I just finished a series on Christian Community held at a midweek service in the church I currently serve. I began this series in a weird place. I found it ironic that I was tasked with this series, seeing as- and I began my first sermon with this- I was having a hard time not losing all hope in the institutional church. Those are not words you expect to hear from your pastor. I began this series in a raw, vulnerable place, and finished it in a different raw vulnerable place- a place of realignment and perspective.
The frustration and struggle is very real for many people; I discovered this in a brand new way as I was vulnerable in front of a group of people. Week after week — in person and via email — folks shared how they too are struggling. When you are hurt, it’s hard to forgive; it’s hard to trust again. The church’s people have done plenty of hurting. When a place of redemption and new life is mixed with hypocrisy and classism, one wonders if faith in God would not better be guarded in isolation. When the world around us is fractured by racism, and abuse of wealth and power, why would we voluntarily hang out in a place that’s no different? It’s hard to be vulnerable time and again and try to be a part of a community that rejects you and that doesn’t listen to you. Many feel this way.
But Martin Luther, during the Reformation, was aware of the failing of the church. He said, “Farewell to those who want an entirely pure and purified church. This is plainly wanting no church at all.” So here’s what my problem has been: I have very high expectation of the church and Christian community; I believe God does. Furthermore I believe that God mourns our action and lack of action. Much like the incarnation – God becoming man – the birth of the church is a miracle – a work of God. The church is not an institution: it is a body, a family, a holy and living temple that God created. It is different; it’s unlike any kind of community. It’s called to destroy these aforementioned divisions, to welcome the outsider, to keep one another accountable to love and good works, to encourage one another in the hardest of times, and to continue growing together more like Christ. Love cannot exist in isolation- it demands another, God or sister/brother. I have experienced these aspects of life together, for which I am thankful.
And yet it is made up of individuals who are still growing, who are still learning, who are still leaving behind that which is not of God, and who are welcomed and still part of the church in the meantime. If we all had to wait to be part of this fellowship when we were perfect, there would be no fellowship.
The church will never be perfect as long as I’m a part of it. I will fail you. I will hurt (hopefully not on purpose) you. You will fail and hurt me. I’m broken; we’re broken. So there’s this place where we are called to be and there’s where we actually are. We live in that tension. In that tension Christ is patient with us — merciful, forgiving, and longing for reconciliation. He doesn’t let us stay where we are, but the fact that we’re still in existence demonstrates long-suffering patience! Who are we to offer each other any less?
We grasp on to hope — not in ourselves, but in Christ. And when our fingers are tired from the grasping, and our muscles ache from the tension, we let others grasp for us for a while… and maybe later we’ll exchange places. The place of perspective where I have arrived once again is that whether I encounter the beauty or the smelly mess of community, that I must keep my eyes fixed on Jesus. In Jesus is where my hope is found. In Jesus I find my center. Can you imagine if the church consistently lived with Christ as its center? I pray I find Jesus in my sisters and brothers — so that we can hold tight to hope together- the hope that calls us forward to what we’re called to be, not a passive hope that resigns itself to what it is . God has done the hardest work, thankfully, and is our hope and assurance while we work on our task.
“And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
-Hebrews 10:19-25 NLT
I often sing these words from the old hymn, but they’ve taken on new meaning for me.
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ Name.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand…