May 26, 2016

Are We the Church of Jesus?

“It is not enough that we love God. It is not enough that we love one another. We must also love the world for whom Christ died.”

George Bernard Shaw once wrote:

If some enterprising clergyman with a cure for souls in the slums were to hoist a board over his church door with the following inscription: ‘Here men and women after working hours may dance without getting drunk on Fridays; hear good music on Saturdays; pray on Sundays; discuss public affairs without molestation from the police on Mondays; have the building for any honest purpose they choose on Tuesday; bring the children for games, amusing drill and romps on Wednesdays; and volunteer for a thorough scrubbing down of the place on Thursdays, he could reform the whole neighborhood.”

I believe George Bernard Shaw saw the church’s greatest need as well as its unlimited potential. My friends, if the church of Jesus Christ becomes what it was created to be, a place that truly seeks freedom and wholeness for God’s children, we must come together in unity.

So where do we begin?

We begin by acknowledging who we are. We are the body of Jesus Christ. We are temples of the living God. We are the company committed by a covenant and a cross. The writers of Leviticus knew that is where we must begin. The Lord speaks to Moses in the second chapter of this book of priestly laws and says to him, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for the Lord your God am holy.’” (Lev. 2:2)

The people of Israel never forgot who they are, though from time to time they needed a little reminding. That is how they have survived as a people for three thousand years under every possible adverse circumstance.

Whenever the church has forgotten who it is, it has lost its vitality and lost sight of its mission. However, our strength is renewed when we are rooted in our dependence upon God. And we dare not stop here; it is clear that Christ calls us to be more than a shrine. As we know, the church is not a place but a people – a people bound together in love and mission.

It’s not a stretch to say that every church has its problems. We all have our own ideas on how the kingdom of God ought to be advanced, and sometimes those ideas are hard to mesh. But we are one body. We can’t afford to lose a finger or a hand or a leg. We are one body – the body of Jesus Christ. If we are going to be about the business of being the church of Jesus, then we must work together, pray together, strive together in unity and common purpose, and never lose sight of the fact that even though we may disagree, we are one body! 

One more thing needs to be said. The writer in Leviticus was the first to record God’s command that we were to love our neighbor, but the boundaries of love’s demands are expanded throughout the Bible. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus counsels us that our love must also include our enemies. And St. John, the last of the Gospel writers, instructs us that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” Somehow, we must also learn to love the world. And that can be challenging.

A man came out of church one day and said to his pastor, “I love God so much that I am ready to choke anybody who dares to speak a word against Him.” That may elicit a chuckle – but such attitudes are wreaking havoc on our world today. People are ready to choke anyone who disagrees with them.

During my time in the city of New Haven, ministering in the Newhallville neighborhood, I was blessed to witness the power of the Good News of Jesus Christ – that we are loved, forgiven, and part of the Kingdom of God. My ministry has been forever challenged by my participation in the weekly prayer walks that fellow clergy and lay people engaged in, where we reached out to people in the neighborhood in prayer and love with no strings attached.

Jesus set out not to choke the wayward but to embrace them with the good news that they were loved, as well as forgiven, that they were part of the family of God. I ask you, is this not our task as well?

So, let us not forget that we are temples of the living God, the body of Jesus Christ. We dare not let anything tear us asunder. Nor dare we stray from our central reason for being, which is to tell – and show – the world, in Jesus’ name, that it is loved.

This post first appeared in Episcopal Church in Connecticut’s May clergy newsletter. It is reposted with permission. 

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