Monday, March 7, 2016

The Lost Son(s)

"Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car."

I have always loved that quote. Most people consider it a motto for those who are "spiritual but not religious." Or, as some prefer to call them, the "nones." The "nones" does include those who do not believe in God or a higher power, but the majority of them do believe. The majority of them simply do not believe in organized religion, and do not affiliate with an organized religion. They do not attend Church services. They do not see an importance in showing up weekly in a Church building, and often instead see those who do to be hypocrites.

And this perceived hypocrisy is the point of this quote - just because someone shows up every Sunday and sits in a pew does not make them better than those believers who stay home.

I heard a sermon a couple days ago which focused on these non-Church goers. In this sermon, the pastor basically said that these people are not part of God's Church, and that they do not have faith. But, he went on to say how there is still hope for these "nones" - that God is still waiting and willing to welcome them if and when they're ready.

This is, at best, poor theology. I'd go so far as to say it is the precise hypocrisy the "nones" are trying to avoid. How can any of us say that we are all part of God's Church, but then claim that this truth is only applicable to those who park their butts in the pews every Sunday?

Allow me to change up that opening quote just a little...

"A car which is not in the garage is still a car, just as a child of God not in the physical Church building is still a child of God."

Don't get me wrong - I do believe that the physical church building does have significant importance. I do park my butt in that pew nearly every Sunday (as well as any other chance I get). But this is not what makes me a Christian. it is not what makes any of us Christian. God hasn't welcomed me into his loving arms because I show up to service. It has nothing to do with me at all, and everything to do with God.

These "nones" are no more lost and in need of saving than you or I... and are no less found and saved than you or I.

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In our Gospel lesson for the 4th Sunday in Lent (Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32), we're told the story of the lost son. On the surface, I can understand how some may see this prodigal son as one who has left the church... and upon returning home, is welcomed back with God's open arms, forgiven, and therefore saved. I can see how this story can be used to support what this pastor was preaching a couple days ago. And yet many seem to miss a vital part of the story.

Yes, the prodigal son leaves home and squanders the money and does come back. And yes, he is greeted warmly with a huge party and lavish gifts. All is forgiven him. But what of the other son?

The elder son had stayed with his father, and had worked. And yet upon hearing of the younger son's return, and the partying that ensued because of his return, he grew angry and refused to join the celebration. He was lost as well. In believing he was better and more worthy of gifts and celebration, he was just as much a sinner as his brother.

And yet we see that with both sons - the one who left, then came back and said "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you" was forgiven; and the one who grew resentful and angry and never said "Father, I have sinned", but instead rebuked his father, was also forgiven and shown compassion. 

I do not believe the point of this parable has anything to do with anyone leaving the church, or not attending Church. The point is quite simply that we are all sinners. We all get lost from time to time. 

And yet our God is ever-loving, and ever-forgiving, and ever-present in our lives. His blessings are for all of us, and he lavishes us with these blessings constantly.

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