Monday, August 15, 2011

This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?

I have this crazy way of interpreting nearly every song and movie to be about God... I know that unless you are listening to actual Christian music or maybe U2 or Van Morrison, the songs probably aren’t meant to be interpreted that way, but I can’t help it. Call it a hobby, a game, a conceit, a nervous tic... It’s just the way I see things. 

Someday I’ll tell you  more about it, but today, I’m going to talk about this song by XTC: He says: “Come with me to the church on the corner the hop... Life begins at the hop!” which became switched in my mind to be: “Come with me to the hop on the corner the church... Life begins at the church!”

‘Cos I do love me some church. Sure it’s got its faults, and plenty of them. There’s gossip, judgmentalness, infighting, rifts, even, as we knows from news about the Catholic church, abuse. I’m thinking because it’s full of sinners. The church’s people are broken, scared, tired and insecure... they’re hard to love, but so am I! But they KNOW they are broken... that’s why they’re in church!

The church I grew up in
Because, as imperfect as it is, it remains a beautiful refuge for the people of God. A place for broken people to rest their weary souls, feed on the truth and get stronger. Sure, there are people who are in church because it’s part of their culture, a social expectation; and sure, there are churches that are made up primarily of these people. I grew up in a Methodist Church, and I couldn’t read the minds of the adults around me, but it seemed to me at the time that church attendance was mainly just something that was expected of people in the South. But when you find an authentic, built-on-Jesus church, you are in for a real taste of God’s love. It will be imperfect, because the vessels are imperfect – broken, but He told us to love you, so we’re going to do it! 

When Jesus made Peter the head of the church, he said, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” And I think that despite its many sins and faults, the church continues to exist by God’s grace, and will remain to the end... because Jesus said it would.

I think that in special cases, where a person is totally isolated and can’t meet with other Christians, God will meet him (or her) and help him to grow, but if a person can be in a church, it is the best and easiest way to experience the grace of God and flourish as a Christian. When I returned to church in my twenties, it was very difficult for me. I thought I was so hip, and looked around at the people in my new church and thought, “What a bunch of nerds!” 

But somehow I stuck with it... the grace of God? Probably. They were good to me, I sucked down God’s word, and I grew so much... in ways I never could have alone. Alone, you can read The Bible and books about God, pray to God endlessly, but you never get to see how God’s love works in a community.

It’s like the character John in C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress... He’s trying to get across a chasm in the road. He could go with Mother Kirk (the church), but instead tries to find his own way... In the end, though, he ends up being carried across the chasm by Mother Kirk after all. Because that’s what she’s there for. And if you could trudge along alone, or with a crazy – but interesting – bunch of people who have been commanded to love you... Well, I know what I would choose! 

If you have qualms about church, think the people are nerdy (we are!), hate the music, or are just shy... You are certainly not alone. But it doesn’t hurt to try it... just once. Sit in the back and drink it in, then duck out before someone tries to shake your hand. That’s easy, right?

In John’s Gospel there is a place where the disciples say, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” and Jesus says, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” But Simon Peter answers him: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” And if you want to hear Jesus’s words... where do you go? The hop on the corner, the church... Life begins at the church, boys and girls!

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