The members of this church of Christ say Jesus is the head of their congregation, and his message its only doctrine, so I would think there’d be some mention of loving one another and being joyful. Instead, the theme of today’s sermon is sin.
The minister is pale around his eyes where sunglasses go. I imagine him on a speed boat with blue glitter racing stripes. He tells us the story of David seeing Bathsheba and, even though she’s married, he’s determined to have her—which he does—and this sin unleashes a world of pain. The preacher says this shows us we must always, always say “no” to temptation. He tells us, “You can say ‘no’ a thousand times and just one ‘yes’ undoes it. It’s like a child with a cookie!” The message is almost identical to the Baptist minister’s the week before. That minister was once a cop who received a communication from God that he must “roar” the word of Jesus Christ. Luckily, God’s instructions coincided with his retirement. He warns the congregation to turn away from worldly things, to stay away from those activities like drinking alcohol because that is how you “open the door wide to Satan.” He shouts, “My job is not to be tolerant! My job is to explain what Jesus Christ wants!”
At the end of both sermons, my temples were left throbbing. Is sinning really so black and white? What’s wrong with a kid eating a cookie? If I went just on what these two preachers said, I would walk away thinking the goal was to stay away from “demonic” influences and “unclean” people—but what does that mean? Jesus laid his hands on lepers and socialized with prostitutes.
Throughout the New Testament, Jesus entreats us to throw our assumptions out the window: people we think are holy may not be, just as the wicked could be righteous. At a Methodist church several weeks earlier, the female minister even told us that if we wanted to be true evangelists, we should “go to where the people are, go into the night clubs, and in those places be example of Christ’s acceptance.” I remember this very clearly because it conjured a mental image of me sitting at a bar trying to beam rays of unconditional love onto the dance floor. Would I need to stick to ginger ale? She didn’t specify.
After the service at the church of Christ, I was perusing the literature table when the preacher approached me. Up close, I could see blotches of sun damage across his forehead and cheeks. I told him his sermon was impressive and I meant it; for every statement he made, he directed us to a line in the Bible. We were flipping back and forth like maniacs. “Well, I know a thing or two about sin,” he said, “There was a time when I smoked a lot of marijuana and ended up in jail.” I nod, surprised by this revelation—not that it happened, but that he would share it with me. Before I left, he handed me a workbook on being a better Christian.
“Read this,” he said. “It has a lot of good info on sin.”