The following reflections conclude my presentation for the hip Presbyterian Women of Clairmont Presbyterian Church. (The full, multi-media presentation, titled “Losing Our Religion: A Church for Restless Souls?,” is available upon request.):
Stand-up comedian David Cross does a routine in which he pokes fun at the experience of being at a Renaissance fair. For those of you who don’t know what a Renaissance fair is, a Renaissance fair is a re-enactment of medieval times. Usually a lot of people show up in period costume. There’s food, beer, jousting. I’ve never actually been to a Renaissance festival, but apparently it’s supposed to be a fun, rowdy, even bawdy time.
And Cross jokes about how almost always when you go to the Renaissance festival as just an ordinary participant in the crowd, wearing jeans and a T-shirt, you end up being secretly glad that you’re not one of the people wearing a heavy costume, sweating like crazy, and doing the entertaining; because the real fun is just showing up to watch all the silliness, and maybe to enjoy a beer as you stroll through the grounds. To paraphrase Cross, the Renaissance festival is one of those parties where the people throwing the party seem to be having a lot less fun than the people who show up to see what the party is all about.
We Christians celebrate a God who is the life of the party. We celebrate a God who is “The Life” itself. Yet so often I wonder if we as “church” aren’t those people with the heavy costumes on: we’ve been sweating way too much than we have to, while looking a bit ridiculous and putting on an act, and not truly enjoying the party.
And the world is watching to see if The Life we’re celebrating is real. The world is watching to see if we’re more than an act; the world is watching to see whether we’re really ourselves at the party rather than pretending to be someone we’re not; the world is watching to see whether we’re truly able to relax and enjoy the festivities, or…whether we’re just putting on a show that at the end of the day will conclude with our taking our costumes off and breathing a sigh of relief that the day is over and we won’t have to do that again for at least another year.
I hope not. I hope that we as a people are seeking and finding our lives in Jesus and celebrating The Life of the party without getting in Its way. Because God’s life, thankfully, really doesn’t depend on us or on our best gimmicks. God’s life is contagious apart from anything we do or don’t do. God’s life doesn’t require that we pretend to be someone we’re not or to put on a great, big, laborious show.
God’s life just happens apart from anything we can do to generate it.
And I hope you can hear that tonight as good news. Really good news. You see, you, “the church,” don’t have to be the life of the party. You don’t have to do the entertaining. Jesus, The Life, is already at work in your lives and in the lives of those around you outside these walls. All you have to do is show up and witness to how Jesus is already at work. And, that’s not burdensome. You don’t have to bring Jesus with you: that would be like wearing a ridiculously heavy costume at a Renaissance fair.
All you need to do is be there with people, alongside them, ready to share your life and the life of Jesus in you, ready to point to how Jesus is already at work in your life and in the lives of the people out there. And so tonight, that’s my challenge to you: my challenge to you is to go out and live your life to its fullest, in the open, with honesty, asking questions in search of more purpose, more truth and more life while being engaged in the world around you; and then celebrate how Jesus shows up along the way.