Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sunday Summary- "If the Church were Christian...3"

The fog came in as the sun was setting when I was on top of my mountain last night.
Exercise is good 
From last Sunday until yesterday, Saturday, I have exercised on four out of the seven days. (Sunday,  Monday & Saturday - walks up Mt Cargill. On Anzac Day, Wednesday I went for a bike ride.) Tonight with questionable weather on the horizon I spent just over an hour riding a stationary bike, rowing and doing some weights in my garage. I was visiting hospital the other day and a woman was telling me of the death of a friend of hers. This friend apparently was an exercise buff, who went to the gym, played squash and generally kept herself fit, but she still died at a relatively young age. The woman summed up with something like, "So you see it doesn't matter what you do. If you are going to die young it happens." I have lots of people saying that. When I was running regularly people said such things. In other words it is a waste of time exercising trying to prolong your life. That's not really why I exercise. Of course studies show that it does increase your chances of a longer life. But exercise is good for its own sake. I have noticed that since I have been climbing my mountain on a reasonably regular basis, the climb is getting easier. I find when I exercise I can work more energetically. This week my exercise has helped me cope with depression issues. I exercise on a Saturday afternoon often. I go up my mountain and having done some work on my sermon, my mind brings it all together while I am walking. I often sort life out biking, running or walking, life gets back into perspective. People say to me now that I have a tricky knee - "See you shouldn't have been running!" If I became crippled tomorrow, I would still be thankful for all the enrichment my running has brought to my life. If I died tomorrow, I am still glad that exercise, running, walking, swimming, gym, bike etc have been in my life. They have enriched my existence in a big way. As I walk up my mountain I often think of all the people in the houses below me veging out in front of idiot TV programs, and I'm glad I am where I am.

Sermon Summary...
The chapter in Philip Gulley's book that we bounced off today was "If the Church were Christian reconciliation would be valued over judgement." 
Judgement in the Church...
When I was a little boy at the North East Valley Church of Christ, one thing we did as kids in the Church service was to look up the number of the next hymn. We would turn to the right page in the family's hymn books and sit them open, face down on the ledge of the pew in front of us. Once when we did this the old man behind us reached forward and closed the book and whispered grumpily, "Don't do that!" At the end of the service he castigated us and our parents for mistreating what he called "sacred books belonging to the Church." We looked at my Dad who just winked at us during the tirade. At home he discussed it passionately at the dinner table with my mum. "My kids are sacred too!" he exclaimed. We moved where we sat from then on. We did not sit in front of this old man. I had a student ministry at the Tootgarook Church on the Mornington Peninsula near Melbourne. We grew a youth group there with about thirty kids coming to it on Saturday nights. This one time we had the kids come to a Sunday evening meal and then to the Church service. We had a film showing in the service. The lights went out and one teenager settled back and put his arm around his girlfriend. ... just a friendly arm, nothing else. The old Christian gentleman sitting behind leaned forward and removed the arm and told the boy off. The elders and I received a complaint about "young people carousing in Church!" They were "In Church" ... that's pretty good! In one of my ministries a young man in the youth group got his girlfriend pregnant. The youth leader at the time wrote to me and the elders saying that before the young man shared in communion again he should be brought before the congregation and made to confess to his "sin". Of course I never allowed that to happen. (If we did that I would have made us all confess to our sins - Would have been a long service - just with my list! ) About twenty five years ago I was working for a builder as a plumber on a spec house he was building. During a lunch break I got talking to the painters who were painting the house. I told them I was a church minister taking a break from ministry. (One of my attempts to leave this job) They immediately told me of their experience. They had painted a house for a guy who was a pastor at a local church. They sang his praises, saying he was a lovely guy who did a lot of good for people. While they were working at his place it was discovered that the pastor had got a little too friendly with his secretary. So the pastor had been summarily sacked from his job. Over the months the poor guy was still unemployed and had no hope of being reinstated. These painters who never went to Church, were not impressed. They thought he should have his job back and stated quite logically, "I thought that Christianity was all about forgiveness? These guys can't even forgive their own?" In my present Church we have an AA group using the halls the same night our women's teas are held. I heard of an incident on one such night a number of years ago. The Alcoholics Anonymous people that choose to smoke take a break outside to have a smoke. One of our women saints was leaving to go home and walked past them to her transport. She chose to castigate these people, she did not know for their smoking habit! .... Of course from burnings of people at the stake centuries ago, to the moral right thumping pulpits, story after story could be told of Churches, Christians and judgmental attitudes and actions. It seems to go along with religion. We hold certain beliefs and moral stands and want to inflict those on others. It is not just the domain of conservative or fundamentalist christians, liberals can be just as enthusiastically judgmental. I know because I am a judgmental liberal! It is also true of other religions, probably also of ardent atheists too. 

Jesus said...
When we look at the history of the Church in this area of being judgmental... burning people, excommunicating, banishing etc. ... and compare it with the words and actions of Jesus we see clearly how distorted the Church can get. How can an institution who has Jesus as its founder do such things? Jesus said things like;

  • "Judge not, that you be not judged"
  • He told the parable of "trying to take the spec out of your brother's eye, while you have a log in your own". 
  • He said;  "So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother  sister, and then come and offer your gift."
  • He instructed his disciples to forgive "seventy times seven" (forever) 
  • He forgave and reinstated people.
  • His picture of God was of a forgiving, loving, welcoming Father. (e.g. Prodigal son story)
  • He mixed with people others judged.
Jesus was all about reconciling, keeping loving relationships going, bridging gaps and breaking down walls that divide. When we adopt judgmental attitudes we often generalise ("All drinkers are bad!") and often tend to only see the fault in the other person, blinded to the goodness they may also possess. Judgmental attitudes also shut the gate to ongoing constructive relationships. I shy away from people who I know will judge me. I know, when people think that I as a minister might judge them, they do not welcome contact.

There are some times when space is needed...
At our drop-in centre we have a lot of people who are not skilled at socialising all in one room. Sometimes they drive each other crazy. Sometimes we say, "Look you sit here and you sit over there and do not talk to each other!" Sometimes in life we need to step away, otherwise we are being mistreated or will mistreat others. Jesus when he sent his disciples out on a mission, advised that there are times to move on if you are not being received. Not being judgmental does not necessarily mean being a door mat and being walked all over.

Ways of reconciliation leave the gate open for relationship.
There are at least four things that help when there is a difference...
  • Respect... A willingness to still respect the other person, though their actions and values may be different. I have had "superior Christians" treat me as if I was dirt because I, for example, have a beer and they don't. I believe we are still called to value and respect people, though they differ from us. "Honour all people" the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans.
  • Understanding... One of the tactics of mediators is to get the opposing sides to state the case of the other, to the satisfaction of the other.  In other words it is important for us to seek to understand why this person makes the choices he/she does, from their point of view. Constructive listening is important.
  • Tolerance for people's mistakes... We ALL fall short of what we want to be. We all make mistakes, we are human and it is important to cut people some slack. I remember this when I am driving. "That "B" who is changing lanes at the last moment deserves a blast from my horn.... no wait... last week I did the same thing when I was having a bad day!"  
  • People change... I often want to blast a young person who is sounding off, correcting them for their thinking. But then I stop. "He is young. If I come back in ten years I bet his position will have changed." I have often found that a person who once annoyed me when I meet them again, has changed and we are close again. One example is the youth leader I mentioned before. He came to me at a function nearly thirty years later and mentioned how "looking back he appreciated my ministry, more now than he did earlier."
If the Church and we followers of Jesus were Christian (truly following Jesus) we would value reconciliation over judgement. We have so often distorted and misrepresented the way of Jesus. So often in my experience, people think "Church" and immediately associate that with "Judgmental attitudes". It is a sad distortion.

That's my burble for tonight.

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