Hebrews 11.29 to 12.2
Today is the second of our August series on Mission and Stewardship. Last week, I shared a quotation with you from William Temple, who among other things was Archbishop of Canterbury during the early part of the Second World War. I said that I hope you will remember this quotation always:
The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.
I said that it’s a great thought, but not a consoling thought. It’s an unsettling thought.
Some of you suggested after the service that the Church must exist in some way for the benefit of its members. If you think that, I’ll concede that you are indeed quite correct. There is one way (and one way only) that the Church exists for the sake of its members:
The Church exists to make its members disciples of Jesus; the Church exists so that we may be formed into the image of Jesus.
In other words, the Church exists for our true benefit. The thing is, becoming a disciple of Jesus is a bumpy journey of repentance, not a journey of calm repose. We just need to read the Gospels to see that. Being formed and re-formed into the image of Jesus can be a painful process. But: it’s all for our benefit. Our true benefit.
I’m reading a very good book at the moment: The Nearness of God: Parish ministry as spiritual practice, by Julia Gatta. She writes from an Anglican (actually, US Episcopal) perspective, and writes:
I will be looking at characteristically priestly ministries to see just how grace might show up, to notice how Christ might be at work in us and through us.
How we are formed as persons through ministry is of great interest to me. But ‘formation’ involves times that feel more like ‘de-formation’. So I was gabbed by a quotation Gatta takes from Simon Tugwell, Ways of Imperfection:
Christianity has to be disappointing, precisely because it is not a mechanism for accomplishing all our human ambitions and aspirations, it is a mechanism for subjecting all things to the will of God….Christianity necessarily involves a remaking of our hopes. And our disappointments are an unavoidable part of the process.
I think this is close to saying that the Church does not exist to meet our needs. Except for one: The need to become a disciple, to grow in Christ, to be more conformed to the image of Christ. That difficult process, that birthing of Christ within us, involves times of pain. And disappointment with ourselves, and others. We just can’t get around it.