CATTLE, SHEEP, AND PIGEONS, Part One
Hello again, everyone. As promised, it’s time for a little more White Haired Wisdom.
This time I’m going to be talking about Church – not THE Church, the bride of Christ, the body of Christ to which anyone belongs who knows Jesus. No, I’m talking about the INSTITUTION we Christians have built around our relationship with Jesus: the building, the programs, the tasks and traditions, that thing we go to when we say we’re “going to church.”
Oh, just being a “grandpa,” I guess. After 61 years of being a church-goer, maybe I can pass along some observations and advice to make your walk with the Lord a little easier and a little more sensible.
For this posting, let me start out with four illustrations that will help illuminate what I’ll be talking about in postings to follow:
Some of you have probably seen that weird musical, “The Little Shop of Horrors.” It features a cute little plant that cries out in a squeaky, pleading voice, “Feed me, feed me!” The unsuspecting shopkeeper starts to feed it – with drops of his own blood – and it grows. By the end of the story the plant has grown into a monstrous man-eater and the shopkeeper has to feed it human victims as it thunders in a deep, basso voice, “FEED ME! FEED ME!”
No doubt most of you remember the tale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, most famously portrayed by Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Fantasia. Mickey, the sorcerer’s apprentice, is tired of carrying water from a well into the sorcerer’s castle, so while the sorcerer is away Mickey uses magic to bring a broom to life and make it carry the water. Things get out of hand, the one broom becomes several, then hundreds, carrying so much water that the castle begins to flood, and now Mickey discovers to his horror that he doesn’t know how to reverse the magic that brought all the brooms to life.
Then there is the scene in which Jesus comes into the temple and finds the outer court is filled with cattle, sheep, pigeons, merchants and moneychangers. He fashions a whip from some ropes and drives out the animals and the marketers, saying, “It is written, My Father’s House shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a robber’s den!”
Lastly, let’s remember Mary and Martha. Jesus had come over to visit and while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus learning from the Master, Martha was preoccupied with all the food and hospitality preparations. “Lord,” Martha said, “do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me,” to which Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
In each of these examples, someone meant well, but before long, a little, seemingly good idea grew until it gained a life of its own and got out of hand.
After all, a plant that talks? Wow, that’s special, that’s important. It could prove useful.
And a broom that carries water? Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, right?
And why not sell the worshippers their sacrifices right at the temple? It would only take a little bit of space, it would make things easy, more inviting and friendly. Come on, how much trouble could it be?
And Jesus is coming over? Well, we can’t just have Him over. We have to clean and vacuum and make the place presentable and get out the best dishes and the Julia Child cookbook and spend more time in serving Him than in just being with Him, and if someone isn’t as distracted and time-consumed as we are in the “service of the Lord,” then of course there must be something wrong with them.
In his book The Pursuit of God, A. W. Tozer wrote:
“Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.”
And Tozer wrote that in 1958! Just goes to show how subtle and gradual the plant can grow, the brooms can multiply, the temple can become a marketplace, and a hostess can become so busy serving her guest she never has a chance to visit with Him.
Anyway, that’s the topic I’ll be working on in the days ahead. Please check back from time to time.
Frank, on August 16, 2012.