Thursday, April 23, 2009

(Im)perfect Church

It is always the season of Easter when I find myself wandering aimlessly through the book of Acts. While it sounds like a good idea – learning about the early church while participating in the season of new life and resurrection here in the 21st century – it is messier than I remember.

Last week I preached on the lectionary texts that included Acts 4:32-35. This snippet of the early church seems to describe a hippie commune or socialism at its very best(?). Everyone is getting along and living in harmony. They share possessions and property, giving to all who are in need…for four verses.

Many church starts find that they are so busy with the big picture and becoming stable and steady that there isn’t time or energy to argue about the little things. Disagreements and division come later and the good ol’ days never last very long. By chapter five of Acts, drama erupts about land being sold. Peter is shouting about Satan and calling someone a liar before he drops dead and everyone watching silently freaks out. The four verse harmony in Acts short lived. And it is both beautiful and discouraging to a young, optimistic pastor of today's church.

The good news about Easter is certainly happening the morning we celebrate resurrection in all its glory. People pour into pews they haven’t graced since Christmas and hear about the miracle that is bigger than one Sunday or one worship service. Then I hold my breath for folks to return in celebration of the Easter season, hoping others are hungry to know what an empty tomb means for tomorrow and the next day.

I could write about the two endings in Mark’s gospel and why I love the first one all day long. But there is something grand about the second, longer ending to his account. When Jesus appears to the disciples – the ones who never quite understood his teachings, the ones who betrayed him the day he died, the ones who hid in fear after the crucifixion – Jesus has two words for them. He gives them both law and gospel.

Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” - Mark 16:14-15

Hey, kids. I stopped by to let you know that hiding behind these locked doors isn't doing anyone any good. You’re doing a crappy job being my followers right now and your faith is pretty shaky. But that doesn’t mean I’m done with you. It doesn’t mean I can’t use you. So even though you are not perfect – even though you get in the way sometimes or let confusion and fear overwhelm – I’m calling you into this mission because I love and choose you. I am here because I claim you and give you power in my name. I am sending you to tell of my kingdom boldly and to participate in the miracle I have created for the sake of the world.

God does not require perfection, but finds ways to weave his righteousness into our silly and messy lives. And it takes a wonderful God to do things the slow, tricky and creative way by calling us into participation. It takes a God who can tell it how it is and then invite us along. It takes a God who never gives up, who keeps promises and who makes things new with a Word every Easter day.

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