A week or so ago many were amused, some outraged, and others mystified at the audacity of a pastor’s efforts to raise $65 million for a private jet. Apparently this pastor just skipped over the part in the Bible where Jesus instructed his disciples to, “Take no gold, or silver, or copper in your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a staff…” (Matthew 10:9-10) Come to think of it, maybe this pastor found a loophole, because in fairness Jesus makes no mention of airplanes.
Pastors often follow the lead of other “successful” pastors, but I am not so audacious as to ask for $65 million for a jet (besides, I am prone to airsickness). I just need $65 for a tire cover for my Jeep. Truth be told, I can afford the tire cover, but I could use some suggestions on what should go on the cover. Maybe “Follow Me to FBC” or “What Would Johnny Cash Do?” Feel free to Facebook or tweet me your suggestions with #namethatcover.
I guess we can roll our eyes at such outlandish actions by people of faith who prey on the vulnerable to enrich their lifestyles and do so “in the name of Jesus.” We can share our disgust with one another as well as bemusement. We can, and probably should, squirm a bit at our own complicity to justify some of our outlandish actions done under the banner of Christianity.
Or we can be sad. Sad for this pastor so consumed in self-enrichment and self-entitlement that he no longer sees what is true and honorable. Sad for those impoverished of means manipulated by a prosperity gospel. Sad for all those causes, ministries or missions that will go unfunded because of this redirection of resources.
My greatest sadness is for the church. Not just this particular mega-church, but all churches. Far too many in our own country are already disgusted with churches and leaving them or never entering them in the first place. The accusations and disgust is that churches are self-serving clubs.
Yes, I am genuinely sad, because I know better. I know that many churches are loving communities of rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old. I know churches that open their doors wide to those who cannot find a place to belong anywhere else, but find welcome because, to quote the late Brennan Manning, “God loves you just as you are, and not as you should be, because you will never be as you should be.” I know that church can be a place filled with people mobilized to do great things because we are created in the image of a loving God. I know churches that will accept you regardless of what “status” has been assigned, because God so loved the world and there is no status that can separate us.
I am sad for the embarrassment for the church, because I know better. I know better to ask you, or any other person, for $65 for a tire cover, let alone millions for a jet. Here is what I am going to ask of you:
- Listen to Jesus. Out of his mouth are life-changing words of instruction and care. He speaks of love of God and love of neighbor. He utters forgiveness for what some say are unforgiveable.
- Look to Jesus. We are invited to drop our other priorities and follow him with acts of healing and restoration. He goes where others do not want to go and asks us to do the same.
- Live with Jesus. The best way to live with Jesus is to live together with Jesus’s people. The church is an imperfect gathering of failed saints, but together we make up the body of Christ to this world. Through worship, work and witness we reveal Jesus (and not our many failures) to world hungering for authenticity. When you see something in this world that does not look like heaven, work to bring the kingdom of heaven down to change things – just as Jesus would. It Jesus who taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
If you were thinking about rounding up some donors to raise the capital in order to help me keep up with my already inflated ego, save your time and money. Yes, I could use your suggestions for something to go on my tire cover, but what I really need is for you to keep on being church to me and to one another. This town needs this too. So does the world…in Jesus name.