Friday, May 22, 2009

Stop That Bus!

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23)

The Chicago Transit Authority operates all the buses and trains in Chicago, and they've released new data this week on customer complaints during the first quarter of 2009. First, the good news: customer complaints are down almost across the board relative to the last two quarters of 2008. The bad news? The bad news is what the number one customer complaint actually is.

Over the first three months of the year, 468 customers complained about buses either not stopping at bus stops or for people who flag them down.

Take a moment to think that over. Four hundred and sixty-eight times in three months, CTA buses didn't stop for passengers.

As far as I know, city buses have exactly one purpose, and that's to pick up passengers at Point A and take them to Point B. Unless all those buses that didn't stop were full or had mechanical problems or something, someone seems to be missing the point. It doesn't matter if it has “CTA” painted on it, or if it's a state-of-the-art bus, or if the driver could drive the route with his eyes closed, or if he completes it on schedule and safely every day. If the bus doesn't pick up passengers, is it doing what it's intended to do?

For some reason, as I read about those buses not stopping for passengers this week I found myself thinking about the church. I thought about our comfortable buildings, our slick and professional worship services, our preference for presentation skills over prophetic voice in our preachers. I thought about how easy it is to see the church as an ecclesiastical Wal-Mart where we can conveniently stop on the weekend to get something for the whole family and then head on back to our “real” lives. Because, you know, who wants to live at Wal-Mart?

I started thinking that maybe, like those CTA buses that don't stop for passengers, we're missing the point.

The point, Jesus says, is to do what God wants. Be who God wants us to be. Many churches, many Christians, may well say to him on “that day”, “Lord, Lord, did we not give money in your name, and in your name build buildings and start programs and teach classes and preach sermons?” I hope not, but I wonder if on “that day” I'll find that I've been driving my shiny Christian bus, wearing my nice, clean Christian uniform, following my route, obeying the laws – and missing the point. Missing the people I could have blessed, the sick I could have helped to heal, the poor to whom I could have given, the lost I could have led to Jesus.

As the world most of us live in becomes more and more “post-Christian,” it's imperative that we hear what Jesus is saying here. Much of the world looks at the church, at our rituals and traditions, our buildings and ministries, our morality and ethics, and collectively shrugs. They don't see the point. They see us fortified inside our buildings, practicing our faith from padded pews, and they're frankly not very impressed. Well, why should they be? None of that seems to impress Jesus very much, either.

Honestly, if all we're doing is keeping the doors open and the power on, if all we're doing is following a schedule and reminiscing about the good ol' days when all the children were well-behaved and everyone knew their memory verses and everybody liked the hymns I like – well, we might as well turn off the lights and lock the doors. Jesus will raise up people who will do the will of his Father in heaven. Maybe in the Third World, and then send them proclaim the gospel in America. (He's already doing that, you know.) Maybe among the house churches, who aren't creaking under the weight of buildings, empty traditions, and professional clergy. Maybe among our teenagers and young adults, who haven't yet been shipwrecked on the rocks by the Siren songs of life.

Or, maybe – maybe – some of our churches will listen to Jesus again. Maybe we'll let him make good on his ages-old promise to write his Father's law in our minds and hearts. Then the saying that's written will come true, and we'll all know him – from the least of us to the greatest. And he'll forgive our past sins, and remember no more how for so long we'd missed the point.

Pastors, ministers, priests – let's all become preachers, and unapologetically proclaim the gospel of Jesus to our churches and our communities. Elders, bishops – we need you to be shepherds much more than we need you to be administrators. And may all of us who wear and invoke the name of Jesus listen to what he says, get out of our pews, and get serious about doing what God asks of us.

That means we'll love the people he loves, no matter where they live or what language they speak or how they dress or smell. That means we'll care for those who can't care for themselves: the orphans, the elderly, the sick, the poor, the hungry, the imprisoned. It will have implications for how we use our money, and the decisions we make about what and how much to buy. To do God's will means that we'll be willing to put our own morality and ethics under the microscope. It means we'll try our best to honor him with every word we say and everything we do, and it means that the name of Jesus will be on our tongues as we go about our lives.

It means that we'll live in prayer and worship, but also on the ragged edges of our world, making the love of God, the power of Jesus, and the presence of the Holy Spirit known. And people will see, and they'll hear, and they'll know beyond a doubt that in Jesus is the way to get where they most need to be.

Let's not miss the...bus.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, Today’s New International Version TNIV (r), Copyright (c) 2005 by International Bible Society. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

  1. Well said Pat! Far too long has the church been comfortable, if not just downright complacent about what Christianity is all about.

    Too many churches turn their noses at those who are in desperate situations . . . especially the homeless and the destitute. We've in essence have become the very ones that James chastised in James 2:1-6. I've seen it happen time and time again.

    Thanks so much for writing this! It's sorely needed as well as to be acted upon.