Philip Larkin, a twentieth century Irish poet, writes in his poem, “Church Going,”
“Yet stop (at this church) I did: in fact I often do, and always end much at a loss like this, wondering what to look for: wondering, too, When churches fall completely out of use What we shall turn them into, if we should keep a few cathedrals chronically on show…..”
Not long ago I ran into an acquaintance who happens to be agnostic when it comes to God. He’s not sure; he says the jury is out. But he is sure about the church: he doesn’t want any part of us. He always questions me, “ Are you still pastoring?” and when I tell him “yes”, he asks “how do you stand being part of the church?”
I’m not threatened or defensive about his questions or his perspective. I always tell him I understand. We Christians are a messy lot. We don’t always look like our Savior, Jesus. There are reasons why many people don’t want to be part of the church. I admit that I, too, am sometimes frustrated and disappointed with the church. It’s not easy living in community with people, any group of people. We, the church, can be arrogant, pretentious and self-righteous toward those not in the church. On occasion we even tear one another apart, kicking our wounded when they’re down.
Yet, I also tell him I have the privilege of seeing Christ’s presence within the church. I see people giving generously of their time and resources for the good of our community and world. I see children growing in their love and compassion toward others. This really excites me. I see people of different political perspectives show love and respect for one another in a culture where some people unashamedly seek to destroy those who differ with them. For most of us we act out of what we have in common: our love for God and our desire to be the true light to the world.
In a way the church is for me a laboratory in which we carry out the experiment Jesus showed us 2000 years ago. God calls people together into a community in which, despite our differences of race, ethnicity, culture or politics, we love one another as Jesus loves us. What is truly amazing is that it works. Sure we get in the way of God’s calling and mess things up. Yet overall Christ makes his presence known among us. Just as God crawled over the barrier of our sin to love us in Jesus, so we too crawl over the barriers between us to love one another as Christ loved us.
Some might say we’re wasting our time. Maybe, and I grant that it’s hard and doesn’t always look pretty. But I think I’ll stick with the experiment Jesus launched among us, to glorify God and for our good. What if we invited others to join us not in the “church” , but in an experiment of healthy living. Studies do show that people who live well in religious communities are generally healthier, happier and live longer. Maybe we could invite others to join us in the longest lasting experiment in human history.
I don’t know what the church will look like in the future. I am committed to be a part of the movement of Jesus Christ in the world and plan to serve as long as God grants me life. Thank you for the privilege of sharing this life with you. It’s worth it.
Grace and Peace,