You may have seen reports of a church billboard, not dissimilar in kind to our own, which posted the message : “C H - - C H… What’s Missing? U R!” It is a clever play on words, designed to encourage people back into the building. In fact, it echoes a major strategy of much church ministry – to get people into the building of a Sunday. It is so evident an approach that one suspects we would re-write Jesus’ call from “Follow me”, to “Come, sit here!”. A better sign, perhaps inside the church itself, but a much less creative wordplay, could read “C H U R C H... What’s missing? Jesus!”
Organised religion… the very thing which Jesus spoke against, and acted to undo its evil … seems to be the basis of much of what takes place as ‘church’ these days. We have changed the meaning of the word in so many ways that it barely represents the gospel which Jesus lived, proclaimed, and died for. But… we need to be careful that we don’t throw the church out with the baptismal water. While the attention of the institutional church has been consumed with organisational and administrative matters over the call to justice, mercy and compassion, it is still the people of God through whom God chooses to bear the message and ministry of the gospel. Being good Westerners, many christians have taken that severally, rather than collectively, and opted out of any communal expression of faith.
Jesus loved the church enough to give his life to bring her into being. He invested his life and teaching in a small, rag-tag bunch of non-descripts, through whom this message, this grace, this life-transforming reality has been passed through the centuries. In spite of, and because of, the best efforts of the institutional church, the gospel continues to thrive in unexpected places.
The walls of the church in Hampton Court in the UK had been adorned with an ivy for many years. Unexpectedly, one year it flowered and bore fruit. This unattended, rogue vine had apparently sent its roots deeper in search of water, and found it in the nearby Thames. The hardened walls of the church did not keep it from life, as it sank its roots deeper in search of life-giving water.
Regardless of the circumstance in the church, we too need to continue to send our roots deeper in search of the living water, which flows from a relationship through God in Christ. Are our hearts thirsty enough, are we hungry enough, is there a deep enough yearning to see Jesus expressed in our life together?
And in our lives through the week? What’s really missing…?
July 11, 2004