We Embrace Messiness

"For when I am weak, then I am strong."

These words of the apostle Paul have blessed (and perplexed) countless people throughout the ages.  For a man of Paul's background and calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ to recognize that even his own life is marked by "messiness" is nothing less than remarkable.  And he is preceded in scripture by other people and seasons of honest reflection on the messiness of our lives.  

The book of Nehemiah is famous for its story of rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem and thus the city's sense of security and purpose.  But the rebuilding had a much larger scope -- to rebuild the people's covenant relationship with God.  So Neh. 9:1-5 records a pivotal and essential moment in the process of rebuilding -- repentance.  The people had to come to terms with the mess their ancestors had created, which had resulted in their exile and now this need to rebuild.  They repented, not only of their personal sins, but of the sins of the corporate "people of God," both present and past.  

I think very few people will list "repentance" as one of their "favorite things about church."  If anything, the word has been tainted through the loudspeakers and sandwich boards of street "evangelists" (another word that has been tainted, but that's a different conversation).  But when we take an honest inventory of our lives, we are compelled to face our own messes.  This leads us toward finding a balance between two utterly crucial sides of the Gospel: GRACE and TRUTH.

A church cannot communicate the Gospel of Jesus and only emphasize one of those elements.  A church that leans to heavily on GRACE tends to become aimless, even "spineless" when it comes to matters of truth.  In a grand irony, many Christians and non-Christians in our culture who cry out for social justice do so on the basis that no one, including God, can ever "judge."  The presumption is that to "judge" at any level is synonymous with "condemning."  But the outcry for justice in our cities is itself an act of judgement.  People are judging that grave injustices have been done, and they are condemning those injustices.  In the same way, the good news of Jesus, which places such beautiful emphasis on Christ's grace and forgiveness, can only be understood in contrast to the world's sin.  There can be no grace without admitting one's need for it (that is, "I do not deserve the goodness I receive").  There can be no mercy without understanding one's need for it (that is, "I do not deserve the forgiveness I receive.")  So while a church must proclaim grace and mercy, it can only do so in the context of proclaiming certainly things as objectively true.

But a church leans too heavily on TRUTH tends to become condemnatory, exclusive, and frankly look like the elitists we are all too often (and often unfairly) accused of being.  It is another grand irony when Christians or non-Christians cry out for facts without bias, the truth about (fill in the blank) and so easily forget that all of our facts, news, policies, etc. are being facilitated by mere human beings, mortals without omniscience, broken jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:7).  We may long for pure truth, and perhaps it is God's own image in which we're made that longs for it.  But we must face the messy reality of our world, and ourselves, in the process and balance our desire for truth with grace that is sufficient to cover a multitude of sins.

Pastor Aaron reminded us this week: "You either are a mess, you were a mess, or you're one dumb decision away from becoming a mess."  Especially in our cultural climate, which demands radical grace and radical truth, let us be a church who lives in the same dynamic tension, confident in our Master, whom we are taught "became and made his dwelling among us...who came from the Father, full of GRACE and TRUTH" (John 1:14).  


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