Let me tell you about the Hilltop Steak House.
The first time I went to the Hilltop Steak House I was a 20 year-old college kid spending the summer on a Christian work/study project in Medford, MA. I had never seen anything like this place, as reviewed in the NY Times in 1988:
"A 68-FOOT-HIGH neon cactus towers over the suburban prairie along Route 1 north of Boston, a commercial badlands of mini-malls, muffler shops and markdown liquor marts. This startlingly garish landmark beckons hungry passers-by to the Hilltop Steak House in Saugus, Mass., America's largest restaurant, both in number of customers served and sales volume.
On a typical Saturday, the Hilltop, a sprawling Ponderosa that accommodates 1,300 carnivores, rustles up about 7,800 meals. It serves nearly 2.4 million customers annually...
In the mid-70s the line formed at the door to the restaurant and stretched 1/10 of a mile around the side. Waiting diners were given a colored, numbered token that corresponded to the room in the restaurant you were going to be seated in. The steaks were enormous, accompanied by the largest baked potato I'd ever seen and a garden salad that could have fed a family of 4. The food was great. That was 1976. The Hilltop Steak House closed in 2013, replaced by intimate minimalist places, wine bars, and bistros.
As you read this, you're probably thinking I'm about to make some point about how churches need to be redesigned for the 2020s to suit the tastes of a changing culture. Nope. I want us to focus on those little colored, numbered tokens.
What killed The Hilltop Steak House? It wasn't bad management or bad food. It died because it was, after all, just a "meat market," and no one wants to be treated like a piece of meat. I can't say what it feels like to be part of a mega-church. I've never experienced it. I can tell you that the thing I most appreciate about being part of a small church is that I'm always noticed, always cared for, always valued in a small church. Do people always talk to me? No. But I know that I'm known here, and no one is going to give me a small, colored token and tell me what room or group I'm assigned to.
I was struck, as I wrote last Sunday's message, by how the crowd pressed in on Jesus in Luke 6. That was a meat market for sure! Jesus finally had to say, "But I say to you who hear!" And someone -- I don't know who -- stood still in the crush and listened. That's hard work. But you'll notice that the crowds didn't last forever, not at The HIlltop Steakhouse and not for Jesus. Jesus died essentially alone with no great crowd attending at the cross. Jesus challenged the people in Luke 6 to know and be known. You and I find ourselves in the queue lines of life all the time. Will you take the risk and subvert the queue line? Take the "cue" from Jesus. Stand still in the queue and listen. What is God saying to you?
Last Sunday at worship we looked at Jesus' Sermon on the Plain from Luke 6. I gave everyone an assignment at the beginning of the message: Memorize The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12). Here they are in the English Standard Version:“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
We've been learning that the gospel -- the "euangelion" [in Greek] is 1) the good messenger, 2) the good message, and 3) the reward someone gets for bringing good news. That last one Christians don't think about much. Each of the nine groups Jesus mentions in the Beatitudes brings good news. Each is a good messenger. Each gets a reward. That's why they're "blessed". Maybe thinking of it that way will help you as you memorize.
If you want help memorizing Scripture or if you want to talk about these groups and why Jesus commends them, write back! Let's start a Beatitude Conversation!
"All spoke well of him and marveled at the gracious words that were coming from his mouth."
" When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. "
Five verses. That's all that separates "all" speaking well of Jesus and "all" being filled with wrath and ready to throw Jesus off a cliff.
Some say pastors take "awkward pills", and I guess I understand what they mean. Church can be a pretty awkward place. Let's face it, here's a place where we're supposed to be all excited about Jesus, who is the main attraction. But none of us really knows what that excitement is supposed to look or sound like.
We sing songs to try and express our feelings. Someone prepares a weekly lecture that's supposed to hype us up and make us want to tell others about Jesus or make us more Christ-like. We have seminars -- even for little children -- because we want to teach each other how to be like Jesus. We even set up a weekly coffee reception so we'll hang around and talk about Jesus with one another.
But imagine what it would be like to be the person leading the singing on a Sunday or giving the lecture or teaching the seminar? In the beginning, everything's going great. Everyone loves the first five minutes. But when you get to the part where you talk about sin or about us being separated from God if we don't know Jesus all of a sudden everyone in the church starts to throw things at you! Now that's awkward!
But seriously... what do you find awkward or strange about church... not about faith in Jesus... about Church. We all agree that Jesus is the "Hometown Kid" who made good. Write back and let's talk.
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