Yes, The Church Leaks a Whole Lot, But It's Still the Best Thing Afloat
Preparing for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany: Two Days Before Sunday (Year C)
Psalter: Psalm 19
Old Testament: Nehemiah 2:1-10
Epistle: Romans 12:1-8
God of every land and nation, you have created all people and you dwell among us in Jesus Christ. Listen to the cries of those who pray to you, and grant that, as we proclaim the greatness of your name, all people will know the power of love at work in the world. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.
There's an old story that I and more than a few preachers have used in a sermon at one time or another—that Noah’s Ark was not a very pleasant place to be during the flood with the smelly animals and the stale air and being cooped up with no place to go. But as difficult as it must have been for Noah and his family, the Ark was still the best thing afloat at the time.
It is an obvious observation—the church is far from perfect. That is not an excuse; it is just a fact. And while we the church need to be going on to perfection, such perfection continues to elude us this side of the Second Coming. The church is a very leaky boat.
In my writing and speaking, I have been very critical of the church at times, and many preachers and writers I read and listen to regularly are just as critical. We do not point out the church’s failings because we hate the Body of Christ; on the contrary, we love it. If we didn’t love the church, we wouldn’t care enough to raise the concerns we encounter.
To be part of the Church of Jesus Christ can be a very frustrating experience for all of us who are individual members of Christ’s Body. I can list my reasons why I get so frustrated on occasion and so can many others. Some of those reasons are similar, others may be very different. There has been much talk about the church and how it has turned off the younger generation and how others who were very involved have given up on “organized religion.” These concerns are legitimate and should be discussed with compassion and vigor and critical reflection.
But my purpose in this post is not to focus on the church’s frailties and foibles, though they seem to be many at times. What I would like to do is remind us that the church is not only an all-too-human institution, but it is a creation of God and brought into existence by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and through the life-giving breath of the Holy Spirit.
We must never forget that Jesus told his original disciples and, therefore, all of us who are disciples, that the gates of hell would not overcome the church (Matthew 16:18). I have often pondered the image offered to us by the Apostle Paul that the church is the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12-30), that the church is Christ’s presence in a special redemptive way that cannot be seen anywhere else. In the church, God’s kingdom ushered into the world and established by Jesus continues even today. And such work can be found in no other institution. If Jesus is the very presence of God in this world, then in a very real sense the church is the very presence of Christ in the world. But we must remember that unlike Jesus, who was sinless, the church consists of disciples, who are sinners, but hopefully going on to perfection. The emphasis in this context is “going on.”
The Corinthian Church was one leaky boat. Paul had to address several matters that was dividing the church. All too often, divisions in the church result of a selfish pride that insists on its own way. As Paul begins his discussion of the Body of Christ in chapter 12, he says to the Corinthians, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think.” The unity of the Body of Christ is necessary for its mission in the world; and humility is one necessary quality to have both.
There are times when I am very discouraged with the church for various reasons. And on such occasions, it is helpful for me to remember that the church has struggled from the very beginning. In the Book of Acts after the wonderful event of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit and the Birthday of the Church, God’s creation (Acts 2), it doesn’t take too long before there is disagreement and fighting in the ranks (Acts 6). In other words, the church in the twenty-first century is not facing any more difficulties, any further disagreements, any more intense strife than what our Christian sisters and brothers faced in the first century. God, who always works in the context of the human situation has created and called a people to be his presence in the world. God has been more than willing for that presence to be imperfect; for even, and especially, in the church’s imperfection, God can reveal God’s grace.
One of the early symbols of the church is a boat in the midst of troubled seas. And while that image is meant to primarily convey the church staying afloat though tossed to and fro by worldy challenges and threats, it must also be remembered that the church continues to stay afloat and continues to stay on divine course even though the deck hands at times struggle and fight with one another. The captain of the ship, Jesus Christ, insures that nothing—threats from without and strife from within—will steer the church off its divinely appointed course and one day into the safe harbor of eternity.
And I will also say this. In spite of its foibles and frailties, there can be no kingdom work without the church, there can be no resurrection without the People of the Resurrection, there can be no Easter without Easter people to sing the praises of new life; without the church, there is no kingdom.
Yes, indeed... the church is one leaky boat... but it is indeed the Body of Christ.
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