Saturday, February 12, 2011
THE PARADE. A PARABLE FOR TODAY'S AFFLUENT CHURCH.
Many of us have been taught a gospel that is no gospel at all. Those of us who sit in the pews of our comfortable churches and live a life full of the fruits of self-indulgence and selfish goals and dreams. Those of us who name the Name of Christ as if we are His people, yet who bear none of the fruit of His Spirit, show none of His power, exhibit little of His love and holiness. We proclaim Christ and yet don’t live Christ. We seek for Him and yet don’t find Him. He is a foreigner to us, and a great mystery that we worship from afar, because we have been taught and followed no gospel at all.
This gospel that is no gospel requires nothing. It is an easy gospel, full of the desire for a good life, full of desire for happiness and security, and prosperity. It is a gospel that says we are fine. That gives us license to enjoy our affluence, and says that when we prosper it shows we are in favor with God and man.
This gospel that is no gospel is a gospel that answers every question with a positive affirmation. It is a gospel that seeks its own good, and its own power, and its own glory. It is a ‘feel good’ gospel, full of all the right verses, and with a constant need to confirm in its followers that they should feel good about themselves, about the world around them, about their circumstances, about their church, about their leaders, about their families, about their country, about their lives, and about their souls. It is a smooth, palatable gospel that makes promises of peace and hope and your best life now.
This gospel that is no gospel has led us down the wide way that leads to destruction. The vast crowd moves smoothly down the easy, wide boulevard, lined with trees, bright with sun, bands playing, kids holding balloons, clowns cavorting, drummers drumming and baton twirlers performing. This giant parade is self-propelled, well-orchestrated, and led by a charming group of men and women decked out in the finest uniforms.
Behind the scenes there are skilled technicians, making sure every good view reaches the cameras, and every performer in this spectacular event is doing his job, so that the onlookers at home and in person can be entertained. There are security forces in plain-clothes, ready to quietly deal with any strange behavior or disruption, for the parade must go on, and uninterrupted by anything out of place or unseemly.
After all, God is watching, and we are those who must please Him by our faultless parade skills, showing Him how much we care about Him by worshiping in style and with the finest of showmanship.
This gospel that is no gospel is a spectator sport. It is a parade that is carefully prepared each week, by the best paid minds in the churches. Those with the talent to put it all together, and create the best show possible. They were hired by the attendees, the crowds, to please them and to earn their salaries by making sure that nothing goes wrong or is out of place. To create flow, and crowd dynamics, and to build everything around a theme that makes a great point. To achieve a synergy with music and word that works up to a climax that will bring the audience to its feet with new vitality and encouragement for the week ahead, so they can hold onto their gospel until the next parade.
There are smaller parades on television so that the faithful can get their needed vitality and strength to go on even during the week. These shows are designed to fill in the gaps between the parade dates in their own hometowns. They are brightly lit sets with smiling people, and scripts that are full of this gospel that is no gospel. The viewers can watch people worshiping, and hear the parade music, performed by some of the very people who sing and dance in the real parades. Once in a while somebody tries to air a show that has another gospel, with some ugly and distasteful things in it, and preaches a lesser faith without as much positive in it, but these shows are quickly extinguished because they don’t attract the viewers like the others. The ratings take care of that problem for the producers.
Unfortunately, to their great future embarrassment, Jesus Christ, Lord of His Church, doesn’t have time for parades. He also doesn’t watch television. He’s too busy for that.
For Jesus is on
Narrow Road, not Broadway. He is out along the minor highways and small streets, busy healing the brokenhearted, the sick, the blind and the lame. He is busy taking care of the lonely and the afflicted. He is busy spending time with His small groups of disciples, who are in genuine need of Him. He is with those who suffer, and are in prison, and are in pain, and on their knees in their anguish and need for Him. He is with those who follow Him every moment, and rely on His love and strength and the power of His Spirit to get them through the day. He is close to those crushed in spirit, and who have no showmanship or loveliness of their own to parade around.
Christ is with those who need Him, not those who don’t.
For the faithful are mostly poor, and insignificant in the eyes of the world. The parade goes by many blocks away in their cities. They can hear the distant drums, and once in a while one of them ventures toward the parade, but security blocks them before they can ever get a glimpse, because they are not dressed right, and are obviously not part of the target market. They might turn on the television, and see one of the smaller parade shows, but it only makes them feel worse, as they aren’t participating in that wonderful life, so they turn it off.
The poor in spirit have only Jesus to be with them in this age of the parade. They hunger and thirst after righteousness, not after entertainment. They long for Christ, and to know the fellowship of His suffering, so they can know the joy and power of His resurrection in their lives. They carry a cross daily, which is the sign of Jesus’ life in them, but which makes them quite unacceptable and unattractive to the parade participants and crowds watching. That’s why crosses were banned long ago from parades, though they are allowed as discreet display on buildings along the way.
Jesus especially values those who obey Him. The True Gospel is the Way of Love, and those who love God love their brothers, as He taught. They share and are generous with one another. They don’t judge each other by their wealth, or status. They include one another in their lives, and are together as often as possible. The obedient know that love is the first and most reliable mark of the Christ-follower. And they seek to live that love every day toward others, even their enemies.
Jesus is too busy to go to parades. He is busy with those who are suffering for His sake all over the world. The thousands in prison for claiming His Name as their own. The millions in poverty who worship together without any parade trappings, and who would rather sing themselves, loudly and out of tune, than with the big crowds, bands, and be in disobedience. He likes to be with those would rather lead than be led. Those who would rather be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around them than leave their work to hired parade staff. Jesus likes these little ones, and prays for them, and helps them, walking beside them, living inside them, and He and the Father make their homes with them. Jesus is near to these strugglers, who can’t seem to get with the parade.
Of course, Jesus sends Word to the parade leaders often. Few of them listen, because listening to His Word, and seeing it without parade blinders on, would mean changing everything that they are doing, and admitting they were wrong to join the parade in the first place. Besides, how would they earn their living? After all, it’s their livelihood and income He’s talking about.
And Jesus talks to many who are in the crowd, and some of the performers in the parade, but it is so hard for them to hear above the din of the bands and the constant entertainment. Distractions keep them occupied, and they go back to their easy, comforting verses and their easy, comfortable gospel that is no gospel. Jesus gives up and goes back to His lowly people on
The parade continues. Perhaps only when poverty, or sickness, or the terrors of war, or the tragedies of life strike, will the parade pause; and perhaps, if enough of these things occupy the crowds and the performers and the leaders of this parade, they will be spending too much time on their knees and crying out to God to have the parade one week. And then, perhaps they will not have it the next week. And then, Jesus may come by again, and draw near to them in their affliction and loneliness, and they will listen, and hear His voice of love and mercy and He will take them out to
Narrow Road to join with others who are on the Way of Love. And they will be joyful in tribulation, and find power to live through suffering. And they will experience the Resurrection Power in their own lives, together with the faithful, and give up their parade life.
Perhaps it is a choice to leave the parade, and to go it with Jesus. Few will find it, He said. Will you?
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