THE CHURCH: A Righteous Congregation, or scrubbing bubbles

My Writing

A Righteous Congregation, or scrubbing bubbles by Julia Marks

It was Wednesday of Holy Week.  Maundy Thursday was to come.  Followed by Good Friday.  And then the weekend.

The big weekend.

Big, in terms of music and smoke and folderol.

But this church took time to do something big on Wednesday of Holy Week.

Music.  Endless chants.  Each note perfect in tone and pitch.  The hush enveloped the rest of us, as though we had all been tucked in behind the couch waiting with bated breath for the birthday boy to come through the door.

Absolute silence on our part.

It was the least we could do to contribute to the importance of the event.

So important.

But there, tucked in there somewhere, in the packed congregation, so packed that we had to hold our folded jackets on our laps to give as much space in the pew to wanna-be sitters, was a man.  A man of the street.  Literally.  A man who had brought in with him a few grocery bags.  You know the type.  Plastic.  Crinkly.  The slightest touch sending echos of their character bouncing through the rafters.

The seating was very tight.  The homeless man, not accustomed to being frozen in his seat, kept seeking a bit of space.  Space for himself.  Space for his bags.  A continual push-and-push-back with those around him.  The grocery bags supplying the sound track for the battle.  For space.  For propriety.

And so a man, an usher, a man new to the church, eager to be just what this very proper church expected of him, threw the homeless man with his bags out onto the street.

In the dark.

In the rain.

So I got up, walked over all the people that sat between the aisle and me, and walked out into the dark, rainy night to stand with the homeless man.

I only had change on me that night.

So I spent the time that the Tenebrae service was being offered as our very significant, monumental gift to God digging through my purse, extracting each and every penny to give to the man who stood there shivering.  Waiting for the service to end so he could feel a warm cup of coffee in his hands.  Tuck a few salmon sandwiches into one of his precious bags.  Perhaps even a bit of cake.

I just stood in the rain crying.

All I could think of was, Jesus was born homeless.  Jesus was homeless when he died.

For the rest of the week, I could not bring myself to speak in church.  Not to pray aloud.  Not to sing the hymns.  Not to exchange peace.

I just stood there, looking at all the coats and hats.  The purses full of money.  The easy smiles.

I didn’t cry.

But I didn’t speak either.

Eventually, I heard out of the mouth of one of the priests, the words, Jesus was born homeless.  And when he died he was homeless.

And I spoke again.

The man who evicted the homeless man was quietly taken off the team of ushers.

Only to be put on the altar as an acolyte.

Ultimately, to be made Master of Ceremonies.

In the jadedness that I carried in my heart for that church, I kept waiting for him to announce that he was going to go to seminary.  That he had been enthusiastically approved by the diocese to become a priest.

A clean house.

We must, at all times, maintain a clean house.

Recently, Pope Francis said something about his church and how it should be friendly to gay folk.

Friendly? they all shouted back.  Friendly?  

To them?

Hell no.

What kind of church would we be if we were friendly to them?

The Roman church isn’t alone in this obsession for cleanliness.  To keep sin on the other side of the door.

My church isn’t alone in their belief that only people who have the ability to behave properly in church should be allowed in. 

Each denomination appears to have its own set of standards, of who is acceptable to be made part of the congregation.

We don’t want those kind of people here.

Whatever the those refers to.  Perceived imperfection.

Perceived sin.

Our job as a church is to make sure this is a place of sinlessness.

The worst exclusion, in my eyes, is the Roman church’s refusal to allowed divorced and remarried women to receive communion.

You are too dirty to come to the rail.  To get down on your knees.  To hold out your hand and be given a sign of love from your Lord and from God.

Too dirty.

Too sinful.

Filth.

Out.

It is, to my mind, a most upside-down-inside-out way to run a church.

Only the good are allowed in.

All the bad are to stay on the outside.

Like the homeless man and his bags.

Outside.

But Jesus came to save the sinners.

He didn’t come to deal with the righteous.

They’re already good.

It’s the bad ones he came for.

The thieves and the beggars, the adulteresses and the abusers.

He came to Earth for them.

Those people that are thrown out of churches on a weekly basis.

He didn’t come for all the good folk who serve coffee hour and teach Sunday school and serve on the vestry and raise funds to fix the roof.

He came for the man who doesn’t make it to church because he drank too much the night before.

He came for the woman who sends her children to church with her sister but makes fun of it all when they get home.  What you do in Sunday school?  Color a dove?  Well that ought to save your soul!

He came for the man who stole the money out of the poor box at the back of the church.

Most congregations, whether we want to admit it or not, sing our songs with enthusiasm to express our joy that Jesus loves us.

Sure, he may love us.

But he came to serve the ones we throw out into the street.

The ones we neglect to invite to our church.

The ones we don’t welcome when they creep in to see what its like.

The simple truth is this: if we only let the righteous into our faith community, we don’t have Jesus in there with us.

He’s not there for us.

He’s here for them.

And without them in our churches, there is no Jesus.

A church free of sinners is one free of Jesus, too.

It is ironic, that being good means excluding ourselves from the work of Jesus.

Unless, that is, we join him in his work, like we’re supposed to, and make the church a home for the sinners of the world.

It’s what our righteousness is for, after all.

Isn’t it?

Amen.

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