It’s another Sunday morning… with another service in a nice church building where sunlight streams in through the stained-glass or colored-plastic windows…
A crowd of people shuffles in, some awkwardly mingling, others choosing spots for solitude, while some popular praise song plays through the speakers.
The band has another set of songs we’re about to play, with a lot of familiar words like “amazing” and “unfailing” and references to the usual miracles, et cetera, and so on.
Another sermon is prepped, with another take on a well-known passage, with a few solid points, some clever anecdotes or cultural references, and maybe a decent invitation to respond. It’s the Good News or whatever… but more like the Good Olds, because we’ve heard it all before.
Oh, it’s Communion Sunday too, so there’s another stack of serving trays with another round of thumb-sized disposable plastic cups of grape juice and another batch of white fibrous wafers.
Another week in the house of God.
Not just any god… THAT God. You know the One… the “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life john three sixteen” God.
The first song on the list is “This is Amazing Grace” by… well, I didn’t check, but no one’s going to care. It’s upbeat. It’s a perfect
“get the blood pumping” song. It’s familiar to the congregation. Worthy is the Lamb that was slain, and all that.
The second song is “Do It Again” from Elevation Worship. Some people probably don’t like it because Steven Furtick says some questionable things, and good on them, because you should test all things and throw out anything that isn’t one hundred percent of God. But it’s a song about how “Your promise still stands, great is Your faithfulness” and that sort of thing, and that’s pretty good. Reminds me of the old hymn and stuff.
The third song is “Broken Vessels (Amazing Grace)” with its pretentious two titles thing going on. Artsy songwriters know that two titles means the song has depth. As the second title implies, the John Newton refrain figures in, with only the 900th alteration to the melody, 890 of which are probably Chris Tomlin songs.
“Amazing grace how sweet the sound that I’m not going to bother typing because we both know you know the words and stopped reading already.”
Sermon is preached. Elements are distributed. Do this in remembrance of Me. Sing the closing song. The Lord bless you and keep you. You’re dismissed.
Church services as spiritual shampoo: lather, rinse, repeat a week later.
They say familiarity breeds contempt, but I think familiarity breeds complacency and presumption. It feels like we’re singing, “This is the same old grace… this is expected love…”
We might as well be, if we’re just going through the motions because ‘this is what Christians do.’
In preparing for this particular service, I thought about how ho-hum my heart can get about the Gospel. Growing up in church, being a part of worship teams for years, there’s a risk that I am so accustomed to the good news that it’s no longer good nor new. It’s just “what it is.”
In Luke 7, Jesus has dinner with some religious leaders as they’re trying to sort out who this upstart is and what is He really preaching. A woman with a bad reputation bursts into the scene, falls at His feet, weeps over her sinful state, washes His feet with her tears, and wipes His feet with her hair… and all the while, the
religious folk are like, “Dude, doesn’t He know what kind of nasty skank is touching Him?”
Jesus talks about two debtors, both of whom had their debts forgiven. One owed twenty bucks, the other five hundred. (Yeah, I’m paraphrasing. If you’re getting hung up on “well actually He said” then I implore you to stick with me and consider my point, not the particular unimportant details.)
“Which one do you think would be more grateful,” Jesus asks. Well duh, obviously the person who owed five hundred. Jesus agrees, and explains that “whoever has been forgiven much, loves much.” He also calls out the religious folk, as usual, and reaches out to the outcast, as usual.
(In fact, it strikes me that the forgiveness goes in reverse compared to what Jesus describes. He forgives the woman AFTER she expresses all this passionate brokenness and worship.)
I think on any given Sunday, I tend to come in feeling fat, dumb, and happy spiritually – if I’m feeling anything spiritual at all. Most often, I’m probably just distracted and ready to get on with the rest of the day. I’m so used to the fact that God loves us, and has a plan to prosper us, and works all things together for our good, and… yeah,
all those promises that still stand, according to the song. I don’t need to know what they are or think about them, I’ll just sing that they still stand, and that’s pretty good, right?
Paul calls me out when he writes to the Ephesians (Eph 2:1-4) and says, “Hey, remember? You were DEAD in your trespasses and sins, walking or even being carried along with the current of the world,
under the power of darkness. We all lived according to the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling our desires, being in our very nature children of wrath, doomed to punishment.”
“BUT GOD, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love…”
We’ve been bought out of slavery, saved from condemnation, given a new life and a new hope, all our garbage and filth and sin exchanged for the pure, clean, stainless, righteousness of Christ before God… and yet all those words sound like more of the same-old.
Without getting too political, I think of the concept of “white privilege” and discussions of race relations. I don’t come from a culture that has a strong, recent history of slavery or past prejudice
affecting my current situation. I’ve got it pretty good where I live… both culturally and spiritually.
How often do I show up to church and enjoy my “Right Privilege” as a
Christian? Am I so accustomed to the message of the Gospel that it’s no longer amazing? Just kind of accepted, just assumed? Is the grace of God expected? Is the love God shows deserved? If I’m honest with myself, is that where I’m at?
Is it even a thought in our minds that the God of the Universe made provision for us, coming down to intervene in our wayward path, redirecting us from the course of sin and death on which we walked? Is that something we consider, or something we’ve heard so many times that our reaction and reception becomes empty and hollow?
“I love you.” Yeah yeah I know.
“I love you.” Right.
“I love you.” Got it.
“I love you.” Haha, are you just going to keep saying that?
“But I love you.” I mean, as well you should.
“But I love you.” But we kind of knew that already. That’s who You
are, isn’t it? God IS love. It says so.
We act like our grace is earned and no response is required. That’s
“I love you.” Ugh. Thanks, but I’m busy. I’ll get back to you.
How about same time next week?