Authenticity Matters

people leaving church with homeless man sleeping by the door
Photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/1uk3/3654346878/">Luke Addison</a>

Malachi 2:1-9

Now, clergy, here’s what I have to say to you:

“If you won’t listen, if your hearts aren’t in it for me,” God says, “then damn you. All your blessings will turn to curses. In fact, they’re already curses, because you’re just going through the motions. Your ministries will be fruitless, and you’ll all be shitfaced. Your offerings will be crap, and you’ll be out on your ear.”

“This is what I have to say to you. It’s so that my deal with Levi will stick,” says God. “I made my deal with Levi to promote life and well-being. Promoting life and well-being, that is what reverence is. That is what being faithful to me is. Telling people the truth without demurring, having integrity, doing what’s right – that’s what will lead people out of their messes. Clergy should be knowledgeable enough that people can get good advice from them. They are God’s representatives.”

“But you’ve abandoned all that. You’ve tripped people up with bad advice. You’ve broken the deal,” God says. “And insomuch as you’ve substituted your own agenda for mine, I’ll spurn you, and embarrass you in front of everyone.”

If Malachi were around today, he might be Luke Addison taking a snapshot of people coming out of church on a beautiful spring morning. The picture makes you wonder what kind of sermon they’d heard just moments ago. The bigger question is, what kind of sermons are routinely preached here, that would lead to such stark indifference among the people who attend.

Malachi threatens a sudden “fall from grace” for those who claim to represent God but who are more concerned with their own agendas. Once in a while we see famous preachers fall that way, publicly. It never fails to be an embarrassing spectacle, and an occasion for religion’s detractors to say, “I told you so.”

But more often Malachi’s words play out in the “death by a thousand cuts” ordinary ways shown in Luke’s picture. As often as ordinary people see the disconnect with sanctimonious show and the truth of the camera eye view (and the windows of the soul), the credibility of institutions of faith is critically compromised.

[Bonus: What goes for the church, goes for every other institution, and their leaders: Credibility is damaged much more by day-to-day lack of authenticity than it is by bad headline news.]