Have you ever not invited someone to a party because they were socially awkward or unpredictable? Sometimes people make us uncomfortable because we don’t know what they are going to do next. Jesus was like that. People hated him so much that they wanted to kill him.
In the gospel of mark it says they watched Jesus closely to see if he would heal a man with a withered hand. Jesus was this nasty blister that annoyed the religious types. Not just because he turned over tables or called them snakes; what unsettled them more was his calm and calculated dismantling of everything they had to stand on. He was no respecter of personal righteousness or the merit badges they had gathered over the years.
Jesus was offensive because he was loving. A little too loving. It wasn’t fair that he gave so much attention and affection to lepers, children, adulterers and drunkards. It was a slap in the face to everyone trying to please God by shining their shoes and avoiding certain meats.
Did you know that Jesus isn’t often welcome in our churches today either? He is disruptive. He welcomes people who make us uncomfortable and he calls us to give everything we own to people who are undeserving and unappreciative. He loves refugees and people who are coming to terms with their sexuality. He loves sex-workers and heroin addicts. He loves rapists and Buddhists and even picketing Baptists. He loves everyone. It is for this reason that I think many people have shut Jesus out.
One of the scariest things I think I could ever be a part of is a church that can continue to function if Jesus does not show up. What would it look like?
It would look like a religious gathering once a week for people to hear an inspirational speech about moral living. It would allow people to feel good about themselves without being accountable to any life change. It would be full of people who learned enough of the bible to excuse or defend their anti-jesus opinions and beliefs. They would have no commitment to each other. They could hide their sins and problems behind a false smile and a lot of christianese.
I’ve been in those churches. They scare me.
I’ve also been in churches where it just doesn’t work unless God shows up. I’ve been in churches filled with expectation and hope. Where people are plunged into a sacrificial and giving community. I’ve been in churches filled with people who have a radical dependence on God. Churches that are messy because they are coming to grips with a messy reality. Churches where sinners meet and find healing because God is alive and when he is invited he shows up and releases people of bondage. He heals deep wounds.
People don’t come to these churches to feel good about themselves or to form business connections. They come because Jesus is there and he is life.
I recently watched the movie Finger of God 2. In it, Brian Head Welch goes with an Irish priest named Scott back into the bar Scott used to do cocaine in. They experience a powerful moment where the living God encounters people right where they are in a bar. Brian says “is Jesus real or is he not? Is the Holy Spirit real? Is the Father God real? Are they going to come into the room when we say ‘come into the room’? in a situation like that where it was risky and it felt like, to be honest, it’s this bar and a bunch of crazy people everywhere and I was really nervous but I was like ‘Kingdom! Kingdom!’”
And in the end, God showed up. In the book of Hebrews it says “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”
What does it look like to invite God to your church meeting? To give him space in the bulletin. To actually wait until He moves? Most people don’t do this for two reasons. Either they are afraid he will show up and disrupt everything, or they are afraid they will call out to him and he won’t show up.
Seth Barnes writes about Jesus:
“You’ve probably met him, though it’s likely he didn’t look anything like himself. Here in America, we introduce him as meek and mild. But he was a dangerous man. When he crashed and thundered across the Palestinian landscape, he was nothing if not a threat to the status quo.
People didn’t know what to make of him. Some exclaimed over his authority, others were threatened by it and called it into question.
After being baptized and launching his ministry, he immediately took on the local authorities. In their first meeting, they perceived he was dangerous and tried to kill him (Luke 4). Maybe one reason he went from village to village was that he was not only not welcome in his own village, but many of the others that he visited as well.
So perhaps we should consider the possibility that the hand-me-down religion that many of us were taught in Sunday School looks very little like what he taught his disciples.”
This Advent season, meet the real Jesus. He is not meek or mild. He is unsafe. He will disrupt your plans and your life. But it might be the best thing that ever happened to you.