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An Imperfect Church

Those who know me well (and not so well) recognize that I’m a perfectionist. I don’t hide it. It is a blessing and a curse. Perfectionism drives me to give my best, but it also feels like I’m dragging a fifty-ton weight on my ankles as I try to move forward. Although I’m a perfectionist, I am far from perfect. I continue to learn how to lean into grace as I stumble through this imperfect life.

Churches are the same. Most congregations try hard to contact every sick person, perform every wedding and funeral, bring their best to worship, make the right decisions, and give energy and hope to the places where hurt occurs in the world. But I’ll let you in on a little secret – churches still mess up. Churches flail and fumble as they seek to greet new people, point people to a mysterious God, and care for the lonely. Churches will never be perfect.

Adam Copeland wrote a reflection about the local church for the Christian Century magazine recently. He said, “I also have in mind a comment by Tim Brown, a Lutheran pastor in North Carolina: congregations will always fall short. ‘You’re going to join the wrong church, or have the wrong pastor.’ he writes on his blog, ‘because our ideas of what makes ‘a right one’ are romantic.’ Your church will one day be a place of disappointment, difficult change, and dissatisfaction. But even in the midst of these certain challenges, Brown holds up the value of congregations: they are ‘about loving each other into a different way of being’ in the presence of God.’”

In this Lenten Season, it is my hope that you will let go of your perfectionism and embrace your beautiful blemishes because that is how a perfect and loving God made you. And as we, as imperfect people, lean more into grace, may we be convicted to give grace to all of our holy institutions that seek to lead us into the presence of God despite their missteps and mistakes. Because in the end, to achieve more and be better, we must love each other into a different way of being. Royal Lane Baptist Church isn’t perfect, but we will love you, albeit imperfectly, as you become more of who God created you to be.

Perfection, Perfection 
by Fr. Kilian McDonnell 

I have had it with perfection.
I have packed my bags,
I am out of here. 
Gone. 

As certain as rain
will make you wet,
perfection will do you
in. 

It droppeth not as dew
upon the summer grass
to give liberty and green
joy.

Perfection straineth out
the quality of mercy,
withers rapture at its
birth. 

Before the battle is half begun,
cold probity thinks
it can't be won, concedes the
war. 

I've handed in my notice,
given back my keys,
signed my severance check, I
quit. 

Hints I could have taken:
Even the perfect chiseled form of 
Michelangelo's radiant David
squints, 

the Venus de Milo
has no arms,
the Liberty Bell is
cracked.

Pastor Mike

Posted by Michael Gregg

The Words of Lent

Every year before Lent, the Royal Lane children help us say goodbye to the word “Alleluia.” They march the letters of the word down the center aisle on the first Sunday morning in Lent and put them in a box for safe keeping. The letters are then taken out and Alleluia returns on Easter morning. By saying goodbye to Alleluia, we recognize that our joyful proclamations are put away for the contemplative season of Lent. As one writer says, “Alleluias are joyful proclamations, which we put away during the more contemplative season of Lent… putting away a favorite toy for a while – to appreciate it better later.”

This should uncover for us the power of words. Words matter. Words prepare us, enliven us, and skim the surface of the mystery of God. And so, I think about the word “Lent.” Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencton, meaning “spring” or “lengthening” during this time of year when the days are growling longer. Lent also comes from the Latin lentare, which means to “bend.” Understanding the power of the word “Lent” reveals that this season is a time of personal and communal transformation, a time of bending, lengthening, and changing. Lent is the season in which we look deeply at the life of Jesus and his journey to the cross.

But when we say goodbye to the word Alleluia, we say hello to the words of Lent. This Lenten season, in sermon and in song, we are examining the seven last statements of Jesus from the cross. These words are heavy, vibrantly relational, and very mysterious. Jesus’ first word is “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In this first statement from the cross we get the relieving assurance of God’s FORGIVENESS. Even if forgiveness is difficult for us, God reminds us that we are loved. Jesus’ second word from the cross is one of SALVATION. Jesus says to the thief being crucified next to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus’ third word from the cross reveals the value of RELATIONSHIP. Even as Jesus died with the weight of the world on his shoulders, he took care of his mother, Mary. The fourth word of Jesus, “I thirst,” reminds us that even Jesus was in DISTRESS. We see that Jesus was human and struggled with the same physical needs that we do.

Jesus’ fifth word is probably the most gut-wrenching word of Lent – ABANDONMENT. Jesus cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We all go through difficult times when we question the presence of God in our lives. Jesus did too. Then his sixth word from the cross is one of protection and trust when he says, “Into your hands I commit my spirit.” In those times when we feel most abandoned, we eventually find REUNION with God. And then the final word of Jesus from the cross is one of TRIUMPH. Jesus finally said, “It is finished!” This statement was much more than a dying man’s last words. It announced to God that Jesus had accomplished all that needed to be done. Yet, this Lent, we are to continue Christ’s work in the world. These last words from the cross remind us that Lent feels heavy and long, but that the last word at Easter will be one of RESURRECTION and we will all be changed for the better.

Pastor Mike

Posted by Michael Gregg

A Season of Forgiveness and Reconciliation

My friend and mentor, Rev. Dr. Steven M. Sheeley, preached a Good Friday sermon using this familiar story of the city of Coventry:

The city of Coventry rests quietly in the middle of England. By the mid-20th Century it had become an important cog in the machinery of English industry. And in 1940 much of England’s munitions were being manufactured there.

For, you see, war was raging over Europe, and bombs were falling over Britain. In the early evening of November 14, 1940, 515 German bombers began multiple bombing runs over Coventry. They dropped their bombs, returned to France to reload, and returned to drop some more. The first few waves of bombs were explosive in nature, designed to damage rooftops, roads, and water mains and to obstruct the actions of firefighters and other first responders. The succeeding waves of bombs were incendiary, intended to ignite the town in a firestorm. 4300 homes were damaged and over two-thirds of the city was destroyed.

The center of the city was dominated by the Coventry Cathedral, built on the site of a former Benedictine convent and dedicated to St. Michael. Its steeple towered over the city, an imposing landmark. By the end of that evening in November 1940, the steeple and the Cathedral’s outer walls were nearly all that remained of the holy structure. In the aftermath of the evening’s fiery destruction, a firefighter noticed two of the massive roof beams lying in the shape of a cross amidst the rubble. These two beams were fixed together and placed on the altar, which was miraculously still standing. In the days that followed, the Provost of the Cathedral called the people of Coventry to a response of reconciliation, rather than retaliation and had the words “Father Forgive” engraved on the wall of the ruined church behind the altar. The Germans, the English, the soldiers, the civilians… all needed to hear the words… “Father, Forgive!”

Today, we feel the strong vibrations and the harmful destruction of the bombs of theological intolerance, political polarization, and racial inequity. We feel as if our lives are in ruins. Yet, even as the ashes of grief and loss pile up, we must remember the smudged sign of the cross on our foreheads and that we are dust and to dust we will return. Rather than possessing a spirit of retaliation, this Lenten Season we need to hear and act the words of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In 1958, Canon Joseph Poole wrote The Litany of Reconciliation and today it is prayed regularly around the world. The Litany is intoned at noon each weekday in Coventry Cathedral and in the Cathedral ruins on Fridays:

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
Father, forgive.
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
Father, forgive.
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Father, forgive.
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Father, forgive.
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
Father, forgive.
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
Father, forgive.
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Father, forgive.
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Amen.

Pastor Mike

Posted by Michael Gregg

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