Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Being Religious

Several years ago, a Mega Church pastor had been accused of being hateful toward certain people. So, in an interview, trying to be clever, he said: “I don’t hate anybody but religious people.” I thought immediately: “Does he not think he’s religious?” I listened as he explained that he hated church-goers or people who are religious. I know what he meant. He meant that he hated anyone who wasn’t in his movement and therefore, right and not religious. OK. I get the modern-day attempt by some to play on the cultural idea that all religion is bad. Now, we live in the Bible belt where religion is a lot more popular than in other parts of the country or world. Sure, but there is still this underlying notion that religious people are hypocrites. That’s troubling to a pastor and it should be troubling to church people, Christians. Admittedly, there are some things about religious people that bother me too. Someone once said to me that if you’re going to lose your mind, it’s come to be about money or religion. Well, that is hard to dispute. There are a lot of people who are religious who are off their rockers- though I would argue that there are just as many non-religious people who are off their rockers. And, there is something ugly about religious people who claim to be followers of Jesus who are just a mean and hateful and racist and bigoted as the rest of the world. Certainly, we do expect that following Jesus ought to make some difference in people’s lives, particularly when it comes to how they treat other people. Wouldn’t it be great if we could be followers of Jesus and lose our tendency to sin? No, we’re sinners; I don’t care who baptized us. But, we should be able to expect some progress in faith, shouldn’t we? I mean, a person who hates others should be able to see that over time, in the presence of Jesus and worship and service, that he/she goes from hating to loving others. If not, something is wrong, of course. And, it’s deeply troubling. I would go nuts if I found out that one of my church members/Christians was in the KKK. When I was pastor in Clemson, someone was interviewed in the paper from the KKK and claimed that they had a KKK church. I wrote in our newsletter then that that was impossible. It’s a KKK group, a clan, but never, under any circumstances, a church. That word is reserved for the people of God who are living toward the Kingdom of God, where all are welcomed, where all come from one blood, where all are precious. I would claim that that Mega Church pastor was indeed religious, as religious as I am religious. Religion is about the “ordering” of life in Christ/God. It is an establishing of priorities and the naming of the things that are important. It is claiming and being claimed by God in Christ for the Kingdom of God, and then doing all in the power of the Holy Spirit to live out that faith in love in the world. No one is perfect. And, if we were, you wouldn’t want to be around us. A hypocrite is someone who pretends to goodness, pretends to faith, pretends to love. We should all hate that, even in ourselves. Jesus calls us to lay aside our pretending and to be real before God. We are sinners, that’s for sure. And, somehow, in God’s grace, we are moved from hate to love for all. Jesus said: “Do no practice your religion in front of people to draw attention to yourself…” No, do what you do religiously, regularly, to call attention to Christ and his love. Blessings! Dave Nichols

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