Do I have your attention? Some of you may be shocked, some of you may be sickened, some of you may be saying to yourself, “What they said is true, he's nuts!”
OK, let me explain what I mean, which could make it worse, but here it goes: A few years back I was invited to speak at a men's retreat. The thought occurred to me that I should begin the first session by coming out naked! Yep, buck-naked!!!!!! OK, maybe some sandals to protect my delicate feet, other than that, come out in all my splendor. In my mind I could clearly see the reaction. I could see guys falling out of their chairs laughing. I could see them staring at me in complete and total disbelief, but most of all, I could see and hear a group consensus emerging....”Put something on!” If I had actually done this, it would have made these men exceedingly uncomfortable. They would not have been able to endure me standing before them naked. And this reminded me of church!
We say we want to be open, transparent, honest, accepting, but we work really hard at covering up our imperfections and we become really uncomfortable when we are exposed to the imperfections of others as well.
There appears to be somewhat of a double standard at work in our midst, "Come as you are,” but “Change, at least on the outside as soon as possible!” The raw, naked truth makes us very uncomfortable. I think mostly because we don't know what to do with it. We tell people they just need to make right choices and everything will be OK. Gosh, I wonder why Jesus never thought of that? Are you going to tell me He did? Is it some sort of Omega code hidden in the Sermon on the Mount?
You can argue that Jesus invited us to “Come and die” and that's a choice. But Jesus never invited anyone to do anything. Jesus was at the right hand of the Father when all that exists was created...the One who said, “Let there be light and there was light,” doesn't invite, He commands. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” it is not a suggestion. In Jesus’ time if a Rabbi said, “Follow me,” there was no other answer but “Yes.” It was the greatest honor of that time. It meant you were the best of the best of the best. I was like being asked to serve the President of the United States; you just did it.
Are there multiple-choice options when Jesus says, “Come to me”? Are there some other ways to find rest? Is there some other way to learn from Him, be instructed by Him than to come to Him? I contend it is not simply a matter of ”right choices” or a commitment to a particular program that leads to life. I would contend that it is complete, total surrender to the One who says, “Come to me all you who are burdened and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” A set of principles will not give you rest, a series of right choices will not won't give you rest, the right affiliation will not bring peace and contentment. It's not in a principle; it's in Him. Before Him we stand “naked and unashamed” and He clothes us in His perfection, His “rightness” so to speak.
It seems to me that there is no way to enter into the community of faith as those who follow Jesus, other than to admit that we fall impossibly short of His perfection. There is no way to be a “Christian” other than to admit that we are completely and totally un-Christ like. In classics language we are sinners, who need a savior. But it appears, having once admitted that, we try to distance ourselves from that reality as quickly as possible. Conforming to our new surrounding, acting and looking like everyone else, so others won't see that having come to Christ we are still flawed and hopelessly lost without Him. We learn the language of church, adapt to the culture and blend in, all the while struggling with the fact that we are still sinners who need a savior, but can no longer admit it once we are "in” so we cover up. Moses did it and Paul busted him. Moses was in the presence of the Lord and he radiated that presence and it scared the people, so Moses wore a veil. Paul rats him in telling us that Moses wore the veil long after the glow had gone. Hmmm sound familiar?
One of the things I really appreciate about “High Church” is the fact that communion is the center of the whole liturgy. The altar, the place where we openly admit we are sinners, serves as a reminder to us that “If we confess our sins, because He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” In a sense when that is done we do so in nakedness. We are unable to pretend that we don't fail, that we aren't flawed, that we don't sin. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why Jesus instituted Communion as one of the central sacraments of the faith----So the pretenders can't pretend. It's a place where we have admit that even though we made all the right choices and followed all the right principles, kept all the right promises, we are still sinners who need a Saviour. You cannot take communion and cover up your flaws, in fact, if you take Communion, you are admitting you are flawed, that you fall short. I just wish that afterward we wouldn't go back to pretending and covering up. I want to get naked! I want to be who I am, warts and all! I want to be loved by God's people like I am loved by God.
I don't want to feel like I need to cover up, because my pain, my brokenness, my failures make others uncomfortable in a church culture that says if you come to Jesus your marriage will be better. If you come to Jesus your kids will be better. If you come to Jesus your finances will be better. Is that the Gospel? And I don't want others to cover up because they feel their pain, their brokenness, and their failures will make me uncomfortable.
We are what we are; we are who we are. Before God we are naked and unashamed, before each other, not so much.
I just want to be who I am and what I am, the same person before God as I am before others. I don't want to have to try and hide, try to conform, try to cover up for people when I don't have to cover up for God. But unfortunately, I feel like I need to, I feel like I have to because my “nakedness” makes others cringe.
"Just as I am, I come to thee..."
Naked I came into the world; naked I will leave this world, blessed be the name of the Lord!