The foolish church...

Media_httpjasonclarkw_mzfzo

In the final instalment of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, when things are at there blackest and darkest, Gandalf looks out into the east, to where Frodo and Sam are already lost in the coming storm that will engulf them all, and says "there never was much hope, only a fool's hope..." I often find myself wondering the same thing, the church in Europe is haemorrhaging 50,000 christians a week, in America the right and left baptise their politics with Jesus, the web is full of stories of the hurt that christians inflict on each other and all the while our western world is sucked into the seductive darkness of the dominant religion of our time - self-centred consumerism.

As with the story of the one ring it is easy to lose heart, to see only despair, to retreat into the seeming safety of our own personal kingdoms to hide from the storm. Where we are safe to engage in the related pastimes of reliving the glory age of the past or reimagining a better future, where in both cases church is about people like ourselves and is for people like ourselves. Or having got so tired and disillusioned we just go find something that seems better to do, after all when the going gets tough, the tough we are told go shopping!

Same as it ever was...

I wonder though was it ever thus, when the writers of the new testament church wrote their letters it was not to the perfect, equal, Jesus following, missional churches that i often imagine - often those letters address serious problems then which are all to common still today: lack of equality, bickering over ways of doing church, selfishness, spite, fear, rival factions, popularity contests, greed, jealousy, insecurity, gossip, hype, hypocrisy, apathy, spiritual and theological rabbit trails etc etc...

The church, me and (the) you who follow Jesus are still making the same mistakes today. On the one hand that's depressing; on the other it's hardly surprising, human nature being human nature. On the third (and here i'm thinking divine) hand i wonder if it can be any other way: it seems so like God in choosing the weak, the broken, the desperate, the worst and not the best of people to showcase his kingdom - where else can the gritty place of reconciliation and reconnection happen if not with those who need it the most and are the least incapable of being able to do it themselves... I look at my own life, pompous and pronouncing one minute, stupidly sinful and self-absorbed the next and know that i am a foolish choice to be included in a people who are called to love, serve, care and bless each other and the world around them. God chose the weak things of this world...

Maybe your a better choice, i hope so. However I suspect that maybe you're agreeing with me and saying heh what is the point - how can a bunch of people so weak they spend most of their time faking being strong actually qualify to represent anyone about anything, let alone God almighty...

Being weak, being failures, facing darkness and bleakness is something that we can see in the life of Jesus, the cross on good friday marking the high tide of despair - where all hope has been lost - the fellowship of the Son has been found wanting and the Master of life-giving is dead (if you are familiar with the LoTR films the scene where Gandalf has been cast down by the fiery balrog and the company is grief stricken and soon to fail springs to mind). The triumphal events of easter sunday have to take their course through the grief of good friday and the numbness of easter saturday - our own journey experiences the same hi-lo moments too...

No wonder it is in Jesus that we participate in the hope of glory

Maybe that is why the bible writers like Paul, Peter, James, John don't despair as they look at the mess of the churches they write too - they laugh, they rejoice, they pray, they praise and thank God for them and for all the christians in them. I don't know about you but i rarely pray for the church (apart from my own) apart from to complain to God - maybe i should change my tune. We need prayer, yes, but maybe i need to take a leaf from my namesake and celebrate and rejoice to God over each community of Jesus followers.

Sure these saints and apostles see the faults, they are not blind, but they also see the flip side of the coin... the hope and the glory, the holy spirit at work, the lives that are being transformed over a life time - the foolish who are loved, who are the best examples of a God of grace and power. These writers glimpses of how God see's us , calls us, walks with us - as ambassadors, priesthood, royalty, light bearers, co-inheritors, reconcilers - our very lives telling his liberating story.

The story of the bride who's beauty is discovered as her character deepens, revealed, celebrated: from shallow mean gal to caring giving high school heroine or from dowdy unwanted unloved ugly duckling to beautiful swan, via loser lovers and fickle friends to be with a faithful lover and a loving tribe (to change film genre to high school chick flick). And we will be resurrected, consummated with our creator, with all the hope now and for then, just as Jesus showed life before and after the despair of death...

An invitation...

I'm going to try something a bit different (again) and invite you to join me in leaving your own prayer (either in the comments section or on your own blog) of gratitude, hope, thankfulness for the church, in all its beautiful foolishness... as it was in the beginning, is now, and forever shall be and to our only wise God and Father, who has chosen us through the Son, to be transformed into his likeness by the Spirit, now and forever more. Amen.

Paul