I was at Dover United Methodist Church this morning. The Scriptures for this Sunday were Jeremiah 2: 4 – 14; Hebrews 13: 1 – 8, 15 – 16; and Luke 14: 1, 7 – 14. I will be at Dover again next week (Location of church). The service starts at 11 and you are welcome to attend.
I thought I knew where I was going with the Scriptures for today when I chose the title for this message. But, since the time that I made the decision and over the past few days, some things have transpired that made whatever reason I had disappear. Still, the meaning behind the title, of feeling like a square peg being forced into a round hole, is valid and I hope that it will help us understand how today’s Scriptures can help us respond to what is transpiring in the world today and in the coming days.
First, let me start off with a declaration. I chose a long time ago to be a Christian. I chose to do so because of what I was taught and what I learned. I did not need to be at Calvary, standing at the foot of the cross watching Him die for my sins. Nor did I have to be with the other disciples that First Easter morning to know that He had risen from the grave and conquered sin and death.
I have come to know in my own heart and my own mind what the truth of Christ is. It is a decision that at times makes me feel as if I were a square peg in a round hole. I know that Jesus offers each one of us the opportunity to follow Him and He left it up to each one of us to make the decision to do so. He did not lay out the path and say this is the only path; He did not say that we had to go this way or that way. All He said was “Follow me.”
I will admit that there were times when I didn’t follow Jesus, when I chose to walk on my own and because I did so I endured turmoil and distress. But, because of what I was taught and what I learned, I could remember the words of the writer of Hebrews telling me that God was always there and He would not let me down. And I knew that I could always come back to the right path.
It saddens me when other will tell me, with all sincerity, that the path that I have chosen to walk and the manner in which I have come to believe is wrong. It is not for others to judge my path or to tell me the path that I should walk
We, as a society, as a culture, as a people and as a world, have come to a crossroads on that path. It is a crossroads that we have come to time and time again in the history of this world. As the prophet Jeremiah wrote, “Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the directions to the old road, the tried and true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls. But the people said, ‘Nothing doing. We aren’t going that way.’” (Jeremiah 6: 16)
What we have to do today is help others find that right route, not simply tell them that there is only one right way or one right path. In the words of the traditional American song, “You got to walk that lonesome valley; you got to walk it by yourself. Ain’t nobody here can walk it for you; you got to walk it for yourself.”
In a time when churches and denominations are losing members and especially at a time when the public sees Christians as a legalistic, hypocritical collection of mean-spirited individuals, we have to find new ways to bring the Gospel message to the world.
Maybe it would help if our churches were a little more “hip” or “cool”. Maybe we wouldn’t have to worry about building our church numbers by counting all the people who log onto our webcasts or download the podcast of the sermon. There is a new kind of church out there in the real world today, a church where the pastor and congregation are hip, cool, media savvy, fashionable, artistic, culturally aware, and socially concerned. It is a place where tattoos, scruffy beards, and skinny jeans abound. I am definitely a square peg in a round hole in this case. I have to wonder how much of what these churches have is a natural expression of the presence of Christ in their lives and how much is a marketing ploy designed to bring people into the church. Even the author of a new book (Hipster Christianity: Where Church and Cool Collide) is not sure what is happening in these churches. I am not so certain that the individuals in the churches themselves know what is happening. Convinced in their own “coolness”, they may have lost the essence of the message. I am glad that they are socially concerned but I hope that means that they actually go outside the walls of the church and show the people the Gospel message through their actions and deeds. (Go to http://stillsearching.wordpress.com/2007/09/16/types-of-hipsters-part-one/; http://stillsearching.wordpress.com/2010/01/27/where-to-find-christian-hipsters-10-u-s-cities/; http://asceticpaige.wordpress.com/2010/07/26/hipster-christianity/ – this one leads you to a quiz that tells you how much of a hipster Christian you are; I have a low CHQ (Christian Hipster Quotient) and that is just find by me.)
I know that there are many congregations who would absolutely go apoplectic if any of these “hipster” Christians were to enter their sanctuaries. They would do so if there was anyone who even dared suggest a change in the routine of a Sunday morning. And that is, I believe, what the Gospel message is about. Any church which puts more emphasis on its own culture, what goes on inside the building, is not a church that embodies the Gospel message.
So, how does one reach out and include all those in the community? After all, that is what Jesus was saying in the Gospel message today.
One way is to involve the technology of today. There has been a discussion about the role of the Internet in the life of the church. There are many technologically savvy individuals in the world today; for any church to say that they are not going to be technologically oriented is to say to these individuals that they are not wanted in that particular church. I should point out that the United Methodist Church has set up a directory of all the churches in the country and you can find just about any church you want. When I looked for churches within a fifty-mile radius of Newburgh, I found that there were some 280 United Methodist Churches. Each church had a brief description of the church and where it was. But just about 10% of those listed either didn’t have an e-mail associated with the church or the e-mail listed was wrong. Similarly, there were a number of errors with web pages. If a church is going to have an e-mail address (and I believe that it should) and is going to have a web page (again, something that I believe they should), then they must also make every effort to insure that the address is correct and the site up-to-date. Someone who searches for a church and finds the wrong e-mail address or an incorrect web page address or an out-dated web page is going to think twice about visiting that church.
But the discussion this past week that took place was about moving the actual church on-line, of scheduling services that would be broadcast on-line and even holding communion in a virtual world.
Here I am definitely a square peg in a round whole (shoot, let’s face it; I am a 21st century Luddite)! I cannot even imagine a church service in a virtual or on-line environment. I can see where there are benefits to putting the church on-line but I see no benefit to say that the church is found only on-line. It runs counter to the very nature of what a church is to be, a gathering of individuals at a specific time and place. It also runs counter to what the IRS says that a church is; see “Church – What’s Your Definition?” If we cannot come together as a group of believers, then what is the use of coming together at all?
But we have to spread the word and blogging is part of that process. As you know, I blog and posting the sermons that I give is part of that process. I think that blogging is an important part of evangelical outreach. It doesn’t reach everyone, especially those without computers but it does reach or can reach many people.
Sometimes I get comments; most of the time I don’t. Comments are an important part of blogging because they give you a sense of what the blogging community is thinking. And I wonder why I don’t get a whole of lot of comments. Perhaps it is because I don’t blog the “right” way.
In her blog for August 21, 2010, Reverend Sonja Tobey posted a piece, “Thanks for Noticing”, in which she thanked Katie Z. Dawson for including her in a list of blogs in the article “Blogging for Pastors” in the current issue of the Circuit Rider. I was naturally disappointed that I wasn’t included in the list but since I am not a pastor I would probably have been excluded from consideration anyway.
Dawson did provide some pointers for those who are thinking about becoming bloggers. It is a good list to think about but it does have one point that I question. There seems to be an unwritten rule that says blogs have to be short and readable (somewhere between 500 and 750 words). It should be noted that I passed that limit a long time ago. J
This isn’t the first time that I have heard that a blog has to be short so that people will read it. Now I hope that my messages are understandable and readable; I know that they are not short by any stretch of the imagination. But I am not going to stop writing when I hit an arbitrary limit in words if I haven’t finished my thoughts. One of the problems today is that we want everything, including the sermon, to be short and not require too much thinking on our part; we want our religion like our news, in sound bites that we can quickly digest. So, if it came down to winning a popularity contest for bloggers or having a serious and lengthy discussion about the nature of the world, I will opt for the serious and lengthy discussion.
That’s because we need to have serious and lengthy discussions, especially when it comes to the meaning of religion in this country. The issue about the mosque in New York City jumps to mind. All I know is that what discussion has taken place has taken place with a shocking lack of knowledge about its location, Islam, and even about our own country’s history of religious tolerance and intolerance.
Let me remind everyone that to publically admit to being a Methodist, a follower of John Wesley, in the days before and after the American Revolution was to risk ostracism, rejection, and expulsion. We were viewed with suspicion because of our pacifist views (our refusal to fight in the Revolution was taken as a sign by many that we supported the King; some did but many did not. Pacifism is not necessarily a political idea.) We could not build churches or meet in established churches. It is almost as if we have forgotten what it meant to be a Christian in the early days of the church when we had to meet secretly or underground? Is it Christian to impose on others the same punishments that were once imposed on us?
Perhaps my concern is that I wish that the church today, or perhaps I should say that the people in the churches today, would step back and ask themselves where they are in the picture painted in the Gospel reading for today. Are they among those vying for the favored position at the table or are they sitting at the last place? Do they open their doors to all the people in the community or do they shut them at the first hint that there might be something different about them? Is it a church where square pegs fit into square holes and round pegs in round holes? Or is it a church that throws away such distinctions and says welcome to all and come inside and hear the word that brings peace and hope?
Is it a church that has forgotten from which it came and the God that brought them out of slavery and bondage? The words that Jeremiah spoke may have first been directed to the Israelites but they are words that we need to hear as well. Can we say that we have not destroyed the environment, polluted the land, the air, and the water? Can we say that we have not pushed aside God in favor of other, lesser gods simply because they are easier to pursue?
Look around and ask if the vessels that we use to hold water aren’t leaking? If there ever was a reason that I appreciate the translation of the Scriptures in The Message, it is today. God is asking us today why it is that we allow Sir Windbag and Lady Windbag, if you will, to preach their messages of hatred and ignorance. Free speech is one thing but to listen and give credence to such words is a matter of intelligence and choice. To accept their words as intelligent or truthful is neither. To say that they are the words of Christians is to deny the meaning of the Gospel in what I think is its truest sense.
The words in Hebrews speak of actions taken not for the self but for others. It is about how we relate to others; it is not about us. The words of the windbags are selfish words, words that hide greed, hatred, and ignorance; words hardly indicative of a Christian.
Jesus was crucified because He would not fit into the mold that society wanted Him to fit. It always struck me that Jesus was an outsider and when the establishment crucified Him, they took him outside the walls of the city. While we may desire to be an “insider” and sit at the honored place for the banquet, our place is with Jesus, on the outside and with those who have been excluded.
I do not ask that you be something you are not; what I ask today is that you consider if what you are is what you should be. What I ask is that you not think about where you fit in society but where Jesus fits in you. It is not a question fitting a square peg into a round hole but rather placing your life in Jesus’ hands and doing the work that He asks you to do. And then, it doesn’t matter whether you are hip or cool, whether you work on-line or not but rather what is it that you do to help others to find Christ in their lives. It’s hard being a square peg that others try to fit into round holes so it is a lot easier to let Christ fit into your life and go that route.
The sermon ended with “Jesus Walked This Lonesome Valley” (The Faith We Sing 2112)