Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Why the church?

“What is the reason for the church’s existence?”  Who are we and what do we do?”  This week, the Acts 8 movement asks that question. (Check out their page here: ) What is the point of having the church, anyway?  I could never resist a good rhetorical question, so here is some of my rhetoric.

The church does a great many things.  It educates our youngsters, supports the community, challenges the comfortable, serves the needy, builds fellowship amongst neighbors, and uplifts those desperate for inspiration.  However, none of those things are the reason we need the church so desperately in this day and age.  We can find education at universities, inspiration in nature, challenges in athletics, assistance at the food pantry, friendship in a bowling league, and service in the Lion’s club or 4-H.  There are a plethora of organizations to fill those needs.  Why do we need the church?

There was a long period in my life when I didn't need the church. I didn't need some archaic, patriarchal, restrictive religion telling me to believe a God in heaven that kept score of my every move and handed out rewards and punishments in this life or in the next.  My life was going just fine without it.  Until one day, when my can-do attitude and work ethic failed me, when my spiritual-but-not-religious outlook fell short, when my failings became too great for me to bear and I melted in a puddle of tears on my bathroom floor.  In that moment, overwhelmed by anxiety and exhaustion, I felt the tangible love of God.  I couldn’t quite believe it, but I started to pray.   When I could no longer find God in nature, in meditation, or in self-awareness, I found God in Christ. I prayed the prayers of my childhood, the ones I had learned in church.  Praying, I traded in a Sunday-school version of God as an old man in the sky and encountered a mystery.  That mystery that led me through the doors of a church and back to the cross.

At church, we meet in the greatest mystery of all.  The mystery that can love me, a sinner, in the midst of my sin, my self-righteousness, my selfishness, my overall jerkiness.  The mystery that didn’t excuse my bad behavior, that helped me feel it, own it, repent, and forgive myself.  The mystery that held me in the palm of its hand during my father’s death, the mystery that brings grace to those in the midst of great suffering.  It is the mystery of catholic, universal love in the name of Christ.  That is why we need church, not to solve our problems, make us better people, teach us values, or give us answers, but to give us a space and a place to live with the mystery.   In the liturgy, I hear it, I feel it, I smell it, I eat it, I drink it, I bask in it, I love it.  I meet others, also imperfect, also beautiful, also beloved children of God, and I learn to love them, too. At church, the mystery of the grace of God in Christ loves me back.

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