Getting What You Came For

By Bob Hiller

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Dude…that “fight” between Mayweather and Pacquiao sucked. It was so boring! I am sure there is some boxing geek out there who will wants to tell me how, technically, it was a beautiful example of the “sweet science.”And, yes, I clearly saw how Money May took Pacquiao out of his game. I saw the strategy and the…ahem…nuance. But, I didn’t want to watch “nuance.” I wanted to see the world’s best boxers go blow for blow over twelve rounds or less. Instead, I saw Mayweather run around the ring and lunge in for hugs for the better part of 90 minutes. I saw Pacquiao throw some good punches early on only to just sort of fade away. Any sense of fun was just gone after the fifth round. But, what do you expect when each boxer is making so many millions per round…but I digress. We expected something far better than what we got.

We now come to find out that Manny had “inadvertently” hidden a shoulder injury from the Nevada Athletic Commission so that he wasn’t able to receive proper medical treatment before the figh. Now fans are furious over paying (and betting) so much money to watch what was billed as the most important fight of our generation because what they got was an injured Pacquio chasing a huggy Mayweather. So, now there is a $5 million class-action lawsuit against Manny, claiming people who paid good money for that fight were “victimized” by the boxer’s failure to disclose his injuries.  Sheesh.

I think we can all agree that this lawsuit is, at best, ridiculous. However, it is not surprising. The revelation of Manny’s injury just gave disgruntled boxing fans an opportunity to vent their anger and get their money back. As a general rule, under-delivering on a promise produces a negative reaction, especially when the one who undersold benefits financially. Being told one is to see the fight of a lifetime leaves one expecting to get what they came for…a fight!

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I wonder if this isn’t why there is a great amount of aggravation with the church in our culture. We do a lot of talking about what Jesus does. We talk about how forgiving He is, how loving He is, how a relationship with Him will transform your life. He takes your old, sinful self and puts it death so He can raise you to a new life. He gathers us around His gifts in the Word and sacraments to do that new life work for us. And so, people come to church expecting that. They’ve been told to expect a place where they will receive Jesus who relentlessly gives freedom from sin and guilt and shame. They come to hear of Christ’s love for them. They come to be counted among a messy group of sinners who are broken in their sin and are collectively seeking mercy and love (from God and each other). They come for healing and forgiveness and hope and freedom because that is what Jesus promises.

Is it any wonder there is such a visceral reaction against the church? I mean, that’s what people came for, that’s what they hoped for, and instead they’ve received rules, instructions, new laws, and judgment.

Rachel Held Evans, for all her theological quirks, recently wrote an article for the Washington Post in which she marvelously showed how millennials are turned off by churches that are trying to be hip to, well, millennials. She has a fascinating line where she says:

When I left church at age 29, full of doubt and disillusionment, I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity. I was looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity: I didn’t like how gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people were being treated by my evangelical faith community. I had questions about science and faith, biblical interpretation and theology. I felt lonely in my doubts. And, contrary to popular belief, the fog machines and light shows at those slick evangelical conferences didn’t make things better for me. They made the whole endeavor feel shallow, forced and fake.

People, like Evans, come amidst fear and confusion to receive healing and mercy for their sin-bound lives. They come for ways of dealing with hard questions. They come looking for something graciously given with no sales pitch. Instead, all they get is a new community with its own spiritualized morality; one that fears hard questions and condemns anyone whose sins are not yet under control. So, if you want to be a part of this church (and you’d better because otherwise Jesus will not like you) then you need to put on a fake smile and play your part. People came for freedom and received a new bondage. Trouble is, folks who were promised grace actually expected to see it. Instead, they got one dud of a fight. So many, like Evans, left angry.

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You know what? They were right to do it! They were promised freedom and grace and were given rules and condemnation. Jesus promised to be the end of all that, but that scared us religious types too much, so we subverted Jesus and put rules and condemnation back in charge. We even used His Bible to do it! They were promised Jesus but were given life plans and spiritual checklists. They weren’t set free from condemnation, let alone told how to live in freedom, they were only given a new law.

Perhaps we in the church should just start being more honest. Perhaps we should just tell the world, “Look, we are happy to invite you in to our church. We’ll even give you the promises of Jesus if it will get you in the door. But, once you’re here we’re going to take with one had what we gave with the other. We’re going to promise you the free forgiveness of sins, but then we’re going to tack a whole lot of unspoken (or even spoken) conditions onto the gospel. We’re going to sing about “Amazing Grace” and then raise an eyebrow when you’re off key. We’re going to call your struggles with sin unrepentance, question your faith, and tell you you’d better get right before we show you mercy. And then, we’re going to be self-righteously offended when you call us hypocritical and judgmental.” Sheesh.

Or, we could do something radical: We could give everyone within earshot the freedom they came for by preaching repentance and forgiveness in Christ’s name, no strings attached. We could give the new life to broken sinners by preaching Jesus Christ alone. We could openly confess that we are those sinners and repent of our beloved legalism. We could stop using the Bible as a stick with which we beat people and start preaching a life of freedom from its inspired pages. We could stop fearing the hard questions and start loving the doubtful. We could even bring the gospel to people whose lifestyle we vote against. At least then when people left angry, it would be for the right reasons!

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