the Spirit of God Who indwells every believer.

5.  Stop using your resources to build kingdoms unto yourselves. Across the street from your big, new beautiful worship center, there are people starving and homeless.  What are we thinking?

From my perspective, these are some possible ways for our friend John to respond.  But I’ll bet you have some ideas too.  I’d love to hear them…

© Blake Coffee
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on this website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Blake Coffee.  Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: © Blake Coffee. Website: churchwhisperer.com