It’s hard right now, isn’t it? Being the church and being called Christian right now is messy. We are caught in a web that looks and feels like the thousands of years of our history spun into something that wants so much to be good but is just missing the mark. I get it. I grew up in the church. I have volunteered in the church. I have worked in the church. And overwhelmingly what I know to be true is that we the Church want to be something big and bright and beautiful…but. The elephant in the room is there. Ok, make that multiple elephants. Church attendance is at an all-time low. The church is being blamed and is to a degree responsible for ushering in a governmental administration that doesn’t align with Christ’s teachings. The prophesy movement turned out to be a bust (Left Behind Series anyone?), sexual abuse in the church is being swept under the rug to protect the people in power, and we are becoming more known for what we stand against than what we stand for. It is HARD to be the Church in America. It’s hard to know how to make amends with the people that we are called to be salt and light to. It’s hard to acknowledge differences, to acknowledge wrongs, and to take account of all the ways the church has messed up mightily. I don’t assume to have all the answers. My experience is limited. But I see a lot. I hear a lot. And I listen. And what finally clicked into a “maybe this is the first step” kind of minipiphany this morning (yes, I just made up a word) all has to do with this word right here: persecution.
“Blessed are the those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5: 10. Church, we might feel persecuted, but we are not living persecuted. Think about that for a moment, because there is a difference. I think as Christians we often get stuck in our thinking and in our belief system, and when that gets challenged we immediately jump into an ocean of pride screaming “persecution!”, finding justification for the push-back that we receive within scripture. “See, I’m being persecuted for my faith, just like Jesus said I would”. I’m sorry, but that is scripture read wrongly. As a Christ follower, if I get my feathers ruffled or become arrogant in my belief when I come across someone who doesn’t mirror my convictions or who challenges my faith in some way, I am not acting like the blessed, persecuted believer that Jesus is talking about. I am just kind of being a brat. What we miss when we act this way is the tail end of that beatitude, which says we are blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Now we all know that as humans we cannot actually be righteous on our own, within our actions or within our system of beliefs. We are made righteous by the pure and simple act of accepting Jesus’ Lordship and sacrifice. So what does it look like to be persecuted for righteousness? It looks like humility. It looks like pointing others to God even in the face of rejection or mockery. It’s looking at someone and saying “I know we feel differently about this issue, and I’m so glad that Jesus came and died for both of us”. The second I turn away, with offense brewing in my heart I shut down any opportunity to extend God’s righteousness to that person. And isn’t that what being the church is all about? What we all need more than anything isn’t comfort and prosperity, but compassion. More than a lecture on holiness, we need to know we are safe. More than worrying about providing coffee and donuts for service (not that we should ever stop that…ever) we need to be providing resources to the needy. Some of us are doing this incredibly well. Others are not. Some of us as church leaders, pastors, or just well-meaning parishioners have forgotten what it means to be a seeker, or to feel like an outcast. It’s pretty comfortable in Churchland, where we get to go every Sunday into our warm buildings, sit in comfortable seats and listen to music that makes us feel all the feels. When we are persecuted by outsiders for our faith we have a community of folks around us who justify our theology. But we will not be “blessed” in our persecution and our churches will not be blessed by having more people than we have seats until we can remember what it was like to be persecuted without anyone to comfort us. We need to remember what it was like to be alone. Sisters and brothers, we seek righteousness not so that we can know we are justified but so that we can glorify God and bring people to His feet. Being persecuted for righteousness means we fling open our doors and cry out for the weak and the broken and the trampled down to come to the table and feast. I don’t know about you but I’m ready for the church to stop getting such a bad rap. I want this amazing body of believers that I love to be people so radiant that we glow. It’s on us to fix that. It’s on us to start getting things right for our nation and for our world. If we can remove our mindsets from the establishment that we are so deeply enmeshed in and align our hearts to what it truly means to be cast out, I believe with my whole heart that the deep wounds and doubts can heal.
We belong to a legacy of highs and lows. Humility and pride. Holiness and grace. Ignoring our roots will stifle our future, but embracing the people we seek to serve right now today gives us the opportunity to extend God’s righteous to all. I will welcome any persecution that comes with that.