“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” -Luke 5:32
We just had some friends come stay with us from out of town for a few days. They were arriving earlier than we expected. When they called to tell us how far out they were we went into full speed-clean mode. Spare room, guest bathroom, family room, go, go, go!
Our kids asked numerous times, “Why do we care if it’s clean?” (It really wasn’t all that messy.)
That’s probably a great question.
We were trying to clean it out of a healthy sense of showing hospitality and care and respect for our guests. We want them to know we value them and are expecting them and are glad they are here.
But there’s probably also a less-healthy sense of wanting to look good, to impress, for our life to not look chaotic and messy.
[Picture Maria meeting the VonTrapp family for the first time in The Sound of Music]
What’s this goofy need I have to look good and orderly and put together?
I know my friends and I know that they will be happier and more comfortable in our “lived in” family room, with all the noise and mess, than in some formal living room where they were afraid of breaking something valuable.
Where are we going with this?
I have had numerous conversations over the last several years with friends who are discontent with the church. They don’t go to church anymore - or at least not with any regularity. There are varying reasons: they’ve been hurt, they are frustrated with the “production”, they don’t feel like they belong or fit, they don’t like the music or the preacher or the…
I don’t want to minimize those things but it does make me wonder - sometimes out loud - what they were expecting? I mean, the church is made up of a whole bunch of people just like them, like me, like you. We are messy and selfish and petty and annoying, but we are also kind and thoughtful and gracious and inviting. I think I want my church to feel well-lived-in - with the mess and clutter and noise and love and bickering and meals and rest and comfort. That sounds like HOME.
Eugene Peterson notes: “For as long as Jesus insists on calling sinners and not the righteous to repentance (Luke 5:32) - and there's no indication as of yet that he's changed his policy in that regard - churches are going to be an embarrassment to the fastidious and an affront to the upright.”
That’s why John, in his Revelation, refers to the churches as lampstands - places where the light of Christ is shown. They are not the light, they show the light.
A screwed up church, Peterson notes, “still functions as the church. Dirty lampstands don't extinguish Christ's light. Of course, it's better that it be neither of these things, neither tarnished out of neglect nor polished out of vanity. It's better that it simply be there, inconspicuously receiving and unselfconsciously sharing the light of Christ.”
Make a quick list of the places where your church feels and looks like a family. Where do you see some of the mess, but more importantly, where do you see the health and beauty?
Thank God for the beautiful parts and ask Him for grace to in the messy and wisdom and courage to be an agent of change where you can.