I have been guilty at times of misleading the congregations to which I have spoken. Truth be told, every man or woman who has ever preached a sermon or led a church has been guilty of the same.
None of us are perfect, not even “the clergy;” maybe, especially the clergy. We all have blind spots and myopic presuppositions, so “rightly dividing the word of truth,” as the old Apostle put it, is not as easy as it appears.
My mistake, one of many, is that I told the people listening to me to “take Jesus out to the world.” This isn’t completely inaccurate. In a real sense, when followers of Jesus enter their communities they do so as conduits and instruments of the risen Christ.
But this does not mean that Christians “own” God or that he is not already at work out in the world. To think that God or Jesus is the exclusive property of our particular church or that he is held tightly by our often mistaken interpretations isn’t good doctrine; it’s arrogance.
Bono, that musician-poet-theologian-activist said, “Stop asking God to bless what you’re doing. Get involved in what God is doing – because it is already blessed.” See, God is already “out there, somewhere.” We don’t show up with him like a pizza delivery man. We can only point others to where he is. And usually, he is in the poor, downtrodden, the weak and the broken.
Will Campbell, that old Mississippi Baptist preacher, preached a sermon once critiquing the “invitation” as it is given in most revivalistic churches. He said, “Those of us who are acquainted with such invitations know that at the end of a sermon, the preacher invites people who want to commit their lives to Christ to come down the aisle to indicate that desire.
“I hope that someday there will be an evangelistic service in which, when the preacher gives the invitation and people start coming down the aisle, he yells back at them, ‘Don’t come down this aisle! Go to Jesus! Don’t come to me! Go to Jesus!’
“Upon that declaration, the people who were coming down the aisle turn around and exit the auditorium and get in their cars and drive away. He then yells at the rest of the congregation, ‘Why are you hanging around here? Why don’t you go to Jesus too? Why don’t you all go to Jesus?’ The people rise en masse and quickly leave the church, and soon the parking lot is empty.
“What I imagine is that about a half hour later the telephone at the police station starts ringing off the hook, and the voice at the other end says, ‘We’re down here at the old-folks home and there’s some crazy people at the door yelling that they want to come in and visit Jesus, and I keep telling them Jesus isn’t in here! All we have in here is a bunch of old ladies.’ But they keep saying, ‘But we want to visit Jesus! We want to visit Jesus!’
“The next call is from the warden down at the prison. He’s saying, ‘Send some cops down here! There’s a bunch of nuts at the gate and they’re yelling and screaming, “Let us in there! We want to visit Jesus! We want to visit Jesus!” I keep telling them that all we have in this place are murderers, rapists and thieves. But they keep yelling, ‘Let us in! We want to visit Jesus!’
“No sooner does the cop hang up the phone than it rings again. This time it’s the superintendent of the mental hospital calling for help. He’s complaining that there are a bunch of weird people outside begging to be let in. They too want to see Jesus! The superintendent says, ‘I keep telling them that Jesus isn’t here. All we have here are a bunch of patients, but they keep yelling at us ‘we want to see Jesus!’”
God, through his son Jesus, is already out there. Let’s join him in the work he is already doing.