Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 103; 150, 1 Samuel 17:50-18:4, Romans 10:4-17, Matthew 23:29-39
As Jesus entered the city of Jerusalem, he had harsh words for its citizens, especially religious leaders. He called them a brood of vipers. While they claimed they would never have mistreated the prophets as did their ancestors, he condemned their hypocrisy by saying they were “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!”
Angry words, but also born of love. God often described Israel as his faithless bride, and Jerusalem was the heart of her rejection. Prophets and sages, though they spoke grim words of correction, were sent to save the people … a people whose behavior demonstrated they weren’t interested in saving themselves. Jesus wasn’t angered with Romans, Samaritans, or Egyptians because they had never followed God in the the first place, so hadn’t turned away; we aren’t pained when someone else’s spouse is unfaithful. Our hearts are not broken by strangers. Maybe that is why we react so strongly when the church we trust betrays us.
Augustine is credited with saying, “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.”
Unfortunate sexist overtones aside, that’s an apt description for a complicated relationship. We can love someone or something and still be deeply troubled by it. When the church and her leaders act from a place of corruption, greed, protectionism, or prejudice our hearts are grievously injured. We can respond with denial, departure, or a third, more difficult option. Denial only lets things fester. Departure lacks resolution; a Christian who never steps foot in another church still has indissoluble bonds to the body of Christ. Remaining in covenant to love our church through her indiscretions but insisting on better, as Christ did, heals us both.
We can become discouraged. The mechanics of conception and prostitution are virtually identical, so we have to do the hard work of sorting intentions and motivations, work that leaves everyone involved feeling vulnerable. Yet as Jesus loves us despite our flaws to help us realize our potential in the Lord’s grace, so must we help the church transcend her sins to be who she claims to be.
Comfort: No one is beyond redemption if they are willing to accept it.
Challenge: Meditate on what struggles you have with the church, and how you choose to handle them.
Prayer: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)
Discussion: What attracts you to the church or a congregation?
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