Wednesday, July 18, 2012

 

2 Samuel 6:16-23  Luke 7:31-35

 

 

2 Samuel 6:16-23

16 As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt-offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18When David had finished offering the burnt-offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat,* and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

20 David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, ‘How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!’ 21David said to Michal, ‘It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. 22I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.’ 23And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

 

 

Luke 7:31-35

31 ‘To what then will I compare the people of this generation, and what are they like? 32They are like children sitting in the market-place and calling to one another, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.” 33For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, “He has a demon”; 34the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!” 35Nevertheless, wisdom is vindicated by all her children.’

 

 

 

I recently heard about a book titled “The Transformation of American Religion” by Alan Wolfe. It is an sociologist’s critique of modern churches and how they are no longer defining themselves based upon the Gospel, upon some basic Christian practices, but instead cater to the demands and desires of people. He says several times that the American church is becoming just another self-help organization.

 

Alan Wolfe is a sociologist.  He is a professor at Boston College and the Director of the “Boisi Center for Religion and Public Life.”  He makes no claim to be a Christian.  Yet, in this study, Wolfe and his team do what is called qualitative research.  They interview people and interpret their interviews.  They are not so much interested in what people claim to believe but what they are actually doing.  Wolfe suggests that despite cries from various groups that claim truth, most religion in the United States is, in practice, homogenized into a pretty bland and harmless brand. 

 

The product of all  this work is not some new and groundbreaking research into why religion in general is in decline.  Wolfe’s claim is that from the perspective of actual religious practices, Americans are doing little more than being entertained in worship and elsewhere, having their ego’s stroked.  Wolfe claims that the particularities and peculiarities of virtually every religious group have been reduced to nearly nothing.  He suggests that despite  our protests to the contrary, you cannot tell the difference between the world and the church by just observing.

 

So the question may not be “can the Church be saved,” but rather, “can Christianity be saved?”

 

In the Gospel lesson for this evening, Jesus is commenting on the ministry of his cousin, John the Baptist.  He has asked the crowds, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see?”  After his little vignette on John’s ministry, some of common run of the mill sinners were feeling pretty self-assured because of their Baptism (by John).  Others, the really religious types, who had all this religious stuff figured out and so had not been baptized, rejected the message. 

 

Speaking about these responses, Jesus offers a comparison.  He says that the people of this age are Childish.   Not child-like, childish. Puerile.  Silly.  Trivial.  As in, “I am tired of your childish pranks.”

 

To emphasize his point he uses a popular children’s song of the day, “we piped to you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not weep.”  It is a song like some of the songs you might remember from being a child.  I remember when my guys were little, we would play some song games.  One of their favorites was “ring around the rosey.”  They didn’t understand the macabre nature of this little jingle, nor did they need to.  They would sing and giggle and then at the end they’d fall down in a heap of laughter.

 

This song was not about death.  It’s about power.  This song is a criticism of the bullies, of the one’s who get to pick the game and who gets to play.  Even children know how to play this game.  Everyone who has worked with children know that they soon learn how to push your buttons;  even in our best efforts at ‘training up a child’ it is sometimes difficult to determine just who is being trained.

 

This little sermon by Jesus gets to its childish point by repeating the complaints about Jesus and his cousin.  One of them was too conservative in their faith.  The other was too liberal. 

 

John was criticized for the stark way he lived.  Do you know anyone who dresses and eats based upon their Christian discipline?  Do you know anyone who won’t dance, or play cards, because of the boundaries of their Christian practice?  I cannot say I do, but I know many people who have told me, “when I was growing up we never…”  fill in the blank.

 

Jesus was criticized for the way he lived too.  He easily crossed boundaries.  Why, in the next few verses here, at a dinner party at the Conference Minister’s house he allows a ‘woman of ill repute’ to anoint his feet.

 

John, they say is crazy.  It’s just crazy to live like that.  Jesus, they say is a derelict.

 

Jesus says they are acting like babies.

 

The final criticism of Jesus is actually a compliment:  “Look,” they say, “…a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

 

Too much, too little, Jesus, the real Jesus…not the Jesus of our making, of our desires, the Jesus who makes us comfortable and affirms all our beliefs, this Jesus cannot win.

 

I believe we are in a pivotal time for Hain’s church.  Of course, it isn’t only us.  I believe the church as a whole is at a pivotal time that demands change.  More than a century ago, one minister lamented at the state of the church saying,  “the sooner the church dies, the better.  And, there will be few mourners the funeral.”[1]   If your reason for why the church should do something is because the church down the road does it a certain way, that is childish criticism. If your reason for wanting something done a certain way is because it’s always done it that way, that is childish criticism. If your reason for wanting a change is because you are tired of the way things are being done, that is childish criticism.

 

There are many things we can do that would probably fill the sanctuary every Sunday.  There are ways we can adjust our mission emphasis so that it wouldn’t be so, we strenuous on the budget.  We might increase our giving if we turned it into something like the 50/50 drawing down at the fire company.  We can choose to do many things, or not.   We can ask what we want to do. 

 

These decisions, I’ll admit are not always conscious ones.  I do not know how much time we want to spend on sorting out our motivation for activities that seek to renew our church;  but in the living out of our decisions, “wisdom is justified by her children.”

 

 

 


[1] Alexander McLaren, “A Glutton and Winebibber”  a Sermon on Luke 7:33-35, 1897.

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