Religion, Rules, and Relationships

Recently I spoke at a memorial service.  Bob, the man being memorialized, had been a rugged individualist and lifelong avoider of church.  He was baptized as an infant and spoke often of his relationship with our Heavenly Father as he passed on a legacy of godliness to his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.  While a baptized and confessed Christian, Bob had little use for organized religion and the church.

At Bobs memorial service I spoke about his feelings regarding the church and "religion".   I pointed out that Bob was probably in line with Jesus regarding his feelings.  Bob, and lots of people outside our churches, believe that religion is about rules and control. I struck a nerve when I spoke of how Jesus came to tear down the walls, fences, and gates of religious rules that had for centuries been barriers that kept people from God.  True religion is not about rules, but about relationships.  First our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, then flowing from that all important relationship to our relationships with each other.  I was surprised at how many people responded positively to this message by moving closer to God.

We Lutherans are rightly serious about our Christo-centric/Gospel centered doctrine and theology.  We proclaim that Law (rules) lead to death and should point us to our need for Christ and his Gospel of unmerited grace, forgiveness of sins, and restored right relationship with God.  But have you ever noticed how sometimes there seems to be a disconnect between what we church people believe, teach, and confess, and our actual behavior? While we believe, teach, and confess a Gospel of grace and mercy, our "religion" often seems to be practiced as if it were about rules and law.  Think about this for a moment.  Try to look at our practices with the eyes of an "outsider".

For a variety of reasons we too often build walls, fences, and gates as a form of control and create rules that effectively regulate who may and may not enter in to find Jesus.  In order to reach many outside the church we need to be brave and ask how may our walls, fences, and gates, though well intended, actually become barriers to those we desire to reach?  If we were really, really brave we could ask ourselves whether or not we have rules, traditions and history that blind us to those outside the church. 

You know what?  Let's do it. Let's be brave enough to set aside our defenses and ask ourselves if it is possible that maybe, just maybe, at least judging by our behavior, that we love our rules, traditions and history more than we love our un-churched neighbor. Ouch!   If we are brave enough to ask, and humble enough to confess our sin, then perhaps we will receive grace to allow the Gospel to inform our behavior so that our actions flow from God's love and amazing grace through us to our un-churched neighbor.  I know from personal experience that something magnificent happens when we surrender our walls, fences, and gates to Jesus.  He actually uses us to reach lost, hurting people and bring them into a loving and living relationship with God and with his church.  I have seen Jesus do it over and over again as he uses us to reach people and bring adults, young people, and children to himself through the waters of baptism. 

A magnificent thing happened at the reception following Bob's memorial as I made myself and Jesus available to people.  People responded to the message and wanted to talk about religion, church, and Jesus.   I sat and talked with 6 different people about what I had to say regarding Jesus' idea that true religion was not about rules but about relationships.  People turned off to church opened up about their desire to be in a relationship with God.  Several, who lived out of the area, said they wished they could find a church that was not about rules but about relationships.  One man, with tears streaming down his face, confessed to me his need for salvation.  After listening and talking for just a few minutes, we made arrangements to bring him to Christ through his confession of faith and the water of baptism.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about all of this is that it all happened outside the walls of a church.

Jim
5/13/2013 09:25:37

"True religion is not about rules but about relationships." I love it and I'm going to steal it for a sermon! Vertical relationship with God which gives meaning and form to our vertical relationships, making a perfect cross.

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