|Photo by Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net|
Sometimes church hurts. People, even those who claim to be followers of Christ, hurt others, even fellow worshippers. A study of the Acts of the Apostles shows great discord in the early church after the Resurrection. Staunch Jewish converts demanded strict adherence to their customs, particularly circumcision. Gentile converts balked, having a different viewpoint. Greek converts complained their widows were not receiving the same considerations as those of other ethnic backgrounds. Others of Jewish heritage decried the conversion of Gentiles, wanting the Christian church to remain only among Jewish converts.
We can certainly imagine those discussions were not always conducted with Christ like charity. Sounds like similar rifts today between Catholics, Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists and non-denominational fundamentalist churches. Even members lash out against each other over interpretation of scripture.
Somewhere in all of this, the combatants forget the greatest commandment, “Love God above all things, with your whole heart and mind.”
Love God above your sense of righteousness, your interpretation of scripture, and your judgment of the holiness of others. Love God, and let that love show in your actions, and then your words.
The second great commandment: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love the woman sitting next to you, the one whose lifestyle you vehemently disapprove. Love the screaming child acting in a way none of yours would ever behave. Love the preacher who has proven he is all too human. Love those who criticize you.
My church deeply hurt me, to the point I looked elsewhere for a church home. After years of searching, God led me back. That first Sunday, I sat in my pew alone, depressed and hurt. I watched families worshiping together, remembered the family I had lost, remembered the cruelty of fellow members.
I fought back the tears and tried to follow the sermon. It happened then.
Jesus appeared on the altar. “Don’t worry about the others. It isn’t them who invite you.” He came down and sat beside me. “You will never be alone.”
And then, he sat beside me for the rest of the service.
Of course, he is right. It isn’t the congregation who calls us to worship, God does. We may be forced out of one church, and like the Apostles, shake the dust from our feet, but we shouldn’t give up on God.
When church hurts, we must remember to put our faith in God, not people. It is he who lifts, comforts, and loves us, unconditionally, not the person sitting next to us in the pew, struggling with their own pain, sorrow, and despair.