Sunday, November 25, 2012

Something to Remember

The Church failed its mission.

For the last 2000 years, the Church piled injury and pain on top of an already bleeding world, a world it was trusted to heal.  The Church made itself the willing handmaid of power and ambition, responsible for a long list of crime; conquests, massacres, sectarian warfare, executions, persecutions, corruption, abuse, etc.  The Church is as flawed and as mortal as the human beings who make it up.  The mystical Body of Christ on earth is hardly that of a perfect athlete, but is diseased, injured, handicapped, paunchy, emaciated, constipated, incontinent, clumsy, elderly, immature, cancerous, cold, hot, foolhardy, and cowardly.  That the Church is now, and always has been, a sanctuary of bigotry and superstition is hardly news.  There is racism, misogyny, homophobia, greed, and ambition for power in the Church as there is in all human tribes and institutions.   The Church, just like all human tribes, is made up of frightened people who believe that we must conquer or be conquered.  The Church's claims to sanctity put a lens of hypocrisy on those flaws which magnify their ugliness and their threat. And thus it will be always so long as we frail prisoners of one moment in time and one place in space with the lifespan of gnats keep demanding God's own absolute certainty when God never promised us any such thing.  The Church will someday pass away as indeed must we all, and all the world around us.

I don't believe Our Lord had in mind any global empire of souls when He commanded us to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.
The world is over 200 nations and an uncountable number of tribes who all fear and hate each other, whose rulers are all more or less corrupt, and who use our fear of the Other to legitimize their power over us.  Why should the Church add another empire to that?

 In the wake of the failure to admit women into the episcopacy in the Church of England, and in the light of the ongoing (and perhaps ultimately fatal) debacle over same sexuality and sexual minorities, it is useful to remind ourselves of this.  We must remember that we have only the hope and the promise that God will be there at the end of all our journeys, alone and together.  Even more, we have the assurance that Our Lord is far larger and greater than the Church He entrusted with His gifts of the Sacraments and the Gospel.  Our Lord will endure where we perish, will love where we hate, will succeed where we fail, will remain faithful even when we are faithless.  Earth and Heaven, Creator and Creation, Flesh and Spirit will find each other in the end and be reconciled.

Our task as the Church is to be Christ to the world, and we will always fail in that task one way or another.  What matters is that we try our best.

Something to remember for Christ the King Sunday.


June Butler said...

Excellent words, Doug. This is a sermon, you know, and a very good one. Despite the failures of the church, the imperfect people of God, which you so honestly note, you leave your readers with hope and encouragement.

JCF said...

"The Church will someday pass away"

Well, the earthly Church, certainly. Its temporal power can't die soon enough!

I think I'm Augustinian, however, about the City of Man/City of God thing. The earthly Church is Wheat&Tares together. Much as I'd like to see the, um, "Tare-orists" cut down [Shaddup, JCF!], I'm afraid we're doomed to have them (principalities&powers, I don't specific human beings) around till Judgment Day. Le Sigh.

I will say this however (get out yer knives): I think the odds of a "Tare" operation in Christianity go up EXPONENTIALLY when it's All-Male. Now, God bless the monks (like our friend Prior Aelred @ St Gregory's). But all-male institutions w/ POWER-OVER others (e.g. women)??? Back to the HELL they came from! >:-(

Gerrit said...

Each and every organised religion is criminogenic. If tomorrow every human being woke up godless, this world would be a better place, if only because every pious robber murderer, rapist, etc. will loose the *I am doing God's will' pretext, forcing him to look at the mirror.

Counterlight said...

How about "...the will of the People?"

Gerrit said...

What will? What people? Seriously, Doug, what do you mean?

Counterlight said...

One example among many:

"The Workers’ Party of Korea headed by great leader Kim Jong Il who was reelected as General Secretary of the WPK at the WPK Conference by the unanimous will of all the Korean people will display the ever-victorious might forever."

rick allen said...

from our old friend K. Clark: " September there took place the first of those massacres by which, alas, the revolution is chiefly remembered. No one has ever explained, in historical terms, the September Massacres, and perhaps; in the end the old-fashioned explanation is correct, that it was a kind of communal sadism. It was a pogrom - a phenomenon with which we have since become familiar. and it was given fresh impetus by another well-known emotion - mass panic. In July 1792 the committee of Public Safety had officially proclaimede La patrie en danger - 'the country in peril'; which was followed by the usual corollary: Ils nous ont trahis - 'there are traitors among us'. We know what that means."

I think it was Chesterton who observed that we only war over what is most important to us, whether that is glory, or independence, or liberty, or religion, or equality, or ideals, or even peace. Changing our values will not lessen the ferocity with which we defend what is most important to us.

Sid said...

My suggestion - quite possibly poorly thought out, I don't know - is that this comment re: the Church is exactly wrong: "…a world it was trusted to heal."

What I believe is that Christ healed the world in the only way that matters: He restored the divine image to humanity and made it possible for us to enjoy communion with God; and for eternity. It remains to the Church to teach His Gospel and be a sure home for His sacramental life. But to heal the world? I don't agree with that, for the reasons you've laid out here. The Church is, inescapably, an institution with human influence, and, therefore, we can rely on it to fail in its secular (at least) behavior.

Christ made it clear that His kingdom was not of this world. He promised suffering, and, indeed, He's been right. If we think His agenda was to create - to cause, in real life, as opposed to teaching that standard as God's own - pure love among the peoples of the earth, I think we would have to admit He was a failure and our faith is empty.

JC said...

"Christ healed the world in the only way that matters: He restored the divine image to humanity and made it possible for us to enjoy communion with God; and for eternity."

Precisely in the way that does NOT matter to the secular world: "Bronze Age nonsense"

Christians SUCK at saving the world . . . and yet we can't escape the assignment (Great Commandment). It's behaviours disparaged as mere "social services" that the world can see. God-language is less than nothing.

"They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love...": it'd be nice, eh? To resort to another touchy-feely 60s anthem: "...and let it begin w/ me."

JCF said...

Whoops, that's me above. I'm still getting the hang of using my laptop, and my "F" got cut off!

Counterlight said...

'fraid I agree with JCF. The "divine" business is just so much jibberish to the world outside the church door. When it comes to love, the rest of the world lives by the motto of the great state of Missouri, "Show Me!'
It is precisely those acts of selfless generosity which religious conservatives dismiss as just so much "social welfare" that the secular world finds most convincing. And why not?
We can go down on our knees and pledge our beloveds our eternal love, and none of that means anything without some acts of real sacrifice and sharing in the concrete and in the here and now.

My favorite recent line about the Church is from Fr. Tobias Haller: The Church is an institution that must die so that others can live.

Sid said...

JCF and Doug, I agree with you both as to what we should do for others. I wasn't putting the "divine" stuff in opposition to that.

However, as far as I'm concerned, without the Bronze Age nonsense, the Great Commandment is just one ethical idea advanced by a guy who's been dead for 2,000 years - and one who was nuts, to top it off, since he thought he was God.

Stripped of the supernatural imperative, you can make a logical case for dog-eat-dog, every man for himself.

Like you both probably did, I grew up being formed by hearing Jesus' words to care for the least of these, over and over again. Without that, I'd probably feel very differently about my obligation to others. And without the "divine" or "church" aspect of it, I'm pretty sure I would have never been sitting there in the first place, just sleeping in on Sundays. So I can't dismiss it. Why is it either/or?

Counterlight said...

My favorite of all descriptions of the Church is from an Irish Catholic priest in Boston from 30 years ago. In the Parable of the Prodigal Son the Church always plays the role of the older brother.

Poor God! What an awful job! After centuries of kvetching Israelites, now He has to put up with horribly earnest buzz-killing bluestocking Christians, ever so proud of their own humility.

I know atheists who live out selfless and even self-sacrificial Love far better than most Christians.
We Christians can claim neither a monopoly nor a copyright on Love, and thank God for that!