One of the great criticisms of the church these days is that those on the ‘inside’ are as mean, nasty and hypocritical as those on the ‘outside’ of the church. The immediate response is to remind each of of a few things.
The church is a places for sinners. Jesus loves us while were lost and that proves God’s love for us. We also need to keep in mind that for every persons that Jesus welcomes in love he also sends in grace to “go and sin no more.” If folks are disconnected from church because of our behaviors, words and examples, we need to pay attention.
It is an awesome responsibility to be the body of Christ for the world as we live out our faith as the church. Others, both inside and outside the church family, look at each of us with expectation to see and hear Christ at work. Our culture is flooded with cameras and recorders preserving our everyday lives as never before. Image someone making a documentary of you and broadcasting your behavior toward others with the hashtag #seemeseeJesus
Remind one another to respond in love. Our first rule as Methodist is to do no harm. Glaring looks, rolled eyes, comments to our neighbors under our breath cause deep harm to others. This is the front line of communication for far too many. Long before people take the time to have conversation or work side-by-side with us, others experience us from a distance, from our reputations, perceptions and signals.
There are some folks that church folks want to run-off from the church because they are different or difficult to include, much less love them. In the name of protecting the comfortable culture of our church family or unchallenged control of traditions and directions of the church’s future, ‘inside’ folks will communicate in all matter of ways. We do well to have each other help keep us accountable that we do no more harm. When these words and actions are experience from within and beyond the doors, the church needs protection from itself.
Following our rule to do no harm is the challenge to do all the good we can. We must take care not to miss the intent of who’s goodness we are conducting. What’s good for me and what’s good for the body of Christ is not always the same. It may be good for me to keep my familiar traditions of meaning and comfort and if a few people are tramped, so be it. It may be good for us not to get what or retain control, so that others might learn to lead and we might learn to follow.
Some would offer “There are other churches you know.” Keep in check that the good we represent and give witness to is that of Christ for a broken world being transformed into relationship with God. There are many flavors, but there is One body of Christ.
The third rule as a Methodist that can guide us in being the witness the church is called to become is to practice our piety. Practice the activities that build our spiritual relationship with God and others. Practice love God by participating in worship with others with whom we disagree; fairly consider the ideas, perspectives and gifts of others in Christian fellowship. Serve Christ, hand-in-hand, with those who we find it difficult with whom to work or follow. This is how we test and temper our faith, not by armchair protecting the church and our faith.
This experience of sweet people acting bitterly in the church is experienced by those, both inside and outside the church. In an era where our culture devalued and even under minds the power and role of the church as the living witness of Jesus Christ, we don’t need to give fuel to a consuming fire. Rather we need to be consumed with avoiding the harm we do, countering our sinfulness with goodness in the strength of Christ and to be ready to embrace and welcome those who do not fit our model of acceptability.
The church is not a budget; it is not a building. The church are people of Jesus Christ. When you see your sister/brother behaving and speaking in a way that is controlling, rejecting or hurtful, help them recognize they actions and message. The church is under attack from culture, science, academia, government and from within. The only part we can do actually change are the internal threats.
So, go love your neighbor, welcome the stranger, love your enemy, forgive those who have neglected or offended or troubled you. We have too much good to be done in Jesus name in a broken and sin filled world to stand on our own clay feet. May then find strength, hope and power in Jesus Christ who is our salvation and example.
(Note, if you think this letter is about someone else, I encourage you to read it again, consider it is written to you, and the rest of us.)
In the love of Jesus Christ, who entrusts us with the mission and witness of God’s work in the world today and for the days, years and ages to come. This is the crossroads of Jesus, the world and ourselves. Don’t make the world harder for the outside, the insider or yourself.
See you Easter Sunday. (Bring a dozen friends and family with you too!)