We love to say ‘The church isn’t the building, it’s the people’. But I don’t think that’s right. I think that the church is Jesus Christ. He’s the essence of church, the beginning and the end of it, the whole of it, not me with all my faults, not you with yours, not the wisest kindest holiest Elder with all theirs…. Jesus is the church. And if he is in us, as we are in him, united, then when the world looks at us they should see glimpses of Christ. Sometimes they will be tiny tiny glimpses, right enough, but when we live with God then God’s love will shine out of us.
That’s the theory anyway.
But listen, listen… if the church really was showing Jesus to the world, crowds would be flocking to hear more, the joy of his message would be electrifying the world, youngsters would be mobbing worship services – Glastonbury would look like a village fete by comparison, my town would be buzzing with praise and light and love. My three granddaughters would- with all the other young people – be desperate for church to be open again, for meetings to recommence, for teaching and outreach. But that isn’t happening. So, what’s gone wrong?
I know that the majority of people who read this blog are not Christian, and I’m always aware that you may well be reading it with a jaundiced eye, that your experience of the Christian Church may not have endeared you to all things Christian. I don’t blame you. I struggle with the traditional, existing, prevalent concept of church too. You have my sympathies. Church too often feels comfortable and self-satisfied, tightly knit like an exclusive marriage, tending only to each other and never looking beyond our own front door. ‘We’re very happy, thank you.’ and the door gets firmly shut against the outside world.
But the true church is Jesus Christ, and he shuts no one out. Our problem is that we think the church is us. That means we are busy distorting his image, his message and his truth. It’s like the Garden of Eden all over again. We have perfect love and we are all, all of us, busy mucking it up. But that’s us. That’s not him.
Today I had a long long chat with a non-Christian who has recently had some business dealings with a Churchy person and they have not seen any of the love of Jesus. Instead they have seen selfishness, arrogance, entitlement and a lack of openness. I sat at my table, listening to the outpouring of frustration and hurt, and I didn’t know what to say, how to make it ‘better’. The experience of dealing with this particular personality is a problem for many. “Hah!” you Christians might be saying “Then he can’t be a real Christian!” but he is! He really is! I know that he loves God, he has a kind heart and really wants to serve God, all his life. I know that he’s sincere.
It’s a puzzle, isn’t it? The difficult personality of this Christian friend is undeniable, as is his passion for God, so how do these things co-exist?
Life. It gets messy. I tried to deflect the conversation, but it didn’t work. I was reminded of that old mantra “Don’t look at the Christian, look at Christ.” but – as above – when we look at the Christian we should indeed be seeing Christ. Christ’s love shining in us.
Did I tell my friend that we Christians are flawed and stumbling? Did I tell her to look to Jesus rather than to his messy followers? Well, I don’t think I did. I think I said “Awww, but he has a good heart and he’ll mature with time… “. What I should have said was –
‘Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness
and who seek the Lord:
look to the rock from which you were cut
and to the quarry from which you were hewn;’
That’s what we have to do. Look to the God we follow, not the messy people who stumble along beside us.
I’m so wise. Aren’t I? Just wise enough to know that I’m not wise. Or good. Or shining with love. When I look into my soul I see just me. Selfish, arrogant, defensive me. Confused me. Conflicted me. The me who loves Jesus and follows him and wants nothing better than to keep her eyes on him but spends half her life flat on her face, wallowing around in the mud.
Like my friend with the difficult personality. Just like him. We’re all in this boat together.
It’s a good job that our God is the God of love. Imagine if he was the God of justice or retribution without the love! You know one of the things that makes it difficult for many people to explore the idea of church? They have the impression that we hold ourselves up to be good. We don’t. We really don’t. We hold our God up to be good, because he is, and we hold ourselves up to be…. what? Forgiven. Loved. Flawed but cherished. Accepted by the God who accepts everyone who turns to him. You, me, everyone. My flawed church acquaintance? Oh, yes, he is loved by God and God’s love will soften him and gentle him and transform him. Just as it will do all those things to me. And even as I listened to his latest goings-on, my heart was just plum full of love for him, awkward and chippy as he is, because in him, somewhere, sometimes, I see the glimmer, the hint and tint of Christ. He’s my brother and I love him. Awkward sod.
Listen! We have been out for dinner! My granddaughter and me went out to dinner with friends, the first evening out in, oooh, 343 years at least. It was amazing. Real people, not on a screen but in person, and a delicious fish pie (gourmet style) and a wander around a real garden. Life is returning to this little corner of Wales, shops are open, pavements are busy, holiday makers are arriving, and friends can meet again.
How wonderful. How human. How messy. Yay!