One of the troubles of today's church is that it's full of Pharisees - people who wash the outside of the cup, who increase the burden of the people, who worry more about ritual than relationship, more about law than love.
Most of us, to one degree or another, are guilty of this.
We look at the world around us, and we think, If only this world would subscribe to the ideas of God. If only they would understand His ways and live by His laws, this world would be a better place. So we spend our ministries, and our lives, trying to get a world that doesn't know God to live as He desires.
We spend most of our time trying to teach this world where the lines are drawn between sin and faithfulness. We teach them the difference between cleanliness and uncleanliness. We lecture this world about what God likes and dislikes.
It's not so different, really, from living in the times of Jesus. There were all these Pharisees running around, the guys largely in charge (and large and in charge) of the synagogues. They knew all the rules. They knew the lines between sin and faithfulness. They had clean and unclean down to a science. They could recite from memory what God likes and dislikes. And the people were looking at them and wondering how there could ever be a way. How they were ever supposed to get all this right.
And did getting it right mean becoming a prude? Did getting it right mean becoming like a Pharisee?
It wasn't an enticing proposition. Nobody - nobody who wasn't already a Pharisee - was looking to God to make them holier-than-thou. What they were really longing for was a way to be holy.
For all their talk, that's not what the Pharisees offered.
Are we, the church, so different today? We are the people running around, "in charge" of the church. We know all the rules. We know the lines between sin and faithfulness. We have clean and unclean down to a science. We can recite from memory what God likes and dislikes. And the people are looking at us and wondering if this is it. Does getting it right mean living like us?
It's not an enticing proposition. We have to stop trying to make this world holier-than-thou and invite it to become holy in the presence of God.
It's like we think we're the gatekeepers or something, but that job is already taken. Jesus is the Gatekeeper. It's like we think we're the teachers, but that job is taken, too. Jesus is the Teacher. It's like we think we're supposed to teach people all the rules, but these people have enough rules. What they need is grace.
We're not supposed to be teaching the lines between sin and faithfulness; we're supposed to teach repentance and redemption. We're not at the front of the class; we're at the foot of the Cross. We aren't supposed to be teaching the difference between clean and unclean; we're supposed to be leading the procession to Living Water. We're not supposed to be teaching this world what God likes and dislikes.
We're supposed to be telling them how deeply God loves them.
Are we doing that?
What would it look like if we were?