John 4:1-3

Jesus realized that the Pharisees were keeping count of the baptisms that he and John performed (although his disciples, not Jesus, did the actual baptizing). They had posted the score that Jesus was ahead, turning him and John into rivals in the eyes of the people. So Jesus left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee. - John 4:1-3, The Message


“But the bell rang!”

That is the phrase that ran through my head reading this little bit of Scripture today. In one of my favorite Christmas movies, A Christmas Story, there’s a scene where Schwartz sticks his tongue to a flagpole and it gets stuck. He’s freaking out and then the bell rings for the kids to go in from recess. Everyone turns to run inside. Schwartz is screaming to his friend Ralphie, “Don’t go! Don’t go Ralphie! Don’t leave me here!”

Ralphie puts his hands up and says, “The bell rang!”

He turns and runs inside.

How many times in life do we feel like Ralphie? The bell rang, there’s just nothing else we can do but go inside.

There are these supposed rules that we have to follow. There is a “way that it’s always been done.”

What if I told you that you don’t have to follow the rules because you don’t even have to play the game?

The religious leaders were playing a game equivalent to our modern religious industrial complex called the game of Triple B, “Butts, Bucks, and Buildings.” For them it was not so much buildings and perhaps not so much bucks but they were definitely keeping track of butts.

When Jesus notices he decides he doesn’t want to play anymore. He doesn’t argue about the rules or the scorecard. He just decides that he’s not playing the game. He takes his disciples and walks.

It turns out that the games and rules of the religious industrial complex in his day and age were ones that he didn’t want to play by. So, he stopped playing their game. If you notice, Jesus seems to drive as many people away during his ministry as he attracts. He isn’t worried about the scorecard. All he cares about is teaching people to live life and to live it to the full through loving well in grace.

The silly games and rules of the religious industrial complex were so uninteresting he chose to not even play the game.

I wonder, what games are we playing that we really could just walk away from? What could we just stop playing? How much more joy would we find in life if we did?

Too many of my colleagues are spending their days in meetings and sending emails. This was not what they signed up for as pastors. I don’t know any pastor that thought their calling was responding to email and sitting in meetings. They wanted to teach people how to follow Jesus. Too many of us think that to carry out our calling, we have to pay the price of spending hours in meetings and administration.

We really don’t.

We can stop playing the game altogether.

I don’t mean walk away from ministry. I mean for Elders to gather together and decide that our churches will cease to be run as businesses catering to the whims of the masses for the sake of scoring high on the Triple B index.

Perhaps we need to leave the Judean countryside and go back to Galilee.