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Questions from the Outside: Will You Answer My Questions?

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  • The next question so often asked of the church from the outside after trust deals with relevancy.
  • Relevancy is a word worth defining a little before we set course, but it has set ripples through a lot of churches
    • MW gives three subdefinitions under what we're looking at:
      • Having significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand
      • affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion
      • having social relevance
      • Implies "a traceable, significant, logical connection"
    • In other words, can people make the connection to the gospel that helps answer the questions that they wrestle with?
  • This isn't usually how the church frames relevancy: articles and books galore attempt to answer this question by arguing it's not the message, but the packaging wrapped around the message.
    • Commodified Faith: FAST FOOD
      • Sometimes, all we want is fat and sugar. We don't need health or substance, but we want to be satisfied.
        • We know these churches: sleek productions, good looking pastors with top end kicks and Supreme hoodies giving fortune cookie responses to one of the most impactful stories known to humankind. Many of the folks who advocate for this approach also are very big on keeping sermon prep to the bare minimum, for instance. It isn't about the Scriptures, after all, but satisfaction.
        • A fast food faith is tasty sometimes, but run that too long, it'll show up in your heart, in your blood, and steadily kill you.
        • And in the end, what's not being sold is an answer to a question, but a product to provide temporary satiety.
          • It may seem like it has "social relevance," but doesn't really have significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand...
          • Ask, for instance, how the fast food gospel responds to this week.
          • Or, really, when anything other than the most slick and together happens.
    • Inversely Commodified Faith: BRAT DIET
      • Sometimes, though, we realize that we can overdo it on the fast food, and so we say we're going to go all out the opposite direction.
      • We know churches like this too...
      • Austere, so unengaged as to become wholly unappealing. It is a disengaged choir with blank expressions droning thorugh harmonies while an unremarkable and all-too-forgettable preacher drones on about "constancy" whilst fading into the white noise that lulls the congregation off to sleep. No one speaks, everyone shuffles. This is eating in monochrome: it's the ecclesial equivalent of the BRAT diet. Still isn't really nutritionally satisfying, but now also only really associated with nausea and sickness.
      • There isn't really an answer to a question here, either. It is a means to an end to return to something else.
      • Even if it has something to say, the traceable, significant, and logical connections are tough to grasp, so it's almost too hard to have a bearing on the matter at hand.
      • Both of these extremes are a commodity, because a bland package can still carry something limited nutrition.
  • So, perhaps relevancy has to do with something entirely if it is to be sustaining and life-giving in the long run.
    • Our texts show us two ways that outside questions were responded to.
    • ACTS
      • Acts reminds us that relevancy only happens amongst people.
        • Everything here hinges two important points
          • Philip paid attention to the call of God through the angel and the Spirit, and
          • he got up and went.
        • From there, he just engaged in the questions being asked - not forcing, but responding.
          • Philip asks the eunuch if he gets the meaning of what he's reading, and the eunuch invites him in for interpretation.
      • As a result, this whole discourse, which leads to the eunuch being baptized, couldn't be commodified, but had to be bespoke to the moment.
      • It doesn't mean the process wasn't known - no more than myriad recipes will use the same ingredients but with difference spices. But that conversation and conversion were tailored to that moment, for that person, in that time. And like someone that moves from cook to chef, the more we practice, the more it's not just a rote recipe but the creativity of the moment to meet people where they're at.
    • LUKE
      • We hear this story all the time, and focus on the Samaritan, but today, I want to focus on the framing of it, because it too tell us about relevancy.
      • The story begins by a legal expert asking what must be done to inherit eternal life. Jesus answers through the law - a significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand.
      • And a well-packaged response by Jesus might have ended at "you have given the right answer." But he continues: do this, and you will live. There is a challenge here. This spurns the lawyer on to be "justified" - if I understand my definition of neighbor, then I can feel good.
      • But Jesus weaves a story that makes it clear it's the Samartian - the one who would be least likely in the Jewish imaginary to be neighborly is truly doing right over and beyond the folks who purport to know better.
      • This ought to beg the question of relevancy:
        • Significant and demonstrable bearing on the matter at hand? Yep.
        • Affording evidence tending to prove or disprove the matter at issue or under discussion? Yep.
        • Has social relevance? Yes.
      • But this isn't clean. It doesn't leave the lawyer with warm fuzzies, in all likelihood. But it is relevant.
  • I realize in part this might feel like a longer way around the barn to deal with the issue of relevancy, but the answer is this: when we commodify the gospel, we commodify the people, too.
    • It means we're likely to have a fatty and saccharine-laced gospel that will stop us from getting to the most nutritious part of all for fear that we can't sell enough. And it means then we don't actually answer the questions people wrestle with, but we treat them as products to be consumed.
    • Or, perhaps we're so fearful of the second story that we create something as bland as possible that leaves us to wonder about relevancy, but we still drone along in consumption in order to survive.
    • Both still lead us to a product that can be given to products.
    • True relevancy means that every gospel experience is from scratch.
      • No two needs, no two experiences are ever exactly the same.
      • It doesn't mean that you can't have a menu, or work from a cookbook... but we know the difference between McDonald's and Matthew's.
      • Does it mean it costs more? That it takes more time? Of course. But the alternative is to get really good at spiritual big macs and heavenly drive throughs, and it'd mean you'd never know the story of the Samaritan or that the eunuch would be baptized.

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