I did not set out to write this with the Central Church of Christ in Pascagoula, MS in mind, but as I was writing I could not help but think of the fantastic way that church has connected through personal ministry to hurting people in their community since hurricane Katrina. They are truly a model of connecting as Jesus connected.
Talk about a disconnection! The people were restless. All around them was a climate of political and social unrest. Extremists groups were gaining momentum and spreading a doctrine of fear among them. There was a weariness around all of this uncertainty and a hunger for a stronger spiritual connection.
Leading their community was a mixed group of theologian-politicians who had the knowledge and the ability to respond to these needs and to build a stronger spiritual connection, but they didn’t. Instead they acted cautiously and used their religious system as a means to further their own agendas. Instead of alleviating fears they fed them.
Into this scene came an obscure young man from the wrong side of the tracks. Very soon word was rapidly spreading about him and the claims he made for himself. To some- especially the community leaders- they sounded unbelievable and worse, sacrilegious. They quickly labeled this young man a trouble-maker.
Yet there was something special about him. People were flocking to him by the hundreds. His reputation as a teacher, a healer and even a prophet was growing. His good and generous actions toward the poor and oppressed were becoming legend. The whispers had begun, “Could he be who he claimed to be?”
The community leaders knew better. In him they saw merely a shabby carpenter openly flaunting their rules and challenging their authority. The people only followed him in hopes of being fed or out of curiosity. He would soon flame-out like so many others before him.
But he didn’t. He only became bolder. His messages only resonated of heaven more clearly. His connection to the people only became stronger.
This just exposed their disconnection. But instead of taking time for reevaluation and assessment; instead of seeking dialog and common ground in an effort to reconnect- they entrenched. And from their trenches they were blinded to everything.
As I read and reread the story surrounding Jesus, I cannot help but see parallels. Chaos still threatens us. Fear is an underlying daily reality. Everything now seems to border on the extreme. A weariness of heart remains. The great spiritual hunger also remains. People are searching to connect to something, to someone who can direct them to purpose and hope.
Are we- churches and church leaders- open to make these connections? Are we evaluating our outreach and assessing our attitudes? Are our lives and churches authentic to our communities? Are we really doing what Jesus did?
I don’t believe that we have empty hearts, brutally selfish agendas and cruel motives like those who opposed Jesus. But I do believe entrenchment has happened- maybe not intentionally, but it has happened. Consequentially, many of our churches are no longer connected to the culture around them.
This can be corrected and urgently needs to be, but it will take a transformation- not necessarily of what we do on Sunday, but of what we do every other day. We will have to come out of the trenches, out of the comfort of our cathedrals and into the lives of real, hurting, hungry people. We will have to personally model to them the Jesus we see in the Gospels. They are simply not able to see him through our church walls.
“I was hungry and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink, I was homeless and you gave me a room, I was shivering and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me.”
There is just no other way to connect.