The church isn’t always a safe place. I’m not talking about every church, but those who’ve spent time in and with different churches might know what I’m talking about. The reason for this is quite simple: the people who gather in churches are sinners. Sometimes, those in the church, even its pastors and leaders, are as mixed up, as any other person.
Let’s be honest
This is not a new development. Some 700 years before Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah records a vivid description of the kind of people who called the temple of Jerusalem their own, the “church people” of that day. Isaiah gives us the longest list of clothing and accessories in all of Scripture.
“With one hand, she slips the ivory comb through her wavy black hair. With the other, she checks her progress in a polished bronze mirror. Setting aside the comb, she begins to darken her eyelids, using an alabaster wand to spread the black paint. A pendant for each ear, a ring for the nose. She slides one bangle after another over her wrist until she clinks musically with each movement. Over her head and neck, she lowers a delicate necklace, which suspends a small silver scroll, the gift of her father, a priest. Inside is scribed the benediction he pronounces at the temple on Mount Zion, including the sacred name of Yahweh. As she rises to leave, she adds one more item: a second necklace, heavy with beads. At its center hangs an amulet in the figure of Bes, a troll-like Egyptian god of good luck.”
The description is of a person, who in one moment is literally adorning themselves with the Word of God, the silver scroll necklace, and the next is putting on the “god of good luck”.
Christian Sinners? Yep.
The First of the 10 Commandments says, “You shall have no other gods.” What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. In other words, whatever you put your trust in, that is your god. That moment of gossip, that takedown of another person usually behind their back, to get that feeling of being better than that other person. The hot anger we feel when someone tells us “No” and we don’t get our way. Our sense of superiority and entitlement because we’re better looking, more educated, worked on the job longer, we’re the oldest, made better life choices, have a better car, clothes, house, and kids. Our escapes into alcohol, or food, or Netflix, or all three, when life is not going well. Every time we’re dishonest. Every time we despise authority. Every sin we commit is a way of saying there is another god we’re fearing, loving, and trusting, more than the true God. This is not good. And yet, this is the people Isaiah is preaching to. The unfaithful people of God. These are the scriptures that speak to us when we read them.
Unfaithfulness never goes well for us. Venturing out on our own, departing God and his ways, is to go to a land where judgement reigns. “Don’t do this! Stay with me. Judgment reigns there. It’s good here. Don’t go!”
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve preached that sermon to myself. I should know better. I’ve been there and come back too many times. But there I go again. “Why do I do that? Why did I say that? Why does that make me so angry? What is wrong with me that I feel those things?” I’ve been a Christian for some time now. You’d think I would have stopped those things by now.
I’ve already mentioned the kind of people Isaiah is speaking to, and to a certain extent, I’ve already described God’s message to unfaithful Israel that takes place the first half of the book of Isaiah. To many of us, that word of judgement would seem appropriate. A kind of, if you don’t correct this issue, then there will be consequences to pay, kind of message. And that is certainly true. But Isaiah’s letter isn’t just divorce papers served to an unfaithful spouse. Isaiah is a love letter, God’s love letter, to his wayward bride. God is not intent on judgement. He is not intent on divorce with the unfaithful. What does God want with his bride? He wants her back!
The Church of Honesty
I started off by asking the question, why the church? If the church is full of sinners, and there are plenty of other “sinner-included” options, why do we commit to showing up from week to week?
The church is a place for honesty. It has two words to offer: God’s Law and God’s Gospel. It’s a place to go when you’ve blown it because it tells you like it is and shows you how it’s supposed to be. But no one is looking for just that kind of honesty. The church is a place of Good News. Wherever you go, unless it is place you know you’ll find forgiveness, you’ll never show up. Unless it offers hope you’ll never be honest about the issues. The church is a place of honesty, because the church is where good news lives.