“The day we find the perfect church, it becomes imperfect the moment we join it.” ~ Charles Spurgeon
I am, this very minute, introducing my five-year-old nephew, Will, to the (original) Star Wars trilogy. It’s the responsibility of any decent godfather, and it’s already a hit. He just leaned over to my brother and sister-in-law and said, “Mom; Dad! Do you know why I love Star Wars so much? Because it’s awesome! That’s why!”
I remember how much I adored these movies when I was a kid. The special effects are (or at least were) absolutely incredible. How cool to see them through five-year-old eyes again! But honestly – and I say this with due trepidation of being disowned by fully two-thirds of my closest friends – they’re not nearly as jaw-dropping awesome as I remember. I blame Mark Hamill. Or maybe George Lucas for casting Mark Hamill. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because nostalgia rarely holds up under the weight of time, and instead of trying to recreate what can’t be recaptured, I should just appreciate these masterpieces for what they are.
This, of course, is one of the handful of things the Holy Church has in common with the Star Wars universe. There are several, but for now, we’ll hold our reflection to just this one. The longer we live, the more glaring the imperfections of both become to us.
Like Christ Himself, and the Holy Scriptures as well for that matter, the Church exists within that mysterious paradox as both a divinely driven extension of the ministry of Jesus (Matthew 16:18, 1 Corinthians 12:27) and a deeply human institution with all the flaws and shortcomings of the people who make up that institution (Revelation 2-3).
For a lot of Christians, the Church simply doesn’t live up to our nostalgic longing for her. She’s holy and full of grace; a force for everlasting good. Sure. But she’s also led by limited pastors, she has more than a few back-biting members whose judgment toward those whose sins are different than theirs is often glaring. And did I mention her muddy, less than ideal history? The more we experience Church and the more we learn about how she came be and teach what she’s become and teaches, the less she seems to “hold up” under the overwhelming weight of history. On the bright side, this experience of being let down is completely normal.
So consider this. I don’t know of any relationship between two people that’s lasted more than six months that isn’t deeply rooted in forgiveness. In our incompleteness, we can’t begin to fulfill the needs of one another completely. Only God can really complete us, and we’ve got to learn at some point to forgive each other, in essence, for not being God.
What an incredible invitation our God gives us to grow in faith and to live in His forgiveness! We can’t recreate what can’t be recaptured, but we can learn to forgive the Church for not being itself the eternal God to whom she leads us. We can forgive her flaws as God in Christ forgives our flaws, and thereby free ourselves to appreciate the Church of Christ for what it truly is; the fellowship of forgiven sinners.
It’s an invitation to a deeper faith that rests in God alone; that expects completeness and perfect love from Him alone, and forgives all others for not yet being fully like Him. It’s a call to express our incomplete faith with other incomplete people in an incomplete fellowship of – why not – incomplete saints.
So maybe Star Wars, like the Church, holds up after all. That is, of course, if I can learn to appreciate it – not for what I wish it was – but for what it actually is.
About the Author
Josh Hatcher is the Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, an open and caring, distinctly Lutheran, deeply sacramental and sometimes eclectic ministry in the heart of Downtown Memphis.
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