Lord, where can I go?

August 28th, 2018

Those of us who preach from the Revised Common Lectionary finished up five weeks of the Bread of Life discourse in John 6 this past Sunday. From conversations online and in person, many of us were struck by Simon Peter’s answer to Jesus’ questioning of the twelve,

“Do you also wish to go away?”

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

At this moment in the church, many of us feel that weariness and sorrow that I read into Peter’s voice. The church-as-human-institution is not looking so good. There are scandals on every side, and those in power have used it to perpetuate the institution and their own authority at the expense of the most vulnerable. Although we might not be Roman Catholic, the scandals and abuse in the newspaper headlines affect us all as members of the Body of Christ. We also know that our own denominations are not innocent of similar abuses or of being perpetrators of sexism, racism, homophobia, and colonialism.

In the wake of revelations of abuse and improper behavior across the Christian church, our temptation can be to try to “recruit” others to our denomination or congregation. “See, you can still be a Christian in [my church] without all the baggage from [your church]!” This is disrespectful at best and potentially harmful. All of our traditions have their gifts and their flaws, and people wrestling with their personal allegiances, cultural ties, and theological commitments to their traditions should be lifted up in prayer.

As all of this shakes out, faithful people will discern that they should leave the church, and faithful people will discern that they should stay. Faithful people will take their gifts and talents away from the institutional church, and faithful people will use their gifts and talents to try and change the culture from within. Personally, I would never presume to tell someone how to respond. And yet, every time I have gotten angry or frustrated at the church, every time I have longed for a different institution or been jealous of my friends who spend Sunday mornings at brunch or on long bike rides, that Peter voice bubbles up within me: “Lord, to whom can I go?”

Sunday after Sunday, I show up at church, and I see glimpses of the Kingdom of God. I see it in the faces and eyes of those into whose hands I press the bread of heaven. I see it in the prayer shawls and the collections of canned goods and school supplies. I see it in the hymns and the sacraments and the potlucks. And I know these scenes are replicated throughout not just my city and state but across the country and world — broken, sinful people coming together to care for each other and their communities.

Lord, where else can I go? In our collect for this week, the Episcopal Church prays that “your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples.” It is possible that that power is one that is made perfect in weakness, in despair, and in degradation, just as Christ’s power was most evident on the cross.

For now, I know that I will stay because I need the Jesus that I find at church even when he is obscured. I need an hour every week, lifting up my voice in trembling praise to God with the other misfit toys. And I will pray that, by the grace of God, the church will truly become the Body of Christ.

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