Keeping Jesus Out of the Church
On this coming Sunday’s bulletin cover, you will see a cartoon of a group of people inside a church building, Jesus outside the building at the church door, and the people inside holding the door shut. The caption reads, “Don’t let him in!” One way to look at the New Testament is that all of the Gospels, Letters, and other books were addressed to people who weren’t so sure that they really wanted to let Jesus into their lives. They had grown tired of him, and really wanted him to be somebody else.
What do I mean? Let’s face it: Following someone who had very little success convincing anybody of his way, and in the end went down to a humiliating defeat, isn’t exactly what we want to follow, is it? No, especially when he says, this should be our way too. When Jesus says, “If anybody wants to be my follower, they need to take up their cross and follow me,” we say: Don’t let him in! We want a leader who is a winner, not a loser. Give us Patton, not Jesus.
We don’t want this loser, and too be honest we also don’t want some of the other ways he shows up. Like when he shows up as a stranger: “I was a stranger and you did not welcome me (Mt. 25:43a).” Our country has a long tradition of welcoming immigrants. For several years now, our country has been talking about immigration reform. More recently, more and more people have called for tighter restrictions on immigration. In one poll taken at the end of last year, a majority of Americans opposed admitting Syrian refugees. In doing so, according to Jesus, we refused to welcome him.
We don’t want Jesus the loser. We don’t want Jesus the stranger—at least if he is a Syrian stranger. And this is just the beginning. As I read the Gospels, I find myself not wanting the Jesus who says “Love your enemies…forgive 70 times 7…turn the other cheek…and the list goes on.
What the New Testament writers tried to do was convince their audiences that this Jesus really is the one—so let him in to your churches! I know you are tired and frustrated, but this guy really is “the way, the truth, and the life”—so let him in! In spite of your resistance, he is the one who reveals who God really is—so let him in! This is exactly what we try to do when we gather around the Lord’s table every Sunday. As the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, we try to remember that “He is the reflection of God’s glory, and the exact imprint of God’s being (1.3a).” When we receive his body and blood, in spite of our resistance we try to let him in. When we let him in, we will find new energy to follow him.