"If You Are Righteous, Do Not Read This!"

By Christopher P. Leighton

  Does anybody know why people don't go to church? Some of the so-called "righteous" people might say that it is because those people are hiding from God, but as a veteran church-goer, I can tell you that many people in church are on the run too.

It may be that over half our nation doesn't go to church because the impression given by religious people is that God seems most concerned about them.

A lot of people don't go to church because other things have taken the place of church. It may be that people once went to church, but now hold back because they may feel unwanted or unworthy. Unchurched people may not agree with what they consider to be man-made rules of institutional religion.

Some folks I've talked to don't participate in organized religion because they feel that life has crushed them. They feel defeated and disillusioned. Life feels like a cruel joke, without meaning and without goodness. Why should they try to make sense out of it, and why should they go to church where people will only hurt them more?

Besides, so many times the message sent from churched people sounds like it is for winners only. The religion of America is not for losers. Instead, it is based on legalism, full of "woulda, coulda, shoulda." I have a friend who exclaims, "I'm tired of being 'should' upon!"

Unfortunately, religion can sound like it offers what they ought to be, what they ought to have been, before failure or the blows of fate overtook them. This is a religion of sad news, bad news, - certainly not good news. The law, for those who are failing in their own eyes, is a monster with a cruel whip in its hands.

In Luke, chapter 18, Jesus tells a story to those who were confident of their own righteousness, and looked down on everyone else. Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed to himself, "God, I thank you I am not like other men - robbers, evildoers, adulterers - or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get."

But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, "God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Jesus then concluded, "I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

As we enter the time of year that notes the core of the Christian faith, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, it is vital to remember that Jesus died to bear our burdens and sins. He was raised from the dead to offer God's grace to all who believe. Now is the time for people in the church to get the message, "It is by grace that you have been saved through faith (Ephesians 2:8)."

It is also important to remember that those who are missing matter to God. God's grace is offered to all people. This is the message of good news. For those who aren't in church, the good news is only good if it gets there on time. Christ is counting on you.

An edited version of this article appeared in the April 20, 2000 edition of The Darien Times. The Reverend Christopher P. Leighton is the Rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Darien, CT