When Jesus Stopped Going To Church

Luke 13:10-17
August 22, 2010
Steve Hammond

Was Jesus dechurched? In Luke’s gospel there are five stories about Jesus going to the synagogue for worship. This is the last of those stories. We don’t know if that means Luke never bothered to record any of the other times Jesus went to the synagogue for worship, or if Jesus never bothered to go to services again.

Going to church was never really easy for Jesus. The first time he went, they tried to throw him over a cliff. Talk about not feeling welcomed. Jesus was used to getting pretty shabby treatment from the religious authorities. But was there something about what happened this time, that put Jesus over the edge? Not the edge of the cliff, but the edge of not going to church?

This is a pretty familiar story. Mary Meadows occasionally sings that song about the bent over woman that Ken Medema wrote. And Ken gets it right. There is a lot more going on in this story than simply about one woman being healed and able to stand up straight. It’s about all women who have been oppressed by a patriarchal system standing up straight, and about all people who have been oppressed by whoever or whatever finding the chance to stand up tall and look Jesus eye to eye.

Is the reason Jesus walked out of church that day never to return if, indeed, he never did go back because he was sick and tired of the religious folk not getting it?

Why should there be such an uproar from the synagogue officials when Jesus healed that women who had been bent over for 18 years? You would think they would join the woman and those who were rejoicing with her in proclaiming the mighty thing that God had just done. In fact, since they were the religious leaders, the one’s who said the knew most about God, they should be leading the celebration.

But they weren’t rejoicing over the great thing that had happened for the woman. They were mad because Jesus had violated the church rules and healed this woman on the Sabbath.

The madder they got, the madder Jesus got. How on earth had it come to this that the rules and regulations meant more than peoples’ lives? What kind of religion is that?

What do we read Jesus saying to the religious leaders in Matthew 23? “You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned.” And “You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing story that’s wrong from start to finish, but nitpicking over commas and semicolons?”

Maybe Jesus had just had it with those people and now he was going to go to the synagogue in the streets, where everyone was bent over and trying to catch a glimpse of God. He wouldn’t be the last one to give up on the church.

You know those bracelets people used to wear? WWJD, what would Jesus do? It’s a good question. I’m thinking about this story of the bent over woman and wondering if another question we might want to ask is Would Jesus Go to our Church? That’s WJGTOC. Would he walk in here and see bent over people helping each other to stand up straight? Would he see people who believe that the love of God is at hand, a love that transcends all our rules and regulations for the sake, not of the institution, but the people? Not only the people who are a part of our church but all people. Would he say, “Hey, these people are catching on to the Realm of God. They may not be very good at it, but they are trying.”

WJGTOC. What a great challenge for us. I think there are lots of churches Jesus would attend, and lots he wouldn’t. So I’m not suggesting that church has to be done any one way for Jesus to feel comfortable there. But there are surely some things Jesus would be looking for. You kind of get hints of some of that in the gospel stories when he went to synagogue. He was looking for a faith community where the people were more important than the rules. That stuff he said about loving God with all our hearts and souls and minds and selves, and loving our neighbors as ourselves probably would come into play if he were looking for a church. The last being first. The peacemakers being the children of God. People willing to take risks with each other and God. It seems to me these are the kind of things Jesus would have in mind if he were to become a member of our or any congregation.

The question isn’t would Jesus go to someone else’s church, but would he go to our church? We have all kinds of experiences with all kinds of churches. Some of us have had our own experiences of walking out of church, vowing to never go back, only to find ourselves back at it here with one another.

And we have to be careful to not make it enough that we are not like them. We can’t determine what happens in other churches. This is the church we’ve got to work with. The church we have the privilege and the grace to work with. I think, I hope, we have realized that God is calling us to help bent over people stand up. It’s more important what we are doing than what others aren’t doing.

We get bent over in all kinds of ways. Sometimes it’s the weight that others put on us because of our race, gender, income, nationality, abilities, sexual orientation, or psychological or social inadequacies. Sometimes it’s the weight our families put on us.

And sometimes it’s the weight we put on ourselves because we believe stupid things about ourselves, others, and God. We get bent over by the sin of others and ourselves.

Happily, Jesus is in the sin freeing game. He wouldn’t have walked out of that synagogue if the leaders understood God was calling them to help people stand up straight, rather than piling more burdens on others.

And it wasn’t that the leaders were totally awful. Remember the guy said it would have been okay to heal the woman, to help her stand up straight on any other day. But that just seemed to make it worse for Jesus. It’s like the guy knew what was right, but felt there was a greater principle at stake than helping that poor woman. How could that man imagine that upholding the crazy Sabbath regulations they had come up with was something more holy than helping bent over people stand up? Was it enough to make Jesus walk out of church and vow to never come back.

Lots of people in that synagogue applauded what Jesus did that day and they walked out of church with him. And people have been doing the same thing ever since.

How do we get Jesus and all the rest back in our churches? WJGTOC. Would Jesus Go To Our Church? If we are making a church that Jesus would feel good about then we are on the right track. And some of those folk, like so many of us, just might give church another chance.