A long time ago [32 years ago, to be precise] I worked for the FDIC [Federal Deposit Insurance Corp – the government group that insures your bank deposits]. I was getting ready to go off to seminary in the fall. Late in the summer, my boss took me to lunch and bluntly asked, “Why do you want to do this seminary thing? We have a good job waiting for you here.” I’ll admit, it was tempting. I liked finance, I liked banking and it was a very long time before I would earn as much money as a pastor as the FDIC offered me as a starting salary. I can still remember that conversation, and I still remember what I told my boss. “Being a pastor is the last, great renaissance job in the world. It’s the last job where it’s ok to be interested in anything and everything.”
A mistake, a huge mistake, I believe the church has made over the past several hundred years is that we haven’t been interested enough in the world around us. We’ve limited conversations about God and Jesus to, at best “spirituality,” and we’ve cut ourselves off from all sorts of interesting and vital conversations. When was the last time you heard a conversation, a really helpful conversation, about biology, genetics or relativity in church? Yeah, me neither. When was the last time we really wrestled with what it means to be a church in the center of a city [or, the center of anything]?
The story of Jesus of Nazareth is a story about how God is intimately connected with the world. When you read the Gospels, you see that Jesus is in the thick of the world. Jesus is born and he lives a real, connected life. He loves people. People love Jesus. People hate Jesus. Jesus gets hungry and grumpy and tired and happy. You can read about how Jesus is patient and then impatient with the world around him. Jesus knows joy and pain, he feels acceptance [sometimes in the most unlikely places] and experiences rejection [sometimes, again, in the most unlikely places]. Jesus wasn’t about a program or an initiative, he was about living an authentic, God-centered life in the world. Jesus doesn’t separate himself from the world, he plunges directly into that world. Once, Jesus said that he didn’t come condemn the world, but to save it. [St. John 3:17]
I’m interested in what these things mean to us. I’m interested in what it means to be a church-type person who’s interested in the world around us, our city and the people in it. I’d like to think again about a lot of things I don’t talk about on Sunday mornings [which is probably a mistake]. I’d like you to think about them with me. We might find that church can be the most interesting place in the world ["in" being the operative word].