The Lie

NOTE:  On February 23rd, I filled in at church.  Below is the passage I used and the meditation I gave.

Luke 5: 12-31 While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy.When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”
 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” And immediately the leprosy left him.
 Then Jesus ordered him, “Don’t tell anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.”
 Yet the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.
When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts? Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.” Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God. 26 Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.”
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”


The Lie:



What lie do you hear in church most frequently?  Let me rephrase that, what lie do we hear in church that can be exclusionary and off putting?  It's something is said and most of the time we don't even realize that what we are saying IS a lie.  It's "We've always done it this way."

It's not true.  Even the things we THINK have always been done one way have NOT always been that way.  Maybe it's always been done that way during our tenure in the church, but it doesn't mean that something has ALWAYS been that way. We may have many treasured traditions that work well for the congregation, but that is not the same as always done it that way.  Traditions have a purpose and traditions can  and will  change and evolve. 


We've always done it that way is a dangerous pronouncement.  First of all, it's exclusionary...WE...not you, have always done something this way.  It's setting up an Us Vs Them/You situation.  The phrase makes it clear that you don't have a say in it.  We're not interested in hearing what you have to say because this is the way it is.  It's a phrase that slams in the door in the face of a newcomer.  It tells an excited volunteer that his or her thoughts are not appreciated. And that's NOT what Christianity is all about.  Is that what we want to do?  We claim to be a church of caring people, but if we are exclusive we are not what we profess to be.


To be inclusive sometimes means NOT doing it the way it has always been done  It is not throwing away a tradition that works, but rather allowing traditions to evolve so that they are inclusive.  Liz H provided me with a perfect example.  A few weeks ago  I was volunteering at the thrift shop.  Point, we have NOT always had a thrift shop.  We DID have a tradition of an annual trash and treasure sale and  while profitable, it was also a time consuming task for just one day.  There were also items left over that did NOT get sold and had to be dealt with.  Thus, came the idea of using space in our church to have a thrift shop INSTEAD of an annual sale.  The trash and treasure sale has EVOLVED into the thrift shop.  As a result more people come into our church, NOT necessarily into our sanctuary, but to this building.  Perhaps they do not worship with us on a Sunday morning, but as a result of this change, more people know of us and know WHO we are and WHAT we are...a church of caring people. 


But back to Liz...while I was working at the thrift shop I noticed a bunny costume.  Knowing how our annual children's Good Friday workshop usually ends with a Easter egg hunt AND coupling that with the wonderful "selfie stage" that Cathy C has put together, I thought an appearance by the Easter Bunny might be something to consider.  I brought it up to Liz because although I might have thought this was a good idea, SHE is the one who is with the children on a regular basis.  She is the expert and I wanted her feedback.  She thought it might be something to try, but told me that the children's workshop would not be on Good Friday this year.  What?  We have ALWAYS had a workshop on Good Friday.  It has ALWAYS been that way.


We have not always had a workshop.  It's a relatively new tradition here (and when I say new I mean within the past 20 years).  Why would Liz want to change it?  The answer is simple and INCLUSIONARY.  To paraphrase Liz:  I changed the Good Friday Workshop because it's spring break (for the past year or so the school system's spring break has run the week BEFORE Easter and not as it had been more traditionally done, the week AFTER.  I can't answer why they stopped doing it the way it had ALWAYS been done, but I have my idea).  Liz pointed out that during spring break many families go away.  To quote her directly:  "I wanted everyone to have a chance to come."  Furthermore, Liz mentioned that she was adding  a middle school track to it because I noticed some of the older kids were getting bored.


Liz shows herself to be a true follower of Christ; she wants to INCLUDE all ages and share the good news with more people.  If that means changing the date of the workshop, so be it.  She is not throwing away a tradition, but helping it to evolve.


Which brings me to my second point about "we've always done it this way."  It's just not true. Christianity is all about change.  Christianity IS change.  Think about today's scripture passage.  Christ take the whole "we've always done it this way" and turns it on its ear.  He heals a leper...Surely no one at the time would even think of touching a leper.  Lepers were outcasts; they were unclean and not to be associated with.  But Jesus sees beyond that.  He sees someone who wants to be healed; someone who NEEDS and without hesitation or consideration for the norm, he heals.  He is not concerned with how or what has always been done.


There is the paralyzed man who is brought to Jesus.  He heals him and is confronted "who are YOU to forgive sin?"  That's NOT the way it is done.  But Jesus does not conform to the norm.  He eats with sinners and outcasts; something that was unheard of.  He challenges us to think outside of the "we've always done it this way" and into a new way of thinking and service.  As it says in Matthew 5 38-45:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.


“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."


God is all about change.  Not change for change's sake,  but change for the better.  Change in order to  move forward in service to God. Because service requires change;  it requires us to think and act in new ways in order to meet the need.


Which bring me to my final point.  We are about to enter the season of Lent.  I know that for most of my adult life I have made a commitment to observing Lent by giving up something that holds meaning to me.  Something that is a challenge and not easy.  Which is why I have always given up chocolate and not lima beans.  It's a good challenge and personally it forces me to be mindful and reflective.  It's not just that I'm not eating a bag of M&Ms, but WHY I am.  


However, I want Lent to mean more.  I don't want to give up chocolate just because that's the way I've always done it.  It doesn't mean that I am stopping the practice, but instead over the years I've tried to evolve the practice so that it continues to be meaningful. Giving up chocolate or whatever looses it's meaning if it's just rote.  If I'm doing it just because I've always done it that way, it loses it's purpose.  My faith and practice needs to have purpose.  So while I will continue the tradition of forgoing chocolate, I am making a plan to do something in addition to that.  In past years I've also given up wine or carbs.  This year I am making a firm commitment to perform one act of kindness each and every day of Lent.  To keep myself "honest" I will keep a journal of what that act is each and every day.  Because I freely admit that I tried to do this in the past, but I don't recall being mindfully focused on performing at least one specific kind action every day.  And by keeping a daily tab on what I have done, I will have a record of kindnesses that I have done; hopefully something that I can reflect on and be proud of.  Something that is NOT just daily routine.  I want this Lent to be not the way I've always done it.  I want it to be focused.  I want it to be meaningful.  And I hope to learn from it.


My hope for you as we enter Lent is that you too will hold fast to any treasured traditions that you hold for Lent while also opening your hearts and minds to new opportunities. Do not "do" Lent as you always have, but embrace new opportunities that will make those 40+ days a more meaningful and reflective time.


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