messy church

This may be my favorite prayer, it is written by theologian and Anabaptist thinker Stanley Hauerwas. While some of the language and words may not be mine the spirit of this prayer really resonates with me.

Living Puzzles and the Kingdom of God by Stanley Hauerwas

ALL PRAISE TO YOU, Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, who Spirits your church into being, making us members one of another. It is a great mystery that we are your body. But we praise you for it, for otherwise we would be so alone – condemned to live alone, to die alone. But you have given us one another in all shapes and sizes. We do not fit together all that well, but we pray that the puzzles of our lives may please you and entertain you, so that in the end we add up to be your kingdom. Help us to live with the confidence of that kingdom, in the light of your Son’s resurrection, so that when all is said and done, this may be said: “They were a strange lot, but look how they loved one another.” AMEN.

It reminds me of what the Gospels say about a messy community of faith:

Matthew 18: “If another member of the church sins against you go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

I was thinking on this prayer and this Gospel text in relation to how complicated relationships can be, in the church and outside the church. Churches are organic communities like any other institution and therefore carry with them the potential for conflict and tension. But faith communities in general and the Christian church in particular, have a different understanding of how we navigate these challenges. We must never demonize or hate those who disagree with us. Yes there is evil in the world and we are called to name evil for what it is. But rarely, very, very, rarely is a conflict or tension the result of evil, 99.9999999% of the time conflict arises when different people have different ideas about what is fair, right or just.

What I take away from the Gospel is that listening is key to getting to the heart of the conflict. Many times just that process leads to better understanding, and if not agreement then the opportunity to live together in difference. That difference may in the end even be creatively helpful to the community of faith, it may assist the church to address a problem with a solution the like-minded might otherwise miss. But there are also times when listening will not work and some kind of difficult peace is all that can be achieved. In such circumstances all followers of Christ can do is make our way in a different direction all the while wishing and praying for nothing but the best for our sisters and brothers.

Stanley Hauerwas prays, “We do not fit together all that well, but we pray that the puzzles of our lives may please you.” We hope that our differences, lived out in community, are a source of joy for our Creator. Creation is based on diversity. How we make that work is never easy but it is our task in relationship as sisters and brothers. I give thanks for that.