Morning Worship Column: Turn Over the Tables so the Church Can Be the Church

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“Neighbor, oh neighbor, I love Jesus but there are times I can’t stand the church. Neighbor, oh neighbor, it is time to kick over some tables,” said the Rev. Otis Moss III at the 9:15 a.m. Thursday morning worship service. His title was “I Love Jesus but at Times I Can’t Stand the Church,” and the Scripture was Mark 11:15-18.

Moss paraphrased the Scripture reading, saying the merchants in the temple “turned ministry into a market-driven opportunity,” and when Jesus called them on it, “the prosperity preachers tried to get rid of this brother.”

Dan Kimball wrote They Like Jesus but Not The Church: Insights from Emerging Generations, about millennials and the church. The millennials see Jesus as a positive, progressive person, one who is loving and admirable and offers a paradigm for life. The church, Moss said, is seen altogether differently.

“It is ugly, racist, homophobic and is antithetical to the ideals of Jesus. I am not surprised; I am in complete agreement with the research,” Moss said. “I love Jesus, but I have problems with the church.”

The church should be a place of forgiveness and hope, prophetic and liberating, congenial and amicable.

“There is a difference between church folk and those who follow Jesus. Church folk say, ‘I love you, but we have never done it that way before.’ Love comes with a conjunction and they end up making people run away from Jesus,” he said.

Moss said after the Maccabean Revolt, the Romans found a way to buy off the preachers, to keep the zealots in line. Jesus was always in conflict with the church folk who were aligned with Caesar and not God.

“Jesus ran into leaders who didn’t want his revolution. He started in Bethany and Bethpage, with the poor and rural folk, before going to the middle class in Jerusalem,” Moss said.

Yet, there is something unique about the church: The church is the problem, but is also the solution, he said. The church can be irrelevant and foolish, but it can also bring about transformative living. It will put up with sexism, slavery, be silent and petty, but it can shift the social landscape and live up to its ideals.

“Love without justice is sentiment, and justice without love is brutality, but when love and justice enter into a relationship the result is liberation and transformation,” he said. “Love and justice transform faith.”

The hymn “Amazing Grace” was written by slave ship captain John Newton. Moss said it was not Newton’s prayer (to save the ship from a storm) but the humming from inside the ship that went up to heaven. The angels called on God to hear the children singing and God calmed the storm.

“Spirituals are played with the black keys. If they are played without the black keys there will be grace, but it won’t be amazing,” he said. “The church is the problem, but it is also the solution.”

Jesus was angry merchants were turning the ministry of the temple into Wall Street.

“Jesus was angry in love, with righteous indignation. He was willing to kick over tables,” Moss said. “Jesus turned over some tables in the synagogue and we have to be willing to turn over some tables if the church is going to be the church.”

The church belongs to God and “we are to be committed to a ministry of love and justice. The church is the problem and the solution. Don’t miss the subversive nature of this text,” Moss said.

There is an egalitarian aspect to this story. The moneychangers were charging poor people a loan to buy a dove or pigeon for sacrifice. Many were women who could not afford “the dove or pigeon loans but could pay in other ways.”

Jesus said the temple was a house of prayer for all people.

“It was a place for everybody and for ministry to the most vulnerable. It was to give relief to the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” he said. “Sometimes you have to tear up stuff and renovate it to see something new. It was a radical renovation: a house of prayer for everybody, everybody.”

Moss said Jesus put out prosperity preachers who were aligned with Rome because they couldn’t stop his movement.

“We are part of a movement of love and justice and we have to kick over some tables for the next generation in America,” he said. “The church is a house of hope.”

On a visit to Martha’s Vineyard, Moss had dinner on a lighthouse ship that was designed to help bring ships into shore during storms. The mast of the ship is locked into place in a tabernacle and if it is not balanced, the ship will turn over.

“Every time you come to Chautauqua, you are tucking up your tabernacle. You are called to love, justice, and grace with peace,” Moss said. “Bring those who are drowning in.”

Once again the congregation stood and applauded.

The Rev. Ed McCarthy presided. Gay Didget, a year-round Chautauquan who teaches at Chautauqua Lake Central School and is a volunteer coordinator for the Big Fish Triathlon, read the Scripture. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, sang “When the Storms of Life Are Raging,” arranged by Christopher Henkee. The anthem was offered for Kaye and John Lindauer; John died of a heart attack Wednesday night. Pianist Joseph Musser, oboist Rebecca Scarnati and flutist Barbara Hois played “Bagatelle” by Geoffrey Robbins and “Trio” by Joseph Musser. “Trio” was written for Scarnati and Hois and they played it for the first time Thursday. The Gladys R. Brasted and Adair Brasted Gould Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.


The author Mary Lee Talbot

Mary Lee Talbot writes the recap of the morning worship service. A life-long Chautauquan, she is a Presbyterian minister, author of Chautauqua’s Heart: 100 Years of Beauty and a history of the Chapel of the Good Shepherd. She edited The Streets Where We Live and Shalom Chautauqua. She lives in Chautauqua year-round with her Stabyhoun, Sammi.