Gospel Thoughts 19 June 2011, Trinity Sunday

June 15, 2011 at 17:37 Leave a comment

In today’s Gospel Story (John 3:16-18) Jesus says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life”. I have many questions in my mind, but no solutions, other than the sense that things cannot continue to go on as they are. I am convinced that the Holy Spirit is moving powerfully among the people of this time in history, and we probably ought to be ready to be surprised, because the Spirit is in no way predictable. Jesus reached out to all the people he encountered, especially those who were what we might call today, the outcast, “disordered”, irregular. He annoyed religious leadership in his day, and they saw him as a threat to their program. There might be a parallel with what is going on in our own time. The Spirit seems to be moving many among us today to do the same with a prayerful sense of being guided by the Spirit. Who is to say they are not?

These days the perception seems to be that it is more important to believe the right things about Jesus than to believe in Jesus. There are any number of groups and organizations eager to impose their particulars on everybody else. These groups, some very large and some not so large, some “official” and some not, claim to themselves the exclusive means of believing in Jesus. In varying degrees they are right, all others are wrong

Some organizations go so far as to tell their members how to think, what to believe, how to live, what to talk about and what not to talk about. Some throw out members who dare to deviate from standards established by the particular group. It seems that the style of leadership employed is based on fear and secrecy. This style has given rise to what is euphemistically referred to as the “temple police”, self-appointed enforcers who look zealously for any who deviate even slightly from an organization’s established norms and then report these to the organization’s higher authority. Some groups have an official policy of segregation based on gender, lifestyle, or marital status, going so far as to declare that some orientations are “intrinsically disordered”. There is the perception that the leadership in some groups is more concerned with protecting their own power and perks than in anything else, in maintaining a class structure that ensures exclusivity rather than encouraging empowerment of its members. There is the perception that leadership in some groups has no respect for the people they would lead. The perception is that there is no room for dialogue, only for threats and attempts at intimidation. It would seem that the members exist to serve the leadership, even though Jesus said, “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave”. Who is serving whom here? A further perception is that there is a major disconnect between the leadership and the lived daily experience of the led. Along with this there seems to be a diminishing respect for the leadership in general and many leaders in particular. They are seen as increasingly irrelevant. It would appear that something needs to be done, and that the Holy Spirit is very involved these days. There are many good people who have a lot to offer, and in many cases they are being ignored. Where is this in the Gospel?

The Story goes on to say that, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him”. There is the perception that some of the religious organizations are doing the condemning that Jesus would not do, condemning anyone who does not adhere strictly to the group’s teachings, or who has the temerity to talk about things forbidden by the group. Anyone who in any way deviates from the party line can expect to face disciplinary action. In some groups there is the practice of keeping the ministers in control by threatening to withdraw their ability to work within the organization and thereby also withdraw their means of sustenance – which itself would seem to be a violation of the minister’s civil rights. The ministers seem to have a status not unlike indentured servants.

As good people, who are well beyond the pray pay obey stage, begin to question an organization’s practices and/or beliefs, they are not so politely ignored by some leaders or they are even threatened with various sanctions. Questioning of authority, it seems in many cases, is not permitted. Some of these groups have serious problems which are not going to go away. If Jesus came among us to save us, perhaps these groups might be in the way. In many places good people have quietly walked away. They choose no longer to be threatened. Many of them are forming their own communities to celebrate the Spirit among them in the belief that as they gather together Jesus is among them and they are truly celebrating Eucharist, and who is to say they are not? Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them”. He did not say anything about first getting the approval of a group or the permission of its leader. Many of these groups find themselves, as a consequence of their worshipping together, drawn to service of others in any number of settings. They are coming to see this service as a vital component of their praying together. Who is to say they are not right?

As disturbing as these perceptions are, they are shared by many folks, and perceptions become reality. There is a need for honest and open dialogue at all levels within and among religious organizations. Dialogue involves listening in respectful silence while the other is talking, not using the time to prepare one’s own comments. If a religious organization really believes it is of Christ, then Christ and the Gospel have to be the basis of everything the organization does. The perception is that this is not the case many places these days.

It has been said that “The Gospel is proposed, not imposed”. For some organizations this might be a stated value, but it is not an operational value.


Entry filed under: Gospel thoughts.

Gospel Thoughts 29 May 2011, Commandments Gospel Thoughts #2 19 June 2011

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