“Circling The Drain”

A close friend in North Carolina used to talk about those who were coming to the close of their earthly lives as “circling the drain.” The comment was not meant to be pejorative, demeaning, or dismissive. In fact, I never heard him use the phrase in reference to anyone for whom he didn’t have deep love and respect. It was a phrase that was meant to capture the inevitability of one’s passing while still describing some level of life, passion, and engagement.

At the risk of sounding irreverent, Jesus is “circling the drain.” Events that had been known since the beginning of time would soon be coming to fruition. The end – Christ’s decisive victory over sin and death – will soon be set into motion. Cities will be entered. Final teachings will be given. Betrayal – arrests – brutal beatings – and an even more horrific death are imminent.

The pattern is known and set. Nothing about the story will change. It is not as though suddenly the crowd will choose Jesus instead of Barabbas. I wonder if the story – in all of its familiarity – has lost some of its ability to fill us with awe and wonder? I wonder – since we know that Friday is not the final word – if we will be able to go through the hours of Good Friday with little apprehension, with little dread, with an overly familiar and comfortable awareness of Christ’s time on the Cross? I wonder, if we will wonder at all.

There is an inevitability about circling the drain. But that doesn’t mean – in the midst of that inevitability – that life cannot be filled with wonder, majesty, glory, amazement, horror, and overwhelming thankfulness. How will your Holy Week be different this year? What new services or experiences will you enter into to make Holy Week different and wondrously new?

Rationalizations and Faithfulness

Friends, I am increasingly convinced that the opposite of love is not hate. No, the opposite of love is apathy. We just don’t care. Or at least we don’t care enough to actually do anything about it. We don’t actually care enough to sacrifice anything for it. We just don’t care enough to weep over the things that break God’s heart.

I know all of the rationalizations. I have used most of them myself. It’s their problem. They made their bed, now they have to sleep in it. They didn’t do this, they didn’t do that. They were lazy, they were drug addled, they were self-abusive, they were all of those things. I have used all of these rationalizations in the past. And to these rationalizations, to me, and to others who just don’t care – who are not going to generate any compassion over those who are struggling in the midst of problems, self-generated or not – Matthew writes a devastating set of texts.

First, in Matthew 9, when the heart of Jesus aches over the sinful and broken of His day, Jesus laments, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”  In their day, as in our own, the number of people who wept as Jesus wept were few and far between. In their day, as in our own, rationalizations carried the day. So the Laborers were, and continue to be, few.

Matthew 25 gives to us a painful consequence for those whose rationalizations for inaction are more persuasive than the example and command of Jesus. Notice in the long text that I read, Jesus didn’t ask about culpability. Jesus didn’t ask about bad choices. Jesus didn’t ask about laziness, a lack of ambition, or a willingness to take responsibility for one’s condition in life. Jesus didn’t even ask about the spiritual commitment of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or the imprisoned. Jesus asks only one thing. Did you give them what they needed?

Jesus doesn’t ask about any kind of screening, any kind of litmus test that we might employ before we would feed, house, hunger, or visit. Jesus simply – but shockingly says – “as you did this to the least of these, you have done this to me.”

I’m just saying

We need to understand the new culture in which we are placed. Notice I said understand. Not be intimidated. Not feel as though we have to give in to get along. Not wave a white flag in cultural submission and just hope that we would be thrown a few institutional crumbs to maintain our existence.

We need to understand post-modernism with its embrace of mystery and its cafeteria style spirituality. We need to understand that there are multiple generations since the baby boomers who are deeply disillusioned with the church and doubt its ability to be about any significant cultural change. We need to understand that there is a spiritual relativism and pluralism that no longer grants to the once dominant Christian church any home field advantage.

We need to understand and have confidence that Jesus is, in fact, the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. The same Jesus that conquered sin and transcended death is the same Jesus that can bring transformative life to the hungry and searching today. The same Jesus that transformed the disciples, turning them from a frightened and hiding mob into a force that swept out of Jerusalem and transformed their world stands ready to empower disciples today if we will open ourselves up to that kind of power.

Where is Christ’s transformative power needed today? Transformation suggests a need to move from something TO something. What do we need to let go of? What do we need to embrace?

It is a matter of…

From Sunday’s sermon: “It is not a matter of bigger choirs, more comfortable pews or chairs, better stain glass, or recapturing the great preaching of the past. It is not a matter of doing church better, bigger, or in a flashier fashion. It is not a question of championing robes or no robes, hymns or praise music, paper or technology.

It is a matter of embracing humility and a servant’s lifestyle instead of cultural prerogatives and status. It is a matter of leaving judgment up to God and embracing a compelling love and service to all. It is a matter of being willing to listen to those that we want to reach and then daring to rethink the ways we minister so that we can authentically, relationally, and intentionally share the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

What is it about “bigger, better, and flashier” that seems so important to us? How does cultural status and position in the community become a goal instead of only vehicles to greater desired ends – witness and service? How does the church move from defender of the status quo to full participant in the Holy Spirit’s transformative new work? What are YOU looking for from the church? What does the church need to hear?