So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked ones, you shall surely die’, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life. (Ezekiel 33:7-9, NRSV)
In days gone by, a pastor would know these words well, and these words would be a prod.
In the United Methodist Church, do we hear these words?
Rachel Held Evans, the hugely influential religion blogger, wrote about why the mainline church is not a good fit for her.
While evangelicals often adopt a narrow, literalist view of Scripture that borders on bibliolatry, I’ve spoken with mainliners who admit that they are embarrassingly illiterate when it comes to the Bible. (One woman told me that the only parts of Scripture she recognizes are those found in her hymnal, that she didn’t know the difference between Psalms and Proverbs, and that she was shocked to learn that some of her favorite liturgy was taken directly from the Bible.)
While evangelicals carry the unfortunate reputation of being married to the Republican party, mainliners are missing a great opportunity to talk about what it means to pledge one’s allegiance first and foremost to the Kingdom of God.
While some evangelicals avoid making justice a centerpiece of their mission for fear of looking too “liberal” (though I think this is improving), many mainliners fail to explain the religious motivation behind their acts of mercy. (One young woman from a mainline church put it this way: “I wasn’t learning anything about justice or creation care in church that I wasn’t learning in school. In fact, when talking about justice, my pastor was more likely to quote Gandhi than Jesus. So why would I bother going to church?”)
While evangelical pastors may care too little about who they offend, mainline pastors may care too much, to the point that they are afraid to say anything of substance.
I don’t think Ezekiel speaks to all of these issues, but he does speak to a key issue. Do we take God seriously enough to speak with passion and live with boldness? Do we feel the weight of what we are doing when we gather as a church?
When the music fades and the words of Scripture have been read, do we United Methodist pastors open our mouths to speak as if something of cosmic significance hangs in the balance?
As you may be able to tell, I ask this question more as a prod to myself than a question for you.
I try every week to preach well, but I have to admit that I too often lack the fire and sense that something of cosmic importance is happening when I preach. I am too often more concerned with being accepted than with heeding the words and warning of Ezekiel.
So, this post is a bit of a confession, a bit of an act of contrition, and a bit of a prayer that God make me a better watchman on his tower.