Sunday, September 04, 2011
"I believe in God; its the institutional church I don't believe in..."
We clergy are often called upon by strangers to administer the sacraments. Not long ago, I got a call from a perfect stranger, and was asked to go to the bedside of a dying woman. There I stood with a grief stricken family, no questions asked, no invoices sent, and administered the last rites of the church as any priest worth his or her salt would do.
Hundreds of baptisms, weddings and funerals of perfect strangers have come and then they've gone, never to be heard from again.
They believed in God; all of them, it was just the Institutional Church they didn't believe in.
Then I thought about it and wondered how in the world we'll ever get to proclaim the Gospel unless we do that in community. Today's Gospel lesson is set within the context of conflict. If two folks are at disagreement, they are to grow up and work it out together. If that doesn't work, then grow up; get a few others and get your facts straight. If that doesn't work take the matter before the church; lets say the vestry, for instance, lay the matter before the church, grow up and figure out a way forward. If that doesn't work treat the offender like a Gentile (outsider) or a tax collector. Interestingly enough, we know how Jesus treated Gentiles and tax collectors. According to the Gospel accounts, Jesus found room in his heart for all. So should we too.
So it seems that at the heart of the Christian Gospel there is the skill of conflict management. And thus when two or three are assembled together, we're told there too is God in their midst.
This is a model for modern life. The call has gone out to work out the particulars by growing up, facing facts, face to face with others, particularly when you find yourself at loggerheads with another. We find the rule honored more in the breach than in the observance so often.
Thus much of the world lets itself off the hook though this classic cop-out. "I don't have to go to church to be Christian or to believe in God".
How often I have heard that go by me and just let it go. "I find God in nature, down at the seaside, or in the forest, in a beautiful sunset," or my personal favorite; "at the golf course".
This is all a giant cop-out.
It is like saying; "I believe in Democracy; its just Government and Politicians I don't believe in."
Or; "I believe in Justice; its just the Courts and the lawyers I don't believe in".
What brought this home to me was a conversation I had not all that long ago with an attorney. The same predictable cop-out; "I believe in God; its just the institutional church I don't believe in."
"Well then, why do you want your daughter baptized here?" Oh well, some grandmother somewhere or another insisted, and so, of course I gladly baptized that baby. I joined all those other hundreds in marriage, and being rather late in the game, I commended the dying and the dead to God's keeping. It is quite simply what I was ordained to do, and as a matter of fact I was only too glad to do it.
But, I cannot help but think, if I end up in jail in the middle of the night, and call on a lawyer to bail me out, I'll get a hefty bill in the mail.
A man of God doesn't get to send out invoices in the same way.
So I am left to wonder with you; if you want your democracy, you with have to put up with your government and your politicians; if you want your justice, you will have to put up with your courts and your lawyers; but if you want your God, the church and her men and women of God may simply be dismissed with a casual dismissal; "I believe in God, its just the institutional church I don't believe in".
Folks I don't buy that any more.
I hope you don't either.
And when you hear those words again I do hope you challenge them. If you use them yourself, I hope you'll think twice before using them again.
And most of all; I hope we'll grow up a bit and face facts in community. Our Churches, our Government, and our Courts need us to salvage what we can of this civilization. I believe it is still worth saving.