I have been around the church long enough to have an idea of what the theologian Alfred Loisy meant when he said, “Jesus came preaching the Kingdom, and what arrived was the Church.” Jean-Paul Sarte said it this way: “hell is other people.”
So I sympathize with people who give up on the church and decide to just follow Jesus, those who say they are not so much “Christians” as “Jesus followers.” I get it. As a pastor, I have seen people do some amazing things, and I have seen people some awful things. It is enough to make you just give up on the church and start over with just you, your Bible, and your Jesus.
While I sympathize with this instinct, I also know that it is not good enough; you cannot separate relationship with other people from relationship with Jesus. Oh, people have certainly tried. I know of folks who say that their mission is life is to do something vague like “just be passionate about Jesus,” or some such thing, but I have to admit that I have absolutely no idea what that means. Is being passionate about Jesus about sounding excited every time you say his name? Is being passionate about Jesus about letting everyone know you are a Jesus-follower because of your clever t-shirt? Or is being passionate about Jesus about something else entirely?
I have to believe that Jesus meant it when he said that when you feed a person who is hungry, when you give water to someone who is thirsty, when you welcome someone who is a stranger, you are feeding, giving drink to, welcoming Jesus (Matthew 25). We were created to serve each other, and the way in which we are passionate about Jesus is by being servants.
Or, think of it this way. We were all created in the image of God (Genesis 1), and we each have within us that very image, no matter who we are or what we have done. I cannot do justice to God’s love and grace unless I do justice to God’s love and grace within myself, and within you, because you share that same image. You cannot leave everyone behind and follow Jesus, for one of the primary ways in which we follow Jesus is by loving each other. This is no problem when we are loving a cute child, or a dedicated volunteer, or a salt-of-the-earth saint of the church. But the world is not made up of perfect people.
Babies grow up. Volunteers get burned out. Even saints make mistakes.
The raw truth is that people are difficult. Loving is hard work, especially when we have to find the image of God within an especially difficult person. But we have been given the gift of the God who created us, who redeemed us through Christ, who stays with us through the work of the Holy Spirit. This God and this gift deserve no less.
We were made for each other. Though some days, I feel like moving to the woods with just me and Jesus, I know that there are great gifts involved with being the church. Rather than dismissing all of it, let us work so that it may be more faithful. Let us welcome everyone into this gift of community.
Courtesy of GBOD's Young People's Ministries. Dalton Rushing is a contributor to Young People's Ministries online devotions.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church.