I have been a pastor nor almost twenty years, and only one thing truly continues to surprise me (aside from God's ever-present and abounding grace): that people are astounded when upon entering more intentionally in to the life of the Church they discover all is not rainbows and unicorns. From the outside looking in, or even gazing at Church from the surface (where many of us tend to dwell most of the time), Church looks like it should be a place where people continue to offer their best selves to God. It should be a place, and a sort of community, where the both the leaders and the folks in the pews practice a "nice-ness" and are "good" people.
|with thanks and credit to Bill Watterson, |
creator of Calvin and Hobbes
And then when we are done doing this to each other? We do it to God.
Before you despair, or perhaps choose to reject this postulate, take a moment and run the tape/review the script of your last couple of years in the church you call home. When was the last time someone complained to you (or you expressed a complaint) about "the way things are going," the unfortunate opacity of the pastor's latest sermon or the quality of the food/coffee/bible study/cleanliness of the common rooms/noise of the infants in the pews/the way that guy always falls asleep in the pew and snores through the communion prayer? When was the last time, setting all those other items aside, that you took God on for the fact that your day/month/year/etc. was not going according to plan or expectation? When was the last time, and this is justified mind you by our human nature, that you contended with God over why good people suffer while bad people prosper?
Rather than decry this, can we choose instead to acknowledge that this is all part and parcel of being human? It is the friction that keeps us connected to each other and to God, even as friction keeps us connected to the chair we are sitting on right now, or our finger on the mouse as it pulls the cursor back and forth across this screen.
Given today's readings, perhaps it is time for us to come to terms with our tendency to contend, to be stiff-necked with each other and with God. If we are willing to go there, then can the quest for reconciliation and restoration be far behind? Ezekiel holds up that everyone in God's estimation has the opportunity to make a fresh start of it--should they resolve to do so. Rather than seeing our Bible walk as a continual raining down of judgment by a vengeful God, might we also come to see our journey through salvation history and a continual cascade from God of second, third, fourth, fifth (etc.) chances?
The next time you feel the will to contend rise within you, in Church or otherwise, take a breath and wonder for a moment how that friction might be directed to a use that glorifies the love God bears for us all, choosing that in stead of the easier defaults to which we are so usually accustomed.....and then see what happens.