Monday, August 31, 2009

Loving a Blemished Bride

Sometimes I don’t like the Church very much. Sometimes sermons make me furious, church rules make me want to cry, and churchgoers leave me wondering if they really believe anything Jesus said. Sometimes the “bride of Christ” is just plain ugly.

[Note: This is not written about any one particular church.]

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” I wish this depiction were not true, but, too often, I have found it a painfully accurate portrait.

I heard the environmental movement dismissed as a bunch of “tree huggers” from the pulpit once—and far more frequently from Church members. Recently a friend of mine listened to a sermon in which the priest dismissed, off-hand, the work of a brilliant philosopher, whose work he had clearly not taken the time to understand. Even John Piper, some of whose work I respect very much, pronounced a couple of weeks ago that a tornado that hit a Lutheran church in Minneapolis was a warning from God to the ELCA (even trying to back up his point by using a scripture in which Jesus specifically states that disasters are not necessarily indications of special judgment).

It breaks my heart to see the church so quick to condemn, so unwilling to take the time to listen, so far from showing Christ’s compassion. Sometimes, I think that we would get along better with the Pharisees than with Jesus.

I wish I could say that I, unlike all of these other people, am never judgmental, never cruel, never self-righteous, but I may be the worst of the bunch. While I memorized James 1:19 long ago, I am still slow to listen, quick to speak, and quick to become angry.

I wonder if the reason we are so quick to judge others is that we somehow think that it makes us look better. If we point out the zit on our neighbor’s nose, perhaps no one will notice that we accidentally put on our sweater inside out. Maybe it will make us forget how ridiculous we must look. It feels like junior high all over again.

These reflections used to depress me, and sometimes they still do. But my perception is slowly changing. It’s not that, this time, I remembered to put my sweater on right-side out. It’s that this time I’ve realized that God loves me no matter how my sweater looks. And, not only that, but he doesn’t really mind that zit on my neighbor’s nose.

In Ephesians 5:25-27, Paul writes that Christ, “loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” I am getting to know a God who knows all of my wrinkles and blemishes but who loves me deeply anyway—a God who died to make me beautiful.

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