Jared Witt - October 1, 2018
But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.”
“Who told you that you were naked?” - Gen. 2:9-11
At what age did you first learn to cover up? When did you learn to stiffen your back, tighten your shoulders, put on a “face”?
Do you catch yourself doing this more in some places than in others? Why is that? What cues are you picking up to figure out which one is which?
In the Lutheran tradition, we talk about being fully justified before God in our baptisms. That basically means we have nothing to hide. And many of us actually believe that at some eternal level. But has it really taken at the level of the dinner party? The holiday with extended family? The office place? The mirror?
I suspect there are a lot of Christians running around saying they believe that all is forgiven. But if you ever find yourself redden in the face for some reason, whenever something triggers a certain childhood memory, or if you find yourself raising your voice arguing about topics you really don’t care about that much and realize it’s because you’re trying to prove your intelligence to someone who’s not even in the room, or if you find yourself getting very judgmental about how someone else is raising her kids because you yourself secretly fear that you’re not a very good parent, then maybe you don’t fully believe in this new reality of grace quite as strongly as you say you do.
And what of church? Do you find that stepping over the threshold of your church building is the moment you find yourself loosening the tension in your shoulders? Or does that tend to happen when you get in the car to leave?
If it’s the former, give thanks for that. For too many in our officially Christian culture, it’s the latter. Maybe for you, it’s some complicated grey space in between. Maybe you see the value in having a spiritual community and would like to invest yourself more in one, but you more often find yourself flipping pancakes or going for a walk on Sunday mornings because it feels more like Sabbath than that subtle but gnawing pressure you feel anytime you need to “present yourself” at church.
Sometimes certain cultural realities get so ironic, that I lack the words to describe how ironic they are. I’m forced to draw analogies—Albert Einstein’s elementary school teachers calling his parents with their concern that he might not have the intelligence to advance to the second grade; Michael Jordan getting cut from his high school basketball team.
Those are the images that come to mind anytime I hear that church, of all places, where people should be relentlessly assured that they, themselves, just as they are, can do nothing to lose the the unconditional love of God, has instead become some masquerade where they feel pressured to put on their most impressive persona. And while they might still hear a thoughtful sermon or lose themselves in a song here or there, it’s ultimately impossible to convince people of the Gospel, if what they feel when they walk through the door subverts the “message” at every step.
That’s why, from the very first time we invited a group of old friends, beer aficionados, and random neighbors to Aaron’s driveway to give some feedback on Martin Luther’s favorite 16th century beer recipe, and this small hodgepodge of people kept growing into a larger hodgepodge of people, the calling to expand this unofficial beer club into the first church owned production brewery and taproom wasn’t so much a decision as an imperative. It’s usually a good indicator of where the winds of the Spirit are blowing, if you find yourself not so much picking a direction as being nudged along the path of least resistance.
Accompanying the visible signs of the Spirit’s blessing was my own inner pull. I was having a fine time leading a more conventional program sized church. And damned if I didn’t actually do alright leading in that setting. But it seemed like, in those days, no matter how many wins I was experiencing in my official gig with my big ministry budget and staff and outreach programs, I found myself yearning Monday through Friday for the purity and simplicity of my Castle Church family on Saturday.
I’d learned to pay attention to such yearnings thanks in large part to a pastoral mentor of mine who would always say, “The main thing is that the main thing is always the main thing.” Whereas I felt like so much of my conventional pastoral life at the time was trying to wade through the administrative conversations, and recruiting a Capital Campaign team, and waiting out the pleasantries and small talk, and picking a VBS theme, so that we could finally get back to talking about Jesus.
But there was something about putting a beer in someone’s hand that just stripped away all the underbrush and cobwebs that seem to keep us from the “main thing”: we would just talk about Jesus and that would be that. We would pray for healing in someone’s family and that would be that. We would sing a song and that would be that.
I think if we’d set out from the beginning to create a ‘beer church,’ then the beer would’ve been just another distracting, gimmicky thing. But in that weird way that God always uses plain, mundane things like bread and wine and water to communicate transcendence, it was somehow because of the beer that it wasn’t about the beer. It was always about the main thing. I guess Luther was right. God always hides glory and holiness beneath its opposite.”
Another good sign that the Spirit is moving ahead of you is when otherwise imposing doors keep mysteriously opening to you, and you keep finding support and affirmation from others. We’ve had no small embarrassment of that support, and now we are just a moon or two away from opening our own doors of authentic hospitality: Reformation Day Brewery Blessing on October 28, Soft Opening through the month of November, and Grand Opening Festival December 1.
Cheers and Peace,
How Castle Church is stirring up a new spirit in the church from a brewery in Orlando, FL.