In my children’s sermons, I generally just come up with an idea and run with it with the kids — not a whole lot of pre-planing. Last Sunday, I was casting about for some way to connect to the Job passage I was going to preach about later in the service with the adults. The passage spoke of Job holding onto his “integrity” in refusing to renounce the faith he had always held now that all the positive reinforcements had been ripped away, (family, wealth, and health.)
So in order to get at the concept of “integrity,” I came up with the idea of offering candy to various children and adults to get them to speak certain words. I began with, “I am a duck.” I couldn’t find any kids who would say this obvious falsehood in order to get some candy, but a member of the choir happily obliged me. Then I offered a couple of adults candy in order to say, “Jesus is Lord,” and “God is love”, which they readily did. Then I said (to which I regret embarrassing my two helpful volunteers), “There’s a problem with this. How do we know they really believe this to be true if they got paid for it?” I also asked what would happen if I said, “If you don’t say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ I will kick you out of the church”? The point I was trying to make was that when rewards and punishments enter the picture, the integrity of what we say we believe to be true is threatened — that some things are simply true in and of themselves, and their inherent truth is the thing that should compel us to speak of them, regardless of rewards or punishments. The early Christians held onto their integrity when they testified to their faith even though doing so meant imprisonment or even death, and they were all the more compelling in their witness because of their obvious integrity. (All of this was probably way-too-abstract for children to get, but hey, who knows?)
It was only later, after worship, that the thought occurred to me: “I’m the one who gets candy for saying ‘Jesus is Lord’ and ‘God is love’, and I’m the one who would be in danger of getting kicked out if I didn’t say it. I get a salary, a parsonage to live in, and health insurance in exchange for preaching the Gospel.”
All of which points to the incredible can of worms that was opened up as soon as Jesus’ Church became an “institution” as opposed to the spontaneous movement it was at the outset. Now churches can’t help being like any other business, worrying about meeting the budget, with the inevitable compromises with the truth that go along with it.
So we are thrown back on relying upon grace: If Jesus could be born in a stinking stable, presumably he can be born into an institution with all the daily pressures that compromise our integrity.
Come, Lord Jesus.