~by Louis Templeman
June 22, 2016: The Church, You Gotta Love It
Years before I became a Catholic, I was at a gas pump, fueling up for my journey home. The red clouds of the setting sun were quickly changing into their dark, gray evening wear. I heard my name and looked up. One of my former parishioners was sneering at me. She was obviously happy to see her former pastor on hard times. She smiled as her eyes ran over my paint speckled work clothes.
My Astro Van was dinged up from being used as a work truck. Hitched to the rear bumper was an open trailer full of ladders, paint and tools. She and her family were dressed to the nines, and seated in their leased Chrysler New Yorker. Her husband, my former head deacon, was moving up in his career. My career track was on the skids. Within a year, the church they deserted would close its doors.
Three years prior I’d accepted a call to lead and hopefully revive a failing church. I had three children when I arrived . . .. By then, I had five. In her unmasked derision I had the strange impression that the very Protestant church that called me, from a successful academic career, was now ridiculing me in my failure and abandoning me to my poverty.
I acted tough and tried to respond nobly. I spoke to her daughters and complimented them on their dresses and their hair and, if I am not mistaken, caught a hint of haughty distain in their reply to me. I’d obviously been a topic of conversation between their parents and they were echoing adult sentiments.
Of all the negative church experiences I have had, this incident stands out as a singular, telling story. A worker answers God’s call to serve the church only to make himself vulnerable to a group of people who seem intent on destroying his life.
Since that time, I have talked with many pastors, volunteers and sincere Christian workers, and discovered similar stories from most of them. Sometimes the church acts like a feral savage that eats its dead and buries its wounded.
In a recent conversation with a man who alleges, “the church is full of hypocrites,” I replied, asking, “Why should it surprise you that the church is full of sinners?” This rhetorical question has helped me wiggle out of the clawing grip of bitterness, as I’ve struggled to love and embrace the church. Yes, the church often acts atrociously. And, ironically, the church is also the crown jewel of God’s creation. The ultimate goal, and purpose of history, is Christ’s church. The church is sacramental. Within the church we may best experience God. True, it may appear the church reveals human meanness as often as it reveals God’s presence and power. Still, the Apostle Paul calls the church:
The pillar and support of the truth. 1 Timothy 3: 15, Todays English Version.
Truth? The contemporary church cannot even speak with one voice. And, some of those conflicting voices have to be speaking error. Nevertheless, it is in the church, we are turned-on to the hope of intimacy with God. It is that relationship that carries us through fire, not around it. And, sometimes those fires are in the church herself. If ever you feel a driving force to serve God’s people you should be forewarned. The call to arms for you is: God loves you and has a very difficult plan for your life.
I believe most of us are drawn to the church because the church is Christ on earth. The Apostle Paul wrote:
Christ is like a single body which has many parts . . . all of us . . . have been baptized into the one body of the same Spirit, and we have been given the one Spirit to drink, (1 Corinthians 12: 12, TEV).
Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Where will that divine will unfold, if not in the church? It is in the church the vilest humans become the best of people. In this same church many toy with becoming saints only to fail, and yet, become so comfortable, in the grace and love of God that is germane to God’s people, that they stay in the pews and put on their Sunday faces. These sinners, these lukewarm/complacent souls, these backsliders perpetuate the idea that the church is full of hypocrites.
And, so it is. But, she is also full of God’s saints. His helpless ones. The discomfited. Those who genuinely struggle to maintain good works, and pursue holiness. Those who are making an art form, a lifestyle out of prayer and meditation. Those who see Christ in the Eucharist. Those who see Christ in one another.
Yes, the church is full of hypocrites, full of sinners. However, until you can see Christ in those sinners you need the church. And, once you begin to see Christ in those sinners the church needs you. It is your time to serve the church. How can you say you love Christ whom you cannot see and, yet, do not love his body whom you can see? And, that, in a thousand faces.
So, no matter what horrors and difficulties we may have experienced in the church it is in the church we find God. In the church we were baptized into Christ. In the church we were filled with the Holy Spirit. In the church we were confirmed. In the church we find purpose. Hope. Joy. Presence. Gifts. Singing hearts. Resurrection.
In the church we find salvation. We find Jesus.
Louis writes from Jacksonville, Florida where he lives with his old friend and wonderful bride, Joy. They transformed their friendship into the sacrament of marriage on August 30, 2012. They share their home with two self-absorbed, playful, twin cats (Flo and Jet) and one very allusive and arrogant cat named D. Louis has recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s and is fighting the good fight. Much of what he writes these days he is sharing his journey with us. Please keep Louis and his wife Joy in your prayers.
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