Thinking Church – Expectations
My pal Chris Gallagher is running a month-long series of guest offerings on the question, “What I Love About the Church…” Your favorite Fumbler will be sharing his own reasons for loving the church on August 17th, but until then, I want to mull over some thoughts I’ve been wrestling.
In the world of pop Christianity, tremors rang out this week as Anne Rice declared that she was quitting Christianity. In her words, “It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group.”
I wish I could express how deeply I sympathize with Anne’s perceptions. How many times have I considered taking the leap she has described??? I wish she would read Blue Like Jazz, where one of the finest authors of this era wrestles with many of the things causing Anne (and the rest of us she leaves behind) such agony.
But I have a bigger question, about expectations. Let me lead into it this way.
Jesus has been looking forward to this night with an incomprehensible mix of emotions: dread, excitement, the teacher’s passion for a climactic lesson, a child’s desire to please their father, a hero’s desire to save the day, and more besides. He’s sent his disciples ahead to prepare the Passover gathering; have they figured out that he’s giving them a test, a little quiz before the other examinations coming that night?
Needless to say, the disciples flunked the quiz, and we over”Christianize” Jesus if we don’t read John 13 with all the emotional subtext of a frustrated and disappointed young leader having to teach the basics AGAIN! Feet were scrubbed red, and Peter’s little “you won’t wash MY feet” spiel was clearly unamusing. After three years, these guys would still rather sit around the table with stanky, nasty feet and argue about “who’s the man???” Could you blame Jesus for calling ten thousand angels right then??? But he didn’t. He died for these roughneck jerks and selfish losers. Losers like me.
Losers like the Hebrews about whom Moses said to the Lord, “Alas, this people has sinned a great sin. They have made for themselves gods of gold. But now, if you will forgive their sin–but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” (Ex 32:31-32 ESV)
Losers like the Jews about whom Paul wrote, “For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh…” (Rom 9:3 ESV)
Anne, you’re a recovering drunk, and I have a huge amount of respect for you — but what in the world gives you the idea that a bunch of Spirit-filled recovering sin junkies is going to be anything but a “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious” lot? I know you’ve gone to group – was it all sweetness and light? Of course not! Even while we pray, “Come quickly, Lord!” we’re still a wreck. The church is the hope of the world, because *Jesus* bought it, filled it with His Spirit, and cast it to the four corners of the world to make his glorious strength clearly visible in the midst of our weakness. Do you know what would happen if we *weren’t* so weak?
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2Co 12:7-10 ESV)
If we weren’t weak, how much prouder would we be???
Maybe that’s why I love the church: it’s the one place on earth that it is safe to be honest.
in HIS love,