Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Gospel, The Church and Churches

Andy Kaylor has become unstuck in church.

This happens to me from time to time. I'm a member of Generation X, so dissatisfaction is part of my stock-in-trade. That's nothing unusual. Wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, there's also something I'm not quite happy with. That's normal -- normal for everyone, I suspect, but in particular normal for me. But from time to time, the general background noise of dissatisfaction bubbles up to become a full blown crisis. That's happening to me now.

I've been told that the Holy Spirit is a disrupting presence in the Church, so maybe this is for the best.

Right now, one of the chief things I'm dissatisfied with is the Gospel. Well, that's not quite right. I'm not dissatisfied with the Gospel per se. Rather, I feel like I've misplaced it. I've looked around, and I can't seem to find it. This is also something that happens to me from time to time.

The standard Lutheran definition of "the Church" is this: "The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered." (Augsburg Confession, Article VII) I had to look up the precise wording, and it surprised me. It's wrong! The Church is where the Gospel is preached, not where the Gospel is taught, right? Maybe that's part of the problem.

Anyway, I haven't been to church in a while, and when I was going, I didn't often feel like I was hearing the Gospel. That's not to say it wasn't being preached necessarily, but I wasn't hearing it. Maybe it's me.

The trouble is, I'm not sure what the Gospel is. What's more, I probably don't believe that you know either. Sure, "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son...." and "Christ died for our sins" and so on. But, if I can bring Chaung-Tzu into such a hallowed discussion, "The men of old took all they really knew with them to the grave. Their words are only dirt they left behind." Or, perhaps more irreverantly, to paraphrase Inigo Montoya, "You keep using those words. I don't think they mean what you think they mean."

Rod Rosenbladt tells the story of one of his mentors explaining to him what the Church is. He was told, "When the pastor hands you the bread and says, 'This is the body of Christ, given for you,' that is the Church." I like that. It's the place where the Sacraments are administered and the Gospel is preached (not taught). At this simple level, while I still may not know what the Gospel is, I hear it, I feel it, I receive it. Maybe I just need to find a church which celebrates the Sacraments more often.

Several years ago, I told myself in this blog, "To me, the Gospel is that in the person of Jesus Christ the kingdom of God has begun to break into this world. In Christ Jesus, God has begun to fulfill his promise of new heavens and a new earth." That's not bad. I feel my heart strangely warmed to hear it.

My complaint, I guess, is that I'm not finding that in church. Too often I find myself in churches where you'd think that Jesus' preaching began with, "The Counsel of God is at hand. Rejoice and listen to the Good Advice," and ended with, "All insight in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go, therefore, and make church members of all nations, inviting them to drink coffee and join small groups, and sharing with them many of the things that you may deduce from what I have taught you." That doesn't work for me.

Perhaps I shouldn't be so cynical. Maybe I should go to church.


Diane said...

well, come to church. we need you. at least, I do.

this is not an excuse, but, I'll tell you, it's not so easy being a pastor.

Andy said...

Hi, Diane, Thanks for commenting.

Believe me, I understand that it isn't easy being a pastor, and I honestly don't hold pastors at all responsible for my current discontent. As I looked over what I wrote, I wondered if maybe it sounded like I'm not happy with the sermons I'm hearing. There's probably something to that, but really I just don't like sermons.

My favorite sermon ever was a homily delivered by a Vietnamese priest who was still learning English. He read the Gospel text (Mark 8:22-26) and then gave a one sentence homily along the lines of "Lord, help us to see those around us as people and not as objects." I loved that.

I'd like to find a church that replaced sermons with short prayers related to the text as a regular practice, but I understand that I might be the only member of such a congregation. I'm really not expecting a congregation to conform to what I like or what I expect. I know Church doesn't work that way.

I'm pretty sure that I'm the problem. I need to get myself re-centered.