Who Shall Lead Us?


This was to be my “blog” for August 21st; it is based on the common lectionary for that Sunday, the 14th Sunday after Pentecost.

Thomas Paine wrote “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He was, of course, referring to the events that would eventually lead to the American Revolution. But he could have easily been describing the problems of today’s churches.

These are times when we read and hear of numerous churches that are growing in leaps and bounds, prompting the term “mega-church.” According to the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, there are approximately 800 Protestant churches in the United States with a sustained average weekly attendance of 2000 or more.[1] In addition to their size, these churches have charismatic pastors who offer a softer and gentler version of the Gospel. It is a Gospel that promises wealth and good health to those who believe but it appears that the only ones getting wealthy are the pastors who present the message.

The Gospel was, at least to me, never about getting rich or having good health. The riches that we receive are in heaven and not here on earth. The Gospel message, again at least to me, was about helping the sick, the needy, the homeless, and the oppressed. It was and is a message that centers on Christ’s sacrifice so that we may be free from sin and spiritual death. But these are points missing in the mega church; look at the stage (I will not call it an altar) and see if you can find the cross or any other reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and suffering for our sake.

Attend a worship service at one of these churches or at any more modern worship service and you are likely to feel that you are in a rock concert rather than a church service. The music of today’s modern worship service takes on the tone of a mantra rather than challenging the worshipper to open their hearts. We hear an almost Calvinistic message that poverty and homelessness are the products of the sinful nature of the person rather than inequities and inequalities in life. Listen to these “good-time” pastors and you have to wonder if there are any homeless, sick, needy or any oppressed people in the world. It is almost as if the world of these pastors and their congregations did not have any sick, needy, homeless, or imprisoned. Theirs is the reply of the people in Matthew 25: 31 – 39.

31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

These churches, offering their “light” Gospel turn away those who seek solace and peace in a world of turmoil and darkness.

I listened to someone the other day who said they were religious but who had quit going to church. It seems that when this individual was faced with a major crisis in their lives, they had wanted to go to their church and pray. But the church was closed when they got there and the priest was not willing to open up the church so that they could go in. In a time of need, the church was not there for this person and because the church was not there, this person no longer goes to church. How many similar stories have we heard or do we know where the church is not there when a person seeks solace and comfort but cannot find it. Our churches are quickly becoming a church that turn people away rather than let them in. If they do not like a person’s lifestyle or economic status, they are likely to turn that person away.

These self-proclaimed religious leaders of our country proclaim that they have Biblical support for their message and decisions. But they forget that leaders in the Bible challenged the people, and did not simply offer simple or comfortable answers.

We cannot, in this day and age, have leaders who simply choose approaches that mirror the problems of today. We cannot respond to violence with violence; we cannot make the world free by oppressing others. In a world where people are sick, needy, or homeless, we cannot say that they are not welcome or that they are in such a state because of their own sinfulness. Callousness, shallowness, and indifference cannot cure the problems of the world; yet, that is the manner of the message many people hear in church today.

We claim to be Christian but we are not willing to walk the path that Christ walked. We cannot expect any government to offer solutions that require that we give of ourselves. Often times, the demands of the political state contradict the demands placed on us by the kingdom of heaven. We fail to realize that if Jesus had accepted Satan’s offer to command the kingdoms of the world, He would have had to renounce His Lordship.

We want the kingdoms of the world; we want the kingdom of heaven as well, but we want it know and here on earth. We want our leaders, political or spiritual, to lead us to the Promised Land. This was the promise of Satan, not Christ. When Peter proclaimed to Jesus and the other disciples that Jesus was the true Messiah, Jesus did not give him the keys to the kingdom on earth but rather the keys to the kingdom of heaven.

Our own declaration that Jesus is the Messiah is something that we believe in our heart and our mind but it is not always provable in a world that demands physical proof. And, sometimes like Peter on Good Friday, we are not always prepared to meet the demands of society that demand such proof.[2]

We live in a world that responds to violence with violence, oppression with further repression and ignores the sick, the needy, and the homeless. In this world is a river that separates us from the kingdom of peace, justice, and perfect love.

We need to be people who seek to find ways to cross the river; we need to be people who dare to live in accordance with the ways of the other side, not this side of the river. And as we cross the river, we need to remain in touch with those who do not go with us, even if they choose not to go with us.[3]

Paul spoke to the Romans about the gifts we have all been given. One of those gifts is to help others come to the river’s edge and find the way to the other side, to the Promised Land.

We need to be reminded that “Moses” means “I drew him out of the water.” Moses’ life began on the river’s edge but it was from that river’s edge that he was able to lead his people to the Promised Land. Our Moses is Jesus and He is willing to lead us to the Promised Land if we are willing to follow.

The mission of the church is not to be a source of discord or hatred but to bring the Gospel message into the world. In the midst of all the trouble, in the midst of all the violence and hatred in this world, we must be willing to bring the message of freedom and love that is the Gospel message. It is not an easy path to walk and there are times when we need someone to lead us. Such a leader will not be found in our political system but rather in our heart.

It should not be a question of who shall lead us that we answer today but rather “shall we let Jesus lead us?” The answer to that question is in your hearts; it is an answer that you need to express this day.

Down By the Riverside

Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna lay down my sword and shield
Down by the riverside
Ain’t gonna study war no more.

refrain

I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
I ain’t gonna study war no more,
Study war no more.

Gonna stick my sword in the golden sand;
Down By the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna stick my sword in the golden sand
Down by the riverside
Gonna study war no more.

refrain

Gonna put on my long white robe;
Down By the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna put on my long white robe; Down by the riverside
Gonna study war no more.

refrain

Gonna put on my starry crown; Down By the riverside
Down by the riverside
Down by the riverside
Gonna put on my starry crown;
Down by the riverside
Gonna study war no more.

refrain

Gonna put on my golden shoes;
(ETC)
Gonna talk with the Prince of Peace;
(ETC)
Gonna shake hands around the world;
(ETC)

I don’t mind if you use this but please let me know (TonyMitchellPhD@verizon.net). Also let me know what part you are using so that proper citations can be used.


[2] Adapted from “West Coast Witness” by Peter S. Hawkins (Christian Century, 9 August 2005)

[3] Adapted from “Battle Lines” by Eberhard Arnold (http://www.bruderhof.com/articles/ea/BattleLines.htm)

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