I heard about a pastor who would, at the conclusion of the Easter Sunday service, say, “I’d like to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to all of you that I won’t see again until then.”
On the one hand, I think that’s tacky and I would never dream of saying something like that.
On the other hand...well, let’s just say I’m not immune to temptation.
Simply put, I cannot for the life of me understand folks who are church members and professing Christians who hardly ever, as people used to say, “Darken the doors of the church.”
Now, I’m not being judgmental; it is way beyond my abilities and way above my pay grade to be able to determine the status of someone’s relationship with the Lord. Besides, there’s no guarantee that someone who is there, as people also used to say, “every time the doors of the church are opened,” has an ounce of real Christianity in her or him. There’s also no guarantee that someone who never darkens said doors isn’t filled to the brim with it.
Think of the legalist, for example, who thinks that because she “forsakes not the assembling of yourselves together” she has somehow fulfilled a major requirement of what she takes to be the Christian law. Somehow and some way she has concluded that going to church checks off some great big box on God’s scorecard and so she feels smug and secure in the knowledge that she’s one of the good people.
I got to thinking about that kind of person at tonight’s Maundy Thursday service, when, as I was delivering the Communion meditation after reading John’s narrative about Jesus’ last night on earth, a narrative that does not include the institution of the Lord’s Supper but does include our only account (thank you, John) of Jesus’ washing the disciples’ feet, I started feeling a little embarrassed that we weren’t washing any feet at our Maundy Thursday service. I had planned to say—and I did say, because I don’t think I’m wrong about this—that Jesus’ example was an example of sacrificial self-emptying service and that it is more important that we serve each other in daily ways that make a difference than that we wash each other’s feet, not that there’s anything wrong with actually and literally washing each other’s feet, too.
But then I heard myself saying, “Besides, you know how we are…if we did wash each other’s feet we’d be prone to conclude that, having made that great sacrifice, we had kept that rule and checked off that requirement and we wouldn’t serve each other in real life like Jesus showed us and calls us to do.”
Anyway, some church folks are that way about attending church, I’m afraid; they come to the service and may even sing the songs and may even give some money and so they check off those boxes…but they don’t do much loving God and loving people in their daily lives.
My ruminations on this subject got me to thinking about the ways I think about people.
I have realized that the bottom line is this: I’m harder on folks who do come to church than I am on those who don’t—and I may be harder on those who come a lot than I am on those who come a little. By “harder” I mean that I have higher expectations for those who participate more regularly than I do for those who participate sporadically—and certainly than I have for those who participate not at all.
While I’m at it I should note that I’m harder on me than I am on anybody else; after all, I’m the pastor/preacher/minister/parson/priest/prophet/theologian/PRP (professional religious person) and so, to paraphrase Paul, if you think you have reason to boast, I have more—I mean, I am there ALL the time, even on weekdays and sometimes on an old-time Dr. Pepper schedule, by which I mean 10:00, 2:00 and 4:00 (ask your grandparents) and so it stands to reason that I would expect me to be more righteous, loving, gracious, forgiving, gentle, and kind than anyone else.
Besides, that’s what everyone else expects of me.
They and I need to remember, when they and I get to thinking that I’m some kind of spiritual Superman, that the truth is, to quote those modern theologians Five for Fighting, “I’m only a man in a funny red sheet” or, in my case, in a funny dark suit and a really nice tie. Anyway, I’m not meant to fly with clouds between my knees.
Of course, I can’t expect other people to be more than they can be, either.
But I don’t. Really, I don’t.
I do, though, expect—or at least very much want to expect—that we who are professed followers of the Lord Jesus Christ will take full advantage of every opportunity that we can through corporate worship, group and individual Bible study, regular times of prayer, and acts of service to grow in our relationship with the crucified and resurrected Lord who we maintain, after all, has made all the difference for us in this life and the next.
Moreover, I very much want to expect that in taking advantage of those opportunities we will grow in ways that go to the heart of who we are so that our integrity and genuineness will always be increasing.
When you get right down to it, my attitude is not about expectations—it’s about hopes and dreams, specifically, my hopes and dreams that Christian people will grow in their faith so they can live the full lives of love, grace, and service that God intends and desires for them.
And I’ll never give up—not on any of us—even though we all, even those of us who may have come a long way, still have a long way to go.