While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice. ‘For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)
One more conflict, one more misunderstanding, one more incident needing mediation. In my weaker moments, I want to scream, or perhaps move to some uninhabited island. Or both. I forget, of course, that “me” will come along and ruin the perfect solitude.
Messy, this church life is so messy. We Christians are often an offended, hurting lot; or on other days we are maddeningly “victorious,” meeting suffering with answers and ills with fixes. What is wrong with us? Have the Spirit’s fruit and gifts not taken hold?
I simmer and distract myself with reading, doing and accomplishing, hoping that the day’s frustrations will dwindle and dissolve before I reappear, but my mind is still busy seeking answers. I’m not praying, exactly, but apparently I haven’t stopped listening.
“It will always be messy,” I hear in my head. Oh, there’s that still small voice again. “It has to be messy. I came for the sick.”
I shake my head and realize, once again, how quickly I forget.
We are sinners. The world has it together, in comparison, or so they think. If they had a need, they would run to hear a gospel of hope. In contrast, the sickest among us figure it out – like the woman in Mark 5, they look for answers and push through the crowd to find solutions.
The church is the clubhouse for the messed up, broken and poor—both in spirit and in health. We who have sought have found. We ran to a Redeemer and discovered Someone who could make sense of our screwed up, shattered, lonely lives. We found Somebody who could restore and change us, see us for who we could be, and transform our ugliness into beauty. We discovered, to our amazement, that we are cherished.
However, as redeemed as we feel, our pasts are not as gone as we would like. There is healing, but we often haven’t found it. We are new creations carrying leftover luggage, pasts that persist and drag us down like a hem full of stones. It’s those pasts that fight, cling, trigger, shame, and hurt; my luggage wrestles your luggage and we’re left with a mess.
We are sinners becoming saints. We’re only barely learning to clean up those ugly consequences of our baggage battles. My need for control still skewers your insecurities; your arrogance wounds my timidity. We forgive, we learn, we grow, we heal, and we arise with the determination to let more of the Spirit take over the next time.
May I challenge you, and us? World: it’s a messy church, but God’s working on us, and we’re real. Church: keep growing, the world needs to see how we handle life. We’re the only ones who can come through these battles with Hope – hope in a Savior who changes, redeems, and calls us forward. No one else in the world – no one – has that answer.