Jesus doesn’t really like a lot of what passes as religion. Even religion with his name on it. Maybe especially that kind. In fact, he is so disturbed by the religion that was devoted to God during his day that he flat-out curses it (Matthew 23).
We recently started a series entitled “How To Kill a Religion” at church. (You can listen to them as we go along here: https://soundcloud.com/pathwayschurch). We’ve been looking at the things from Matthew 23 that Jesus says will kill a religion.
And while there are many fatal pills that religion can swallow that will put it six feet under, there are three that seem especially deadly:
A lack of sincerity. Not practicing what you preach.
A lack of compassion. Prioritizing rules over people.
A lack of humility. Practicing religion in order to be noticed by other people.
Religion that lacks sincerity, compassion, and humility is dangerous. It hurts people and Jesus thinks its should die.
Probably many of us who have been hurt by that kind of religion agree. In an unexpectedly weird way, many people who are wary, skeptical and against religion are to some degree on Jesus’ side. And it has been freeing to learn this. It’s been relieving to discover that Jesus isn’t as petty and oppressive as much of the religion we’ve seen. Sometimes I just wanna cheer, “yea, Jesus! You tell ’em!”
If I’m honest though, it’s also been a little convicting. I’m sure I am guilty at times of lacking any one of these key ingredients to religion that truly honors God. It’s caused me to examine who I am, what I do and most importantly WHY I do it.
Am I sincere in actually living what I believe?
Do I really prioritize people over rules and rituals?
Would I do this particular thing if no one ever knew about it?
I’m finding that I can even do the right thing, but for the wrong reason. And when I do, rather than honor God, I drink the poison that kills religion.
But more than conviction, this series and these words of Jesus have caused me to dream more about the identity of our particular church community. As we have discussed the things we DON’T want to be, it has inevitably had the side-effect of forcing me to ask “what DO we want to be?”
And what DO we want to be?
After all, while there is religion that is dangerous and hurtful, not all religion is bad. Jesus’ own brother, James, reminds us of this:
Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. (But) religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
Now I know that defining ourselves by what we are NOT is not of itself adequate. But what if it adds some clarity to us as a community of things we want to avoid and prompts us, like James, to discuss what we really DO want to be about? Saying “no” to some things may inspire us to say “yes” to what’s better.
This week we celebrate “Orphan Sunday” at Pathways Church.
We’ll be discussing ways to get involved in protecting the most vulnerable in our global society. There will be ways to get involved that are more immersive than maybe we’ve ever been involved with before.
I don’t know what will happen with all this, but it feels big.
It feels like it might be defining for us.
Maybe there is more here than just a simple Sunday.
Maybe there is the beginning of identity.
Religious community starting to be reformed around the right things.
I’m praying that this series will be more than just a few shots at the religion God hates but that it will call us forward into the religion God delights in. Could be this Sunday is the first step in that calling. Join me in praying for that vision and identity to come bubbling out of these moments.