Saturday, 28 February 2015

The Way of the Cross

Marketing firms and people have now learned how to make money from churches. There was one congregation I heard of sent a glossy magazine advertisement describing their, “casual”, “creative”, and “contemporary” church, listing five reasons for people to come and check them out.
·         Jeans/shorts and t-shirts no suits and ties
·         No guilt – leave your wallet at home
·         Positive messages you will enjoy
·         Awesome programmes for kids and teens
·         Pop, rock, country – their band rocks

Now take a second congregation who invited someone like Y-WAM or Kingdom Ministries to come and do the sermons/addresses for four special Sunday’s.
·         Sunday 1, was a skit by guy’s who were labelled the funniest guys on the planet and would be supplying so much hilarity.
·         Sunday 2, was a jazz trio would supply possibly the best jazz on the planet.
·         Sunday 3, was the possibility of hearing the best singer on the planet. Of course we may have different ideas about who is the best singer.
·         Sunday 4, would be Shaggy the clown and Leno the flautist leading “possibly the most diverse service on the planet.”
You know I think it was really possibly the least enticing invitation on the planet. Maybe you think differently.

A third church in its programme I read promised:
·         we won’t make you listen to organ music;
·         it won’t take more than an hour; we won’t visit your home unannounced;
·         we will let you remain anonymous;
·         we serve espresso drinks.
Yet none of any of these things offered are described in scripture or in the description we have of the early church in the book of Acts.

The cotton candy give me want I want, name it claim it, gain is godliness sales gimmicks might draw a big crowd, but so did the Beatles (here I date myself).  Selling God the way you sell cereal is not what I think Jesus or God for that matter had in mind. I must admit some of the things listed can be part of any fellowship and at times quite enjoyable and valuable. However, it is not the core business (to use a modern term) of God or the Church. Simon Peter was one who understood Church marketing. He recognised entertainment is always in style and that sacrifice always seemed to be on the outer. It seems the message is that answering Gods call to you in Christ and talking about taking up a cross is thought to be no way to sell the church.

When Jesus began his preaching about suffering, rejection and death, the disciples did not want to hear. It would seem we still haven’t got that message. Peter watched with approval probably as Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, and told wonderful stories about God’s love. Everything seemed to be great but now Jesus seems to be messing things up by talking about sacrifice and dying. Who wants a leader who leads them to suffering? Shouldn’t faith make us safer – “safe and secure from all things that would alarm us? We come to church in part because we hope it will make us happier. If we are comfortable with who we are and how we are living our lives, then maybe Jesus’ words: “If any of you want to become my followers let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me,” may not make much sense.

What does it mean to follow someone who has been executed by the state for his ideas and talk? Are we expected to die for what we believe, give up personal ambitions, forget about our own comfort, speak to people we might not want to speak to, listen to people we might not find interesting, care about people who made the mistake of being born in the wrong country or place, be true in the places where Christianity is not welcomed, and walk toward rather than away from people who are hurting? Why would you want to follow someone who suffers and then tells us that we have to do the same?

So, why did the disciples follow Jesus? Jesus practiced and pictured the best humans could be. In answering God’s call and following the type of life that God envisaged for his creation a community was gathered. The community Jesus gathered were given gifts to be the church through pain and joy. Our day-to-day decisions are not likely to lead us to martyrdom, but each day we have to decide if we will give away our time and attention.

Giving our lives away may mean turning the other cheek, standing with people who are losing, doing good that will receive no applause, sitting in a home where someone has died, treating discarded people as children of God, shopping for someone else’s groceries, baking or cooking things that we ourselves will probably not eat, reading stories to someone else’s children, taking flowers to someone who’s not our type, visiting someone else’s mother in a nursing home, watering someone else’s plants, washing dishes we didn’t dirty, discussing current events that don’t interest us, talking about faith when we would rather be quiet or somewhere else, doing good for those who may need treat us well, weeping when others weep, praying not for an easier life but for strength to give our lives away to our God and to each other as Jesus called us to do, and discovering that if there’s nothing for which we would die, then we don’t have enough of anything to live for.

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