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Religion is to blame for its own defeats


In the gospel assigned to be read this Sunday in church, we hear the story of a group of people who approach the disciple Philip and say, "We would like to see Jesus."

"We would like to see Jesus."

I think this ties directly into the "negativity fast" theme we've been advocating this Lent.

Because I think the author Dan Kimbal is right when he says, in the title of his book, They Like Jesus, but Not the Church.

People now days -- you and I, and society in general -- like Jesus and are hungrier than ever for Jesus: his compassionate attitude, his expansive nature, his Joy.

And at the same time, they -- we -- are as fed up as ever with "the church" in the negative sense of the word: its judgmental attitude, its inflexible doctrinaire nature, its dour humorlessness.

See what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes about religion:

"It is customary to blame secular science and anti-religious philosophy for the eclipse of religion in modern society. It would be more honest to blame religion for its own defeats.

"Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.

"When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion -- its message becomes meaningless."

Wow.

What's fascinating about Rabbi Heschel's quote is how it ties directly to our negativity fast.

"We would like to see Jesus," that group of people said to Jesus' first followers.

"We would like to see Jesus," they say to us today.

So -- as I hope to explore further in Sunday's sermon -- I wonder:

What would a church -- and those of us who are individual members of it -- look like if, we

  • fasted from creed, and feasted on faith?
  • fasted from discipline, and feasted on worship?
  • fasted from habit, and feasted on love?
  • fasted from the splendor of the past and feasted on addressing the crises of today?
  • fasted from "heirloom faith" and drank deeply from "living fountain" faith? and
  • fasted from authority and feasted on compassion?
Wouldn't it -- wouldn't we -- look a little more like Jesus?

And isn't that what -- who -- people want to see?

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