Monday, April 06, 2009

Quitting church

Having avoided church for most of Lent, I returned yesterday for the Palm Sunday service.

The young people were involved in many aspects of the service. This is almost the only good thing to say about it.

The theme was contrasting Jesus' entry to Pilate's (with him portrayed as a mafia godfather) and then thinking about how we might see these as analogues in our own times.

Now, I have some problems with this and had to leave the building whilst I tried to wrestle with what they were.

First, I don't see any mention of Pilate behaving in this way. I might be missing something, but a service which is meant to be 'about the story' might do better to actually 'be about the story' rather than making up a load of other crap which you'd rather talk about. Please tell me if I have missed something about Pilate in the story which might relate to this service.

Second, and perhaps far more importantly, it totally misses the point of the story. To be fair, I discovered later that the version in John is quite different to that in the other gospels, but this was the version used in the service. In John the sequence is this: Lazarus is raised, Jesus enters Jerusalem on a donkey, the people go mad, a couple of people want to meet him, Jesus says some weird stuff and then tells the crowd he is going to die. The crowd get a bit annoyed saying that the messiah isn't allowed to leave and Jesus goes into hiding.

In the other gospels there is an exaggerated discussion of finding the donkey, Jesus does more teaching, turns over tables in the synagogue (which is much earlier in John) and that kind of thing.

Indeed, looking closer at the passage in more detail - I think all the gospels agree on this order: Mary (or someone else) pours expensive perfume over Jesus' feet. Judas thinks this is a waste of money but Jesus rebukes him. Jesus stands in the temple complaining about the way the authorities treat widows and then sees someone in poverty putting all that is left from her life savings into the pot. Jesus then talks about the unimportance of religious buildings. Then Jesus rides into the city on a donkey and the crowd goes celebrity-mad but soon after turn against him.

To me, this is about worship. The only thing that is praised is the waste of expensive perfume. The widow's mite is used as an example of abuse in the temple. Jesus has no truck with the crowd and punctures their overblown celebrations. Something there is saying that worship is precious, expensive, costly. Something is saying that it should not be used to pressurise the weak into doing stupid stuff. Something is saying that the flag-waving misunderstands the nature of the messiah.

So to then use this passage as an opportunity for flag-waving (literally) and suggesting that we should be on the crowd's side rather than Pilates is a step too far. Furthermore it is indicative of the 'me-worship' form of church whereby a bunch of people with comparatively few problems make out that Jesus is just out to make them feel better. No, actually.



Blogger Karin said...


I find so much of what happens in church is irrelevant to life outside church. I haven't been for quite a few weeks. It may be that the last time I went was just before Lent. I haven't decided to never go again, but I don't find I gain anything from going to church and I doubt if anyone really gains anything from me going as opposed to anyone else boosting the numbers. There are a few people I'd like to see occasionally, though.

It's funny, church was so important to me for so long, but now it seems pointless and there is so much else that needs doing or that I would prefer to do. I think I can worship God as well in the garden, or going for a walk, as I can in church, if not better. I think it's about the way we live and I don't know that church has to be a part of God's Way.

12:35 PM  
Blogger Donald H. said...

Interesting post. I wish more people would think critically about what some say.


1:48 PM  
Blogger Benjamin said...

Why are sermons so often rubbish? I have this experience too.

I mean they *can* be so good. Like a meal can be really good. I often get the feeling that the sermon was prepared in a bit of a rush. No time to marinate things, and prepare all the lovely sauces, and so forth.

Sermons should surprise us with good news that feels and looks and sounds *real*. If they can't manage that, then poo on them.

How did the thing with the pub and one of the pastors work out? i thought that was supposed to be this past Sunday?

10:30 PM  
Blogger Joe said...

Yeah, not a pastor but someone in the leadership structure. Unfortunately we missed each other and went to different pubs :(

8:20 AM  

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