Church, you are a funny gal.
You are equal parts holy and unholy, a joy and a pill. You sometimes cause more damage the you fix.
You are lovely and ugly.
You are messy and gorgeous.
You are the beloved Bride of Jesus, who suffered enormously so he could woo you and call you his own. You are meant to be a physical representation of God's love on earth. A pillar of hope in an otherwise unhopeful place.
Sometimes you do that well.
Sometimes you really, really don't.
But I truly, deeply believe you can. Maybe that's the cock-eyed optimist in me. Or maybe it's a bone-deep belief that Jesus won't leave his bride floundering, no matter how buried in muck she might be.
I've seen you wound people deeply. You have withheld love, judged harshly, set unattainable expectations and created rules out of thin air for the sake of self-righteousness. You have sinned and tried to hide it, only to have it come tumbling into the public eye. You have argued and bullied and broken apart.
But I've also seen you on fire. I've watched communities gather together, bolstering one another when everything hits the fan. I've seen you show up and love hard, because that's just what you do. I've seen you drop every pretense and raise your arms in humble surrender and adoration. And Jesus has been there.
I've seen you royally screw up and ask for forgiveness. I've seen you be open and honest and inviting and kind. And Jesus has been there.
I have sat in sanctuaries and hotel event spaces and auditoriums from China to Haiti to England, and seen first hand what the Body looks like in foreign places. And my breath has been taken away at the beauty of unity. There is nothing quite like the intimacy of worshipping with strangers.
This is staggering to me: the orphan in Port-au-Prince worships the same God as the student in Oxford. And that same God loves them both immensely and has knit them together in a family called the Church.
The Church is a million little voices chanting the same thing: Great is our God, worthy is He of praise.
Some people say church is pointless, and we can all get on just fine with our own private spirituality in the safety of our homes. Because organized religion is a mess, and people are terrible, and Jesus is just as present in your living room as he is in a sanctuary. Maybe, sometimes, more present in the living room.
And those points are valid. Religion is a mess. People are terrible. Jesus will meet you anywhere.
But to say the Church is irrelevant?
I wholeheartedly disagree. You, Church, are as vital as breathing. You may be a total train wreck, but you are necessary. You are a stronghold for your members, and a safe haven for everyone else.
But that only works if the people in the Church know the point of church. It's not a status symbol, or "just what you do on Sundays", or a social club.
The Church, as it is meant to be, is a collection of people who are walking towards Jesus together. The Church exists to lift high the name of Jesus and shout "HEY. A lot of things are broken, and we know Who can fix it. Come meet Him."
And the thing is, Church, you don't always do that. Because your people (me included) are sinful and broken and very, very messy.
But, MAN, there is a lot of grace for you, coming straight from the Bridegroom. And if He has grace for you, then so can we all.
That's true on the grand scale of life and the whole earth and people in general. It's also true in my small little world.
I heard a sermon once, in Oxford, about how important it is to love the Church. Because Jesus loves the Church, and He has such great plans for her. I think he was right.
What does it look like to love the Church? On the small scale of our own communities, and on the large scale of the world? Probably prayer. Lots of it. Prayers for revival, wisdom, love, and grace. And also honesty. Honesty about what's messy. Honesty about what's true.
Earnest prayers and transparent honesty. And a whole lotta Gospel. I think that's the ticket.
Church, you are worth fighting for. I love you even when you're messy. I'm for you, big time. Just wanted to let you know.