Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection February 11, 2018
"Don’t Come to Our Church! " by: Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
Well, that’s certainly a strange way to start my reflection for this week’s Advance. But I feel called to point out some truths to those who might be considering coming to our beloved Morgan Park American Baptist Church. There are right reasons to come to our church. There are also wrong reasons to come to our church. Let’s address the wrong reasons:
1) Don’t come to our church if you want to stay on the surface of things. Many people stay on the surface because it’s usually a more comfortable place to be. That’s probably why so many of us discuss the weather and sports! Going deep requires work. Going deep requires us to let go of “easy” answers and allow ourselves to be challenged. Going deep requires us to “grow up” spiritually-speaking.
In my 44 years of professional ministry, I’ve come to learn that many Christian believers know next to nothing about God and how God works within us and among us. Many preachers and “Bible-thumping” believers string together long chains of Bible verses - as if quoting the Bible will solve the problems we face as a nation and as a world.
The Bible is God’s gift to us but God’s Word continues to be spoken in the here and now. It’s hard facing the future if one spends all one’s time looking back to the Bible. The Bible does not have all the answers! I wish it did but it doesn’t!
2) Don’t come to our church if you need a God who rescues instead of a God who redeems. All people suffer. Suffering is intertwined with the gift of life and the grace of living. Things go wrong. Things fall apart. The world is not yet fully redeemed. Suffering, sickness, and death stalk every one of us. Illness is demonic in its pernicious, pervasive presence. Our children suffer. Our children die. There are no good answers to this harsh reality. Those who offer easy answers are charlatans. Those who claim that suffering is a punishment or a chastisement from God are profoundly disturbed and dangerous. No one speaks for God except God alone.
One thing we do know as Christians is that the cross of Christ reveals to us a God who suffers with us. God is with us in all our troubles and all our tears. God does not want any creature, any person, to suffer. If this is not true, then I’ve learned nothing from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ does not punish people with suffering, sickness, plagues, or death.
The reality is that we live on a profoundly-wounded world. We live on a world that remains a long way from being fully redeemed, a long way from being fully healed (still coming in God‘s own time!).
God does not normally rescue us from the sufferings afflicting us. If God did not rescue Jesus Christ, how can we possibly imagine God will rush to our rescue? Can healing happen? Yes, most assuredly. But healing is a rare gift. I know this deep truth better than most.
3) Don’t come to our church if you have all the answers. We are a church that’s called in Christ to question. We don’t have all the answers. It’s hard enough discerning the right questions! And the truth is that for all the really important questions in life, there are no answers!
In my decades of ministry, I’ve grown very weary of misguided believers who want to tell me what I should believe. Many of these believers really think they know what’s best for me. They want to “correct” my thinking and get it in line with their “true” beliefs.
Yet we’ve had two thousand years of bitter and sometimes deadly fights over the “right” beliefs. Our world-wide Christian Church is profoundly fractured, irreparably fragmented, because of fights over who has it right. “We have it right! You don’t! We are going to heaven. Hell is your final destination!”
What a sad state of affairs! No wonder our young abandon churches so easily and so often. We’ve lost our young over bitter battles waged in the name of the Prince of Peace. Who can I hate in Jesus’ name?
4) Don’t come to our church if you are not seeking companions. Loneliness is a plague that’s grown exponentially in our current culture. Many seek quick solutions to this rampant reality. We’re profoundly alone and because of our existential aloneness, we turn to endless TV, casual sexual encounters, pornography, drugs, alcohol, and a plethora of other distractions to blunt the sharp edge of loneliness’s bitter blade.
We come to church to find companions to walk with us through the bitter valley of life and life’s never-ending storms. We err badly when we imagine we can “go it alone.” Lone wolfs are not to be emulated or championed. They’re pitiful creatures who lack the protection of a pack.
What we’re really doing is walking each other home. That’s what we truly need from each other. At our beloved Morgan Park American Baptist Church, I promise that you’ll find companions who’ll join hands with you to walk together through this troubled but joy-strewn life.
Loneliness has seriously stalked me in the 16 months since my dear Beth went home to God. Talking to my three cats is not as rewarding as it could be! I tell my most talkative cat, Molly, I cannot speak “cat.”
Yet, fortunately, as a gift from our God, I’ve been given a newly deep friendship with a woman who ministered with me when I was pastor of Saint Peter’s Church in the Loop. She has visited our church on two separate occasions. While she lives a five-hour drive away, in Waupaca, Wisconsin, we talk at length with each other daily. I’m very grateful that she walks with me now as a dear companion. I’ll never forget Beth. But I’m very grateful to God for bringing Vinal into my heart.