When a Church does not embody Jesus

It is often said that “children are a reflection of their parents.”  And, sometimes this is true.  BUT, we all know that — for some reason — it is not always true.  Despite the best efforts of parents — some children [us???]  don’t follow the example, the teaching, or the sacrifice of their parents.

The same can be said of Jesus —- despite his best efforts, a whole book of this teachings, and his example — not all of his disciples follow the path he walked.

In the Gospel of Matthew [10:37-42] Jesus says to his apostles:

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for MY [emphasis added] will find it.

I believe this strongly.  We cannot allow anyone or anything come between us and our commitment to Jesus.

Our commitment is to Jesus.  Our commitment is to the KINGDOM OF GOD.  And, there will be times when our commitment to Jesus may cause a strain in a human relationship, even within our family.

But, is it NOT TRUE always that the same can be said about our commitment to a church?  There will be preachers, no doubt, who will use this scripture text to call for a commitment to “THE” Church — even if causes problems within the family.  Just because husband/wife or dear friends do not go to Church — does not mean we should not go to Church.  And this is true, if the Church and the preacher embody Jesus.

In addressing the new Cardinals this week — and all the Church — Pope Francis said there were times when there was a great distance between the heart of Jesus and the hearts of his disciples.

In the scriptural text that follows the above cited text, Jesus speaks about what it means to be a disciple: And whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is a disciple — amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward.

A 63 year old friend and co-worker recently died following an on again-off again, 8 year battle with cancer.  She was not a church-goer.  Something(s) happened along the years that created hard-feelings.  I tried to offer hope and consolation in the fact that she had faith in God — and always said, “it’s in God’s hands.” She never complained about her “fate” or asked the question, “why?”  I pointed out that John 3:16 tells us that those who have faith IN JESUS will have life eternal.  The Scripture does not say, s/he who has faith in the Church will never die — it says FAITH IN JESUS.

Yes, I believe in the goodness of Church, worship, community worship v. personal prayer, etc.

But it is not true, it is not right — in my opinion — to say that decreased church attendance reflects a loss in faith.  In fact, I know many people who live a battle — KEEPING THE FAITH when the Church does not seem to embody JESUS in whom we have faith.

A speaker at a recent gathering of priests in Atlanta, said that our nation — our Church — are in a fight for its soul.  When health care for the poorest of our people is in jeopardy — when Catechesis and canon law seem to be of greater concern than service and community — we are losing our way.  We must “catechize to energize” — preach a living message that burns the hearts of those who hear it.

So what do we do?

  1.  Re-affirm our faith in Jesus as Lord.  Reaffirm our commitment to Jesus as the one who has and will continue to save me.
  2. Listen to the voice within that will guide me, lead me to what is true.
  3. Use our God given brains to THINK — does this make sense?  does this seem reasonable?  is this what Jesus really wants in this time, in this place, and for me.
  4. Spend our financial resources on things that support the mission of Jesus — give that cup of cold water through local institutions providing the presence of Jesus.
  5. Gather with like minded people — not to be critical or cynical — but to be supportive and proud that the work of Jesus is not being diminished in our midst.

In the mid 1980’s I remember a discussion with a Bishop [now deceased] concerning the vocation situation in the US.  The bishop told me that I was “attempting to write theology pro ecclesia when in truth, theology was to be written pro Christus”.  My only problem with that thought — was an apparent sense that Christ could not speak through the “Church as a people” and that theology was to be written as Christ spoke though the Church leadership.

The PEOPLE OF GOD are a source of the voice of God — the embodiment of God.  I believe in authority and I believe in structure —– otherwise, we would and will have chaos and everyone merely following feelings.

But the words of Pope Francis this week —- the heart of Jesus was often far from the heart of the disciples are powerful.  Just maybe the disciples do not always realize who is in their midst —- just like the guys on the road to Emmaus.

Let us listen — and let no one come between us and Jesus.

 

hjm

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