The Church--The Challenge of Life Together
Apparently, the great theologian Karl Barth was once asked after a lecture, “Do you think we’ll see again those we love in heaven?” Barth answered, “Yes, I do. And those we hate.”
I have a hunch that one of the reasons many people find it hard to be a member of a church is that disciples are called to live with those we find very disagreeable—and yes sometimes hate. It would be so much easier to be “spiritual but not religious.” So much easier to do my own thing. So much easier not to deal with people who are challenging. (Of course, in our awareness of the challenges of others we often forget how challenging we are.) At some point or another, we all cry out, “Why couldn’t Jesus have called me to be part of a church full of people who agree with me?”
But then we remember that this wasn’t Jesus’ way. Jesus continually brought together people who were an affront to each other. He brought together tax collectors and sinners and good upstanding religious folk. He brought women into the company of men. As he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” And then after he was raised from the dead, he empowered his Apostles to continue this motley movement. The story in Acts is a story about a movement that continues to broaden its embrace—even including Gentiles—but not without resistance. Should we really include gentiles without demanding that they behave like Jews? The Council of Jerusalem eventually decided yes. Paul’s letters reveal the ongoing challenge of life together in community. After he leaves Corinth, the church quickly divides into factions loyal to particular leaders. So much for loving one another.
During this very divisive time in our country, the church can show the world an alternative way. We can insist on loving each other even though we may see things very differently and do so while being honest with each other. Some churches keep the “peace” by pretending that differences don’t exist. That is not the church. The church should be a place where we love each other enough that we can risk telling each other the truth. For example, I find President Trump’s recent comments about the four women representatives to be racist, offensive and divisive. Such views are certainly not consistent with the Gospel and the deepest values of this country. But I am fully aware that other members of my congregation may read this differently. The church ought to be a place where we can move toward each because we are called to love each other even if we are deeply offended by another members views. Sadly, the church often mirrors the society around it. Members who disagree with each other part ways and find a church more to their liking. (Of course, they will eventually find that church to be just as messed up as the church they left.)
Bernard of Clairvaux once said about monastic life, “God always sends you the brother you don’t want to have in your community.” Because God wants the church to be church—not just a lifestyle enclave of the like-minded—we can rest assured that God will always be sending people to our church who expand our capacity to love. Oh yes. And we, with all our challenges, will expand their capacity to love.