Blogging toward Sunday

November 5, 2007

My wife and I were in the Atlanta airport this summer when she stopped
at a newsstand to pick up a magazine. On the cover of one, a well-known
TV preacher was touted as the pastor of a church, “America’s largest,”
that draws 45,000 people per weekend by offering help for life’s
questions and problems. The clerk working the register noticed my wife
looking at the article and said proudly, “That’s my pastor,” to which
my wife retorted, “So, when your momma is sick in the hospital, are you
going to pick up the phone and ask him to come over to be with her
while she dies?”

Why do we think that
church is the one-stop, “answer to your question” and “solution for
your problem” place? It is easy to criticize our megafriend with his
huge arena and NBA-sized crowds, but he is not the originator of his
pragmatic “evangelistic strategy”: it’s deeply embedded in the hearts
and minds of Christians in America, whether we stand on the right or
left, as liberals or evangelicals. We all want to be helpful, useful,
to show how God and believing in God can serve the purpose of answering
life’s questions and solving its problems.

Towards the end of
the Gospel of Luke there are a couple of question/answer,
problem/solution exchanges. Luke tells us Jesus was teaching in the
temple when the chief priests, religious scholars and leaders demanded
he present his credentials. He answered their question with a question,
launching into a parable that so infuriated his questioners they wanted
to kill him. This was followed with a political question about paying
taxes to Caesar, which was also a set-up, since they hoped to trap
Jesus in a theologically incorrect answer. This scene leads into Luke
20: 27-38.

A group of Sadducees, the Jewish party that denied
the possibility of resurrection, asks a complicated question about the
Law of Moses and its teaching on marriage, marital identity, spousal
obligation and family heritage in the resurrection, or age to come.
Jesus again changes the subject, shifting the focus from marriage to
God, and asserting that in resurrection life, or life in God’s
presence, neither marriage or death are primary concerns, since God is
the One to whom our whole being and life is turned; our flourishing as
human creatures is as participants in the communion of divine love.

Jesus
recalls that when Moses, in Exodus 3, was standing before a burning
bush and on holy ground, he was given neither answers to his question
nor solutions to his problems. He stood in the presence of the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a God who is not a God of the dead but of the
living, the same God who generously invites us, in Jesus, the crucified
and risen Son, to share in the extravagant exchange of love that is the
Triune Life.

When we “use” God, the church, and ministry to
appease religious curiosity and demand, determine winners and losers,
gain an upper hand or prove we are better than our competitors, we
become participants in death: life without God. As Julian Hartt writes:

We
have a great and desperate need for the gospel. The power of that word
is not in utterance but in concrete life. The power of the word is that
real, transcendently righteous and creative love. That alone is the
power which can place us in solid and productive relationship to the
real world. Hence, while the church has an utterance to make, sermons
to preach, hymns to sing, and prayers to offer, above all it has a life
to share. This life is God’s free sharing of himself in Jesus Christ.