It was my honor to officiate at a funeral this past week for a very special member of the Hesperia Presbyterian church. A member for 71 years; she was the organist for 55 years. I was able to return to the church where I had ministered decades ago because they are presently without a pastor. They are filling the pulpit weekly with guest speakers. Like many Presbyterian churches (including our own) they have struggled with societal attitudes where large majorities fall either within very conservative religious positions or reject the church all together. In my opinion an educated individual does neither. Nevertheless, there was standing room only to honor this very special lady.
My last conversation with her was in the hospital several weeks ago. She had been losing her hearing so everyone in the hall and adjoining rooms could hear her comments. I could not help but smile as she talked about the state of the church. “I don’t know why people worry about whether a person is Gay or not...” She stated loudly. “I’ve known some of those who have left in a huff for years and believe me; they are in no position to judge!” I really loved her willingness to tell it like it is! Not everyone speaks so plainly today. Sometimes you have to interpret just what a message is really saying…
Saturday was gorgeous in West Michigan and I (and apparently the rest of the city) decided to pick up some things at a local hardware chain store. As I drove into the parking lot I was behind a canary yellow truck. I know the color was canary yellow because I had a leisure suit that same color in the mid 70’s. The truck had flames painted across its doors and a message painted on the tailgate, “Escaped from Hell!” It took a lot of self control (and some common sense) for me not to follow the driver to their parking spot and shake their hand vigorously while congratulating them for their escape! I also thought about asking them about a few individuals I have known who they may have encountered while there…
Not many days after the funeral service I received a message from a person who had attended, asking if I could clarify a topic she would be speaking on shortly in the children’s message. She had found some rather complex resources explaining the Presbyterian Order of Worship and my suggestion was to throw most of it out. I told her to emphasize the “function” of the service rather than the “form.” For example, rather than describing the “Prayer of Illumination” simply say, “asking God to help us understand the bible passage better.”
Have you ever worshipped in a church where they offer, “The passing of the peace?” There is a formula that goes something like this… The first person says, “Peace be with you.” And the proper response is… “And also with you.” The next time you are in the exchange simply say, “Thanks!” A person whose focus is on function might smile while a person whose focus is on form freaks out! Sometimes they will stand there shaking like Sheldon from the “Big Bang Theory” who didn’t get to knock on Penny’s door three times.
I believe that the religious leaders in our passage were more concerned about form than function as they confronted Jesus. They asked him to tell them plainly if he was the Messiah. He replied, “I have told you. You didn’t believe me. I have shown you. But you don’t believe the things that I have done.” They were looking for someone other than a rebel from a small town who pointed out their hypocrisy to be the Messiah. Because he did not fit their definition or “form” no amount of healing or teaching or raising people from the dead would ever convince them otherwise. Eventually they would murder the Son of God because he didn’t fit into their definition of what they thought he should be.
How many of us in the church today are caught in this same trap of form versus function? We are inclined to see the “way” a thing is done rather than the “why.” This is how church bullies get away with their behavior. They do and say everything strictly by the rules but their hearts are cold and often vicious. Or as Christ stated; they point out the speck in another’s eye while they ignore the log in their own.