Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Trying to keep the main thing the main thing amidst those who would rather continue to major in minor issues - Matthew 23:23 with a story and an observation

SCRIPTURE: Matthew 23:23
Jesus said, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.

A real head-turning, mind-boggling, spirit-disturbing twist on this scripture is from The Message: "You're hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God's Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment - the absolute basics! - you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required.

When Irving S. Olds was chairman of the U.S. Steel Corporation, he arrived for a stockholders' meeting and was confronted by a woman who asked, "Exactly who are you and what do you do?" Without batting an eye, Olds replied, "I am your chairman. Of course, you know the duties of a chairman--that's someone who is roughly the equivalent of parsley on a platter of fish."

Never caught the named of the first church to come up with the catchy purpose statement: “The Main Thing is to keep the Main Thing the Main Thing!” As the news spread concerning this clever purpose statement multiple churches adopted it as their purpose … and rightly so.

As an old preacher who has rode many “horses” over the years I’ve discovered how easy it is to sell the sole of the church for whatever or whoever makes the most noise, talks the loudest, speaks the longest, throws the biggest hissy fit, gives the most while threatening to take their money elsewhere, rattles the most cages and simply acts most like a spoiled child that is use to getting their own way … and all the while, quoting the Bible and/or tradition, as well as experience and background as a means to justify their position … but failing always to “keep the main thing the main thing.”

Pharisees and teachers of the law did it during Jesus’ life and the church leaders ever since have found it easier to major in the minor things of being the church instead of the hard work of actually being the Church which was designed by God, a Church for which Jesus gave his life to bring together. We can here the cries of “sacrilegious” when all it is simply the “parsley on a fish platter.”

Congregations have split over the length of fringe on the altar paraments, the time worship begins, where the pastor stood to preach, if the pastor used the pulpit or not, how the ushers took up the offering, who could and couldn’t use the fellowship hall, which Sunday school class used which rooms, where the altar is placed, if the preacher wore a robe or not, the types of hymns used, how the ushers and acolytes were dressed, the way holy communion was served, the color the sanctuary was painted, adding air conditioning to the historical old sanctuary, because there was a pledge campaign in the fall … and so the list goes on. This partial list, from my files, is an actual list of some of the reasons particular churches have split into two or three separate congregations or voted to “go out of business” … and, you probably could add your own unbelievable stories to this ever-growing list.

Our energy and creativity is misplaced. Our loyalty is squarely placed on man-created and generated things … and while several of these “things” may have had a spiritual influence, maybe even a deep spiritual influence in our lives in the past, we have to remember that they are only man-created and generated things. God is every moving forward. Things changed. I’ve been told it took about 150 years for the church to accept the organ as a worthy instrument to be used during worship. Now hear the cries over the use of guitars, drums, video feeds, power point presentations, inclusive language, more modern biblical translations and/or paraphrases, etc.

All of this discussion begs the deeper question: Does it have anything to do with justice, mercy and faithfulness? Is it a Kingdom issue? There was an old New Testament professor who, whenever confronted with an issue that really wasn’t a Kingdom issue, always responded with: “Well, I agree with St. Paul on that” and left it at there. Most people would walk away satisfied, but those of us who had studied the letters of Paul knew in our hearts that St. Paul never addressed the issue in question … which was precisely the point.

Oh, how we have neglected the important matters to argue about the “fly” on the wall! Here’s hoping that we all could move away from simply “keeping the books” to the more important basics of being God’s people!

Help us, Gracious Lord, to keep the main thing the main thing!

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