Though I could not tell my wife what had taken place, once in my first parish, I came home from a troubling day and simply said to her, "I think that the church did more harm than good today."
Someone had said something to hurt someone else or some church member had been dishonest in their business dealings or someone had gossiped about a single parent mother or something. Whatever it was, harm had been done and it had reflected upon the "Church," the Body of Christ. That day, the church probably drove more people away than it brought to Jesus.
On a recent, once-in-a-lifetime trip to Norway, I had the opportunity to visit many folk museums and many ancient church buildings. In one museum, I read that Norway's ancient and much-loved "Hardanger fiddle" was once on the official "hit list" for the state church of Norway. They literally ruled that all such fiddles should be sought out and destroyed. Apparently the fiddle was associated with "dancing" and dancing with "drinking," "carousing" and the like and so was therefore deemed to be evil.
Thankfully, they are capable of playing. And this action by these "Christians" didn't drive everyone out of the church. Many in Norway, however, do express the view that they see their pastors and churches as being far removed from real life and the concerns of everyday people.
Even within our own community today, there are many and varied views of what it is to be "the Church," the Body of Christ. There are many Christian denominations present. Some are willing to write off to hell others who don't have the same understandings of how to be the people of God. This has to be confusing to those who are not Christian, not to mention those who are.
"If even Christians can't agree on how to 'be saved,' what am I supposed to do?" they might say. Or, "Why should I care?"
When Jesus physically walked the earth, there were Jews and the "Gentiles" (everyone who wasn't Jewish). He came to save them both. The Apostle Paul, in Ephesians 2:11-22, tells them and us, "... remember that you were at that time without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the tho, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross ..."
"Aliens," "strangers," "having no hope and without God ..." "... have been brought near by the blood of Christ ... reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross ..."
You can read the whole passage for yourself, or the whole book. I didn't see any mention of the Hardanger fiddle. It seems to mostly talk about Jesus being the one who does salvation (wholeness/healing of our broken relationship with God, each other and the creation) for the Jews and the rest of us (Gentiles). It seems like our universal need for Jesus is the one thing that all "Christian" denominations can agree upon.
The Rev. Mark Hanson, bishop of the Evangelical Church in America, recently was quoted as saying something to the effect that the three things people today long most to hear are:
1. "I love you."
2. "I forgive you."
3. "Come and eat."
He went on to say that the "Church" has all those to offer. No, I don't think he meant the "Lutheran" church. I think he meant the whole church, the Body of Christ, in all of its various expressions, with all of its weakness and shortcomings. He meant the church that Jesus started, undergirds, leads and gives life to and through. He meant the one where Jesus is Lord and Savior. That's your church, too, isn't it?
I love you. I forgive you. Come and eat. Most anyone could probably understand that. It gives me life. Jesus said, "I am the bread of life." Jesus gives me life. Love, forgiveness, a family meal -- those are his words "for you," and for the world. Thanks be to God.
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