Some years ago I was able to accompany my wife to Vienna for a business trip. It was the first time to Europe for both of us, and even though she had to work, we made the most of it. We stayed in a really nice place in the north part of the city – not too fancy, but big enough to spend a couple of days comfortably. We saw some of the city our first day there, and tired out from travel, we went to bed early. We had heard the church bells all over town – there are lots of big, old churches all over Europe – but it wasn’t until we tried to sleep that we realized just how loud they were. And how often they rang. Our hotel was just across the street from an impressive Catholic Church (which we went to on Sunday morning – my understanding of German is limited, but we still got something out of it). We tried to keep our windows open because it was unusually warm, but the bells were so loud we had to keep them shut. Also, there was no air conditioning. Also, the bells rang every 15 minutes from 6 am to midnight.
As I lay there in our overheated room trying to cover my ears with my pillow, I said to Chris, “It’s no wonder the church in Europe is dying – this is so rude! I would hate the church if I lived here!”
My guess is that before people had watches, the church kept time for them. It woke them up and said goodnight. It made me think about the church in general – what do we do that annoys people? Do we co-exist in peace, or do we behave in ways that are rude? Our church in Reading has a carillon (bell tower) that plays beautiful songs all year long, but at fewer intervals and at a much lower volume. I’ve asked some of the neighbors if it bothered them, and, so far, the answer has been no. What do we, as the body of Christ, do to irritate people who don’t want to hear our message? I believe in evangelism, and I think we Mainline Protestants are mostly terrible at it, but having seen how it is often done, I can understand our hesitation. The people who stand on street corners, shouting at people passing by, are rude. They tell people they will go to hell if they don’t repent – rude. Evangelism is about sharing what God is doing in your life. It’s not supposed to be about how others can be better (i.e. just like you) than they are if they just believe the way you do. Jesus offered God’s love to those He met, but He didn’t cuss people out if they walked away. That isn’t how this works.
For my part, I try to live the best I can to model my faith, and when someone asks me what I believe, I tell them. I wear my clerical collar to community gatherings because it is an important symbol of what I represent, but I don’t use my faith to dictate how others should live. Too many CINO’s use Jesus as a war club instead of an olive branch. They limit rights – they use their definition of faith to measure political candidates – they distort Scripture to control the secular agenda. In all of these ways, they are creating an atmosphere of distrust of the church that may never be healed. My personal thought is that the rise of the “spiritual but not religious” movement comes directly out of the church’s lack of love and consideration and decency. We are the problem. We could also be the solution.
We must stand up for Jesus: we must promote moral issues like care for the poor, education, healing of the environment, a lessening of war, and life-affirming health care (just to name a few). These are not political issues, they are moral issues – they are Jesus’s justice. If a political candidate wants to make these things better, it matters not what his or her religion is or isn’t. And if the person proclaims their devotion to Jesus, but works against these moral issues, then that person should be called on it. Christians are supposed to do what is right and good for everyone, not just their own group. That’s what Jesus did. We should too.
Prayer – Once again, Holy God, we offer our own needs to You. Help us to heal the world, heal our communities, and care for people in need. Amen.
Today’s picture is the sunset from Selbyville, Delaware.