Recently, as I was reading through Scripture as part of Margaret Feinberg's 40 Day Wonderstruck by Scripture challenge, I was struck by the Message's paraphrase of 2 Kings 17:32-33, “They honored and worshiped God, but not exclusively… They honored and worshiped God but they also kept up their devotions to the old gods of the places they had come from."
Though this passage describes the Assyrians, might it also describe our religious culture today?
Like the Assyrians, we honor and worship God, but we also keep our devotion to the old gods – gods like success and productivity.
I speak from experience on this and since I do, it's easy for me to recognize this phenomenon in the suburban context in which I serve.
In my congregation, Rally Day is Sunday. As in many mainline congregations, Rally Day is the day on which those who have been absent from church for most of the summer return. It's also the day our program year kicks off for all our educational ministries, including our high school youth ministry.
Every year at this time, I wonder how many of my students will show up. They want to, but they're busy. The reality of our culture is such that church is no longer set apart. Instead, it is but one option among many extracurricular activities.
To this end, I've lost track of how often I hear parents say, “My kid really wants to attend youth group, but we just don't know if it'll work in his schedule.”
I know my students live in a pressure cooker. I know they begin thinking about college the moment their freshmen year starts. So I empathize with these families.
But since when is God supposed to fit neatly into our already packed schedules?
Isn't God supposed to be first in our lives?
Sure, I know plenty of people who think it's possible for God to be first in our lives, even when church isn't. But I love Jesus and the church and so for me, the two are intimately connected.
Earlier this year, my colleagues and I spent a day downtown Chicago. As part of our day together, we toured the Sky Chapel at the United Methodist Temple. While there, I was captivated by this carving of Jesus weeping over the city of Chicago.
The carving was a play on Luke 19:41, when Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. As I stood there, entranced by this carving, I couldn't help but wonder, “Why might Jesus weep over our city?”
Certainly, I think Jesus weeps over it's violence; Over those who are homeless; Over the refugees struggling to make new starts for their families; And over the dozens of injustices that go unnoticed on a daily basis.
But I also wonder if maybe Jesus weeps over the hustle and bustle apparent in Chicago and so many other places; Over our over-scheduled lives and busyness; Over our drive for the ever elusive success; And over the ways in which these things compete with him for our attention.
I wonder if Jesus weeps over the fact that like the Assyrians, we worship him, but not exclusively. We do so when it's convenient; When it fits our schedules; When it meets our needs.
That's certainly been true of my life in the past.
So this year, I want to slow down.
I want to worship – even when it's inconvenient.
I want to serve – even when it doesn't fit my schedule.
I want to making God first – in all things.
I want to help my students do the same.