About a month ago a member of St. Timothy’s offered to donate two banners to be put on the trailers in our parking lot. She didn’t have any suggestions for what they should say, but said she would leave that up to the staff. These trailers contain all the contents of the lower level of our building, which is being renovated. As you may already know, the banners say “Please pardon our mess - renewal of building and people in progress!”
I like the banners a lot, but to be perfectly honest I actually preferred some other options for the wording. The one I liked most was “If you think our building is a mess, wait until you meet our members and staff.” Of course, the problem with this banner is that it could easily be misunderstood. For example, the last thing I would want is for our members and staff to read this as an indictment of who they are; that somehow they are defective rather than priceless creatures made in the image of God.
So why do I like it? Because the reality is that every church community is messy. Every church community is made up of flawed human beings who frequently let each other down, misunderstand each other, and often don’t have any clue what they should be doing. In Life Together, Bonhoeffer reminds us that many Christians have a “wish dream” of what the Church should be. This wish dream church is some ideal that quite frankly doesn’t need the grace of God to hold it together because all the members are model citizens. But we know better, don’t we? We know that the church is made up of sinners who hurt one another, envy one another and judge one another, and the only thing that keeps them together is the grace of God. Church life is messy and the only thing that keeps a messy church together is God’s ever renewing forgiveness and mercy.
Too often churches present themselves as anything but messy. Slick websites, polished publications, and dynamic programs suggest that a church has it all together and if you want to have it all together just come and be with us. What our troubled world needs is not another slick church, but a church that acknowledges that most of the time we just don’t have a clue and therefore our only hope is God. This would be a church where anybody, no matter how messy their life, could find a home. Perhaps the messiness of our building can be a vivid reminder that we are a messy church made up of very human members, whose life together is sustained, not by our flawless lives, but by the power of God.