I have been around the church long enough to have an idea of what the theologian Alfred
Loisy meant when he said, "Jesus came preaching the Kingdom, and what arrived was
the Church." Jean-Paul Sarte said it this way: "hell is other people."
So I sympathize with people who give up on the church and decide to just follow Jesus,
those who say they are not so much "Christians" as "Jesus followers." I get it. As a
pastor, I have seen people do some amazing things, and I have seen people do some awful
things. It is enough to make you just give up on the church and start over with just you,
your Bible, and your Jesus.
While I sympathize with this instinct, I also know that it is not good enough, for you
cannot separate relationship with other people from relationship with Jesus. Oh, people
have certainly tried. I know of folks who say that their mission is life is to do something
vague like "just be passionate about Jesus," or some such thing, and I have to admit
that I have absolutely no idea what that means. Is being passionate about Jesus about
sounding excited every time you say his name? Is being passionate about Jesus about
letting everyone know you are a Jesus-follower because of your clever t-shirt? Or is being
passionate about Jesus about something else entirely?
I have to believe that Jesus meant it when he said that when you feed a person who is
hungry, when you give water to someone who is thirsty, when you welcome someone
who is a stranger, you are feeding, giving drink to, welcoming Jesus (Matthew 25). We
were created to serve each other, and the way in which we are passionate about Jesus is
by being servants.
Or, think of it this way. We were all created in the image of God (Genesis 1), and we
each have within us that very image, no matter who we are or what we have done. I
cannot do justice to God's love and grace unless I do justice to God's love and grace
within myself, and within you, because you share that same image. You cannot leave
everyone behind and follow Jesus, for one of the primary ways in which we follow
Jesus is by loving each other. This is no problem when we are loving a cute child, or a
dedicated volunteer, or a salt-of-the-earth saint of the church. But the world is not made
up of perfect people.
Babies grow up. Volunteers get burned out. Even saints make mistakes.
The raw truth is that people are difficult. Loving is hard work, especially when we have
to find the image of God within an especially difficult person. But we have been given
the gift of the God who created us, who redeemed us through Christ, who stays with us
through the work of the Holy Spirit. This God and this gift deserve no less.
We were made for each other. Though some days, I feel like moving to the woods with
just me and Jesus, I know that there are great gifts involved with being the church. Rather
than dismissing all of it, let us work so that it may be more faithful. Let us welcome
everyone into this gift of community.
Question: How are you going to be the church today?
(This post was first posted at Devotions by Young Adults for Young Adults, a project of the General Board of Discipleship of the UMC. I am the featured writer this month, and you will find a new post each Wednesday.)
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