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The Cost of Being an “Institutional” Church Member

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Devotional Thought of the Day

28  And that’s not the half of it, when you throw in the daily pressures and anxieties of all the churches. 29  When someone gets to the end of his rope, I feel the desperation in my bones. When someone is duped into sin, an angry fire burns in my gut. 2 Corinthians 11:28-29 (MSG)

519    Serviam!—“I will serve!” That cry is your determination to serve the Church of God faithfully, even at the cost of fortune, of honor and of life.

Were they to take our house
Goods honor child or spouse
Though life be wrenched away
They cannot win the day
The Kingdom’s ours forever

(From “A mighty Fortress is our God” by Martin Luther)

Yesterday, after a memorial service, one of the people there asked me how I can be there for people in times where the emotional pain is so evident, so dominating, so crushing. I shared one or two of my secrets, and the irony(?) that I have discovered, the more I can embrace their pain with them, the more I can laugh when they laugh and cry when they cry, the more that I see God at work, comforting them.

Funerals and weddings are not the hard part of ministry, nor are the other times when a pastor, priest or even a lay minister is able to make the presence of the Holy Spirit known to people. In those moments, the tears the grienf it is worth it.

But the challenge of being in the institutional church is when it seems not to be worth it. When you are in a meeting and people have hidden agendas. When people struggle with each other, and do not see the answer is struggling together.

When the brokenness of lives so blinds them to the healing that is found in Christ, the healing He does within the church, and through those He has called and given to the church.

When the church is forced to change its focus from the Jesus to dealing with the problems that are threatening to tear it apart. Such stuff happens in the institutional church, but it also happens in the house church, and in our families. As long as there is one sinner in the room, it will happen. And if you are there, or I am, there is a sinner there.

Yesterday, we ended the service by singing Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”. Not as a triumphal anthem, but as a song of need, a song of despair, and yet hope as he finds that God has him (and the church) THe part of the verse quoted above struck me again, especially given the loss the people were experiencing endured. It is echoed in St Josemaria’s words.

We usually think of such threats as external, or they should be. The people who for one reason or another hate the church, or feel threatened by it. But sometimes they are internal, as people do fall into sin, as people do deal with stress and brokenness. Paul easily recognizes the stresses that can occur when people are brought together, are drawn together in to the presence of God.

So if we are going to face that within or without the institutional church, why bother to belong to one? Why bother to deal with the added stress, why deal with the extra pain, the extra betrayals, the extra anxieties and fears? Why would someone who struggles with social constructs and the complications they bring ever dare enter into this willinging, and serve the church?

Why bear the cost of the trauma, the pain, the disagreements, the dishonour?

Simple. The eyes of a widow that full of tears, reaches out for a hug and whispers, “Yes, I know God is with me.” The grief that is shared, but the hope of the resurrection to life together in the presence of God. Watching God at work, reconciling people together. The joy, the quiet simple joy that comes as the people of God find themselves celebrating their forgiveness and their adoption as God’s co-heirs at the altar of mercy and peace.

Everything endured is worth that….whether the injury is external to the church or internal.

Seeing God at work is that priceless, and seeing Him at work in and through me and the people I struggle alongside, (and sometimes with) is nothing compared to the glory and healing found in Christ. AMEN!

Escriva, Josemaria. The Way (Kindle Locations 1258-1259). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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