Saturday, May 11, 2013

Interesting line from the Pope's sermon for April 14

"Inconsistency on the part of pastors and the faithful between what they say and what they do, between word and manner of life, is undermining the Church's credibility," said Pope Francis in his homily....

Now there is a mouthful.  You can apply that in a myriad of ways. Of course, the most obvious is the way we speak of holiness but do not intend or attempt to live holy lives.  I have often maintained that the world is not expecting Christians to be perfect but they do expect that what we believe, confess, and teach will show up in our lives -- even if in an imperfect or broken manner.  It should not be something for which we are proud  that most Christians do not live distinctively Christian lives but fade into the woodwork of the world and all its people.  Faith should imply difference.  The great problem of all Christians is that we are in the world and too much of the world.  We pursue the world's goals through the world's means, then we come to church on Sunday morning to confess our sins and be forgiven, and so we go back to the same old attitudes and practices on Monday morning with a clean conscience.  As one pundit put it, God's job is to forgive and ours is to sin.  That has become our piety and that is not the way of Christ or the cross.  Whether or not we succeed in the pursuit of holiness of life and conversation (from the collect for April 7) we ought to seek it out and strive for it.

But there is another way in which you can apply the Pope's words.  For way too long the faith has become only as wide and as deep as the person to whom you are speaking, the author whose words you are reading, the parish where you happen to be, etc...  Our theology has become relative.  Our liturgical practice has become relative.  Our morality has become relative.  Clearly, nothing hurts the Church more than the idea that there is no real and objective truth -- only the subjective truth of the person or the moment.  The great gulf between what we say and what we do only infuses our enemies and the church's detractors with ammunition and encouragement in their disbelief and skepticism.  What we confess should inform and shape what we do -- as individuals, as clergy, as congregations, and as the church as a whole. 

Personalized piety, worship practices that reflect personal preferences, and doctrine that is defined by personal doubts or interest all undermine the credibility of a Church claiming to confess that heaven and earth may pass away but the Word of the Lord endures forever.  We have made the Word of the Lord what we want it to be, we have left the church to be the mistress of the moment rather than the bride of Christ for eternity, and then we wonder why it is that people do not flock in when the doors are opened.

It is true that the Spirit is the one who empowers and brings results from our witness and I do not mean to presume that it is the fruit of our efforts or our energies that people come to faith and communion with the Church.  However, we ought not to stand in the way of the Spirit's work where we can help it.  Inconsistency between faith confessed and faith lives and the inconsistency of worship forms and practices and theology all combine to make the work of the Spirit more difficult.  Whether the Pope says it or I say it, it is true.  Diversity is not a virtue of the Church as Scripture defines her.  Fidelity and faithfulness are. 

Down the road is a restaurant building was so many different things over the years people stopped coming.  They expected to find their favorite on the menu when they returned but found instead that the restaurant had reinvented itself again.  The familiar was gone and all was new.  Eventually people stopped coming and the doors closed.  As President Harrison once reminded, in order to be better than we are, we must first be who we are.  Sinners forgiven and restored to struggle with all their might against temptation and doubt... Churches with a history that points them to the future...

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