Church. Close your eyes. Yeah, you reading this. Close your eyes and think about church. Now, welcome back. I’ll start with the honesty.
My mental picture of church is fuzzy with disappointment and fraught with anxiety, judgement, and discomfort. The connotation in my head makes me want to scream at the top of my lungs to be seen and hide under a pew or chair from prying eyes at the same time. The association of the word for me is nails on a chalkboard, attempting to dance with disapproving statues, and showing up naked to a masquerade.
So, why in the hell do I scrape the last ounces of my free time together each week, fighting through the cobwebs of demons and minefields of uneasy feelings, to attend a gathering in the name of a 2000-year-old Messiah? Because my feelings and undertones have it all wrong.
The church was Jesus’ idea. It is his church. In the literal shadow of the might of the Roman empire, Jesus breathed this idea of his church to his twelve ordinary followers who couldn’t even keep themselves together. “I will build my church and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Mat 16:18) The Greek word Jesus uses here, ekklesia, indicated a group of people gathered for a specific purpose. The Jewish usage of the word added a sacred purpose to the gathering and he uses this intentional reference.
WE are the church! Not the denomination, not the list of by-laws and rules, not the rituals and traditions of confession and prayer and study and communion, not the building, not the location, not the liturgy, nor the call and response, not the music, not the wording, not the acts of penitence and contrition, not the institution, nor the entity of “they”.
Me. You. Broken, messed up, angry, hurting, imperfect, self-righteous, flawed, judgmental, in desperate need of grace. Me. You. We are the church.
Jesus didn’t call us to spend an hour a week in a building, trading platitudes, and perpetuating a sub-culture for religious insiders. He called us to critically look at what we believe about him. Who do I say that he is? Does my life reflect a trust and reliance that he is the Messiah? The long-awaited, prophesied One? Does that alter me daily?
Do I confuse Jesus’ mission on earth like the Jews did? Do I expect him to take political power and save me from inequality and violence? Or do I trust that he came to save the world from sin and death? That this power to save me from death and my own sin is the same power to transform the life I live every day to make me more like him?
When did “church” stop meaning the people and become the building? When did it become a weapon instead of a refuge? When did it turn into cop out instead of a movement? When did we all fade into spectators instead of front line boots? We have gone so far as to not only get lost in translation but also to plunk down a poor and feeble substitution in answer to the community and purpose to which we are called. We observe a ritual at an institution instead of respond to a call to arms and action and love.
The church is not an afterthought. It’s not a crowd-sourced, kickstarter campaign. It was and is and integral and essential part of Jesus’ plan for gaining ultimate victory over hell and death. And it involves me and you! Why settle for such soul sucking mediocrity? This is a prophecy that we have an active part in fulfilling! This gives purpose and clarity.
We, the church, are the hope of the world, not politics. The Body of Christ is what changes the world, not arguing and legislating. This living, breathing, messy congregation of sinners is what he has called us to for a sacred purpose. It is hard, but it is worth it to grow together in Him. We, the church – the beautiful chaos, the perfect picture of His grace overflowing, making us new.0