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Thursday, March 28, 2013

"Jesus is Good, Church is Not"

Today is called Maundy Thursday, from the word 'mandate,' i.e., that we wash feet like Jesus. The Roman church calls it Holy Thursday. I prefer the latter term, "holy" resonates with me more than "maundy" does. In any case, it is so full of rich material of deep theological and spiritual import. I want to look at just one.

People claim that they like Jesus but do not like the church. I am a churchman and when I hear the complaints against the church I must admit that I understand the frustration. Truth be told, I am a perpetrator of some of that abuse. I am the guy people picture in their head when they are sharing a bad experience with the church. Literally, I have driven away dozens and dozens of folks because of things I have said, things I have done and things I have failed to do. In most cases I am very sorry for the damage done, and in many cases it was unintended; but it does not matter to the offended parties.

On the other hand, like most perps I am also a victim. Here is where it gets tricky. If I have said cruel things I have heard many more unkind words. If I have failed to give support I have also been cut off and left high and dry far more. If I have been short; I have also been berated, misrepresented and abused. So it goes both ways. And the wounds afflicting me have caused some of the wounds I have produced in others. Working in the church allows one to fully experience all its flaws!

Jesus is Good. He is Goodness itself. The church is not good in the same way. It is not flawless nor is it perfect. It is, in fact, composed of perpetrators and victims of all manner of sin and evil. The problem is, when you come to Jesus He is always surrounded by His church.

If you say, "I want to see Jesus" you will find Him in His church. If you say, "I want to eat with Jesus" you will sit at table with other disciples. At the last supper, which we remember this day, Jesus was at table with His closest friends. What happened?

Peter trumpeted his love and vowed to stay with Jesus through everything. Sounded good, sounded inspirational, sounds like the kind of guy I want to be with, make my mentor and imitate. Then Jesus drops the bomb, "You will deny you know me three times before tomorrow morning!"
Other apostles thought it was a grand time to debate their relative status. Jesus says, "I will die." They say, "I think I am greater than you." "No you aren't." "Yes, I am." So the orignal band of disciples sounds like they are on an ego trip.
One guy, the treasurer of the operation, checks out early to betray Jesus. But by this point we see all betrayal is relative. If Judas is worse than the others, and he is, it is only by degree. Every one betrays Him, each in his own way.

Pondering that gathering, the people Jesus called "friends" I wonder if any church is any worse than that group. I think not. Yes, this group of misfits and miscreants looks remarkably like us. And if you want to eat with Jesus it is a communal table. Jesus focuses on that group in an intentional way. He commands us to be foot-washing servants. He tells us to love one another as He loved us. He tells us to build each other back up after we repent of our failings. He tells us that He wants us (together) to remember Him and do this meal over and over. He tells us, and tells us, and tells us. It is always about the whole group for Him.

Is the church good? No, not really. It is made up of people and people, even at their best, are not always good. Even so, Jesus loves the church. Totally. Jesus believes in the church, it is His mission team. Jesus forgives and heals the church. Jesus forgives and heals through the church. And if the church is good enough for Jesus, then it should be good enough for us.

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