If I’m Being Honest…(Thinking Through Honesty in the Church)

Everyone knew that God’s big plan centred on a particular people and a specific patch of land in the Middle East. Some dared to question that when they shared honestly – we have seen Jesus alive and we think that changes everything. – Their honesty led to a dark place, it led to persecution. It also led to a brighter future.

Everyone knew that Jesus was the fulfilment of the law, and that being a Jesus follower was tied up with being a follower of the traditions of being Jewish. But some dared to question that including Peter – I have seen a vision and we have seen the Holy Spirit move among the non-Jews. – Such honestly was shared during a time of division which can feel like a dark time. We can read about that Acts 15. Such honesty led to a brighter future.

Everyone knew that the traditions of the church were super-important, that the word of the Pope was not to be questioned. Some dared to question that – What we are reading in the Bible is not fitting well with the traditions. – And so Luther and many others came under persecution from the powers that be. The honesty of the Reformers led to the darkness of division and persecution. It also led to a brighter future.

Everyone knew that if you were English, the Church of England was your church and you need not question its theology or traditions. Some, like Thomas Helwys and John Smith did dare to question, to be honest about what they were thinking – What we read in the Bible does not fit with what we are being told. – And so the Baptist movement came to be, with Baptists becoming champions of freedom of religion and belief in the separation of church and State. The honesty of the early Baptists led to the darkness of division and persecution. It also led to a brighter future.

All through the history of Christianity, honesty has been difficult, but rewarding. Honesty has led to richer, deeper theology. Much of our theology, however, has been crafted, yes from the Bible, but by dead white men. In our day are we listening to the voices of the living including those who are not white men? Living people, looking at the Bible and life through other eyes, may see things many of us have not seen before. Do some people feel like they need to keep quiet, that their honesty will bring them to a difficult place?

Do you feel like you can be honest? Or does that seem like a dark place to go?

It is so very normal to have mixed thoughts and feelings about God, life, and our understanding about God, and life. It should be normal to feel comfortable talking about those mixed thoughts and feelings in Christian community without the fear of being shunned, or being made to feel stupid.

We may feel like being honest will lead us to a dark place, but sometimes our honesty comes from a dark place. I recently went to a concert by a country artist called Tenille Townes who told a story about playing a gig at a high school shortly after some students were killed in a car accident. She spoke of having questions and the importance of asking honest questions. Then she sang a song she wrote called “Jersey on the Wall,” which includes this question for God: “if you’ve got your hands on everything that happened, why couldn’t you stop that car from crashing?” Every time I hear that song I think of my best friend who died in a car accident when we were both in our early twenties. Perhaps there is someone you think of. Perhaps you ask the same question.

This is the last in our series “What Kind of Church.”  Are we the kind of church where you can ask questions without fear of being shunned, or being made to feel stupid? Are we the kind of church where there is understanding when things are beyond understanding? Are we the kind of church where you can just be honest?

Sometimes being honest can be the scary thing, the thing we might think will lead to a dark place. But it usually leads to a brighter future.

In this series we have been considering the cultural statements of Open Table Communities and today’s is:

A Culture of Honesty
We nurture a posture of relational, emotional and intellectual honesty. We value relational honesty with others and self, emotional honesty in identification and expression of feelings, and intellectual honesty with regard to truth.

OPEN TABLE COMMUNITIES

No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service (Inclusion and Exclusion in the Church).

No shoes, no shirt, no service. We are used to seeing such signs on business doors, we are used to the idea that some people should be excluded from some places. When I joined Air Cadets I had to get my hair cut and agree to wear a uniform. The uniform was a sign of who was in and who was out. There was an expectation of uniformity among those who belonged. While one rarely sees a “no shoes, no shirt, no service” sign on a church door, do we have an expectation of uniformity among those who belong in the Christian Church?

We might have expectations of uniformity with regard to behaviour. For example, in days gone by everyone knew that Baptists don’t dance. We might have expectations of uniformity with regard to belief, with such beliefs being drawn up into a statement of faith. If you don’t act and believe just like we do, you don’t belong. But is that the way it should be?

Here is a Scripture that will help challenge our tendency toward uniformity and exclusion:

As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Matthew 9:9-13 (NLT)

There are a few things for us to notice here.

Jesus welcomed all who were sinners but who showed up to meet him.

Jesus called a tax collector, Matthew, to become his disciple and then he hung out with and ate dinner with Matthew’s tax collecting friends. Tax collectors collected taxes from Jews for the Romans and were known to give in to the temptation to exploit the situation. They were therefore despised as sinners, as greedy people. In those times eating with someone was taken as a sign of showing acceptance of, and solidarity with them. The religious leaders were not impressed with the Jesus’ lackadaisical approach in considering with whom he was willing to associate:

For John didn’t spend his time eating and drinking, and you say, ‘He’s possessed by a demon.’ The Son of Man, on the other hand, feasts and drinks, and you say, ‘He’s a glutton and a drunkard, and a friend of tax collectors and other sinners!’ But wisdom is shown to be right by its results.”

Matthew 11:18-19 (NLT)

Jesus welcomed all who thought differently but who showed up to meet him.

We can get caught up in the perceived sinfulness of the tax collectors as compared with the perceived righteousness of the Pharisees. But the difference goes beyond sinful versus righteous behaviour. The tax collectors thought differently than the Pharisees, they had a different perspective.

Pharisees saw Rome as the enemy and expected God to cast the Romans out of the land when he came to bring the Kingdom. Therefore Rome was not to be served in any way, including collecting taxes for them, In fact doing so would displease God and cause him not to act. Tax collectors, on the other hand, saw Rome as a fact of life, so why not make the best of it, and hope, as we all do today, that at least some of the taxes collected would benefit the people. They could point to the prophecy where Jeremiah told the Jewish exiles to settle in and pray for the peace of a far worse enemy from that day, Babylon (Jeremiah 29:7). So collecting taxes is what God would want us to do! That is a big difference in perspective.

When tax collectors and Pharisees were together, it was like Republicans and Democrats getting together in America today complete with a mixing of theology and politics, plus a desire to exclude one another. Pharisees and tax collectors would not welcome or eat with one another. Jesus welcomed and ate with tax collectors. Jesus also welcomed and ate with Pharisees.

Jesus invites us to his table.

We might get the impression that with Jesus anything goes. But that is not the case:

But what do you think about this? A man with two sons told the older boy, ‘Son, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ The son answered, ‘No, I won’t go,’ but later he changed his mind and went anyway. Then the father told the other son, ‘You go,’ and he said, ‘Yes, sir, I will.’ But he didn’t go.
“Which of the two obeyed his father?”
They replied, “The first.”
Then Jesus explained his meaning: “I tell you the truth, corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins.

Matthew 21:28-32 (NLT)

It is not anything goes, nor is it strict adherence to standards of uniformity. It is an invitation to life in the Kingdom of God. It is an invitation to take our place at the table with Jesus.

At Calvary our aim is not to make everyone look the same, think the same, and behave the same, but to help people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. There’s a big difference between demanding uniformity to religious traditions and inviting people to walk with Jesus.

With a focus on inclusion and exclusion we are thinking about hospitality which is the next topic of our series “What Kind of Church.” In this series we have been considering the cultural statements of Open Table Communities and today’s is:

A Culture of Hospitality
We nurture a culture of openness to everyone, including those who are different from us. This is accomplished through opening up our lives and homes to others. We choose to live in the tensions that come with inclusion rather than the barriers created by exclusion.

Open Table Communities