I grew up in the Church (capital "C" meaning all of us Christians, whatever our stripes.) First we were Southern Baptist and I learned many, many Bible stories and was firmly rooted in Scripture. My family then joined the Presbyterian Church (USA) and I came to understand connected church, where each congregation is a part of a whole, not an island to itself. I studied theology and Bible and loved it. I then became an Episcopalian so that I could be a priest, celebrating the sacraments and worshiping with my whole self, body, mind, and spirit. So, I have been connected to the Church my entire life, with all its strengths and weaknesses. I stay because it matters to me to participate in the life of the Body of Christ, and because I've made vows.
Having said all that, this morning I found myself wondering if the Church had become clanging cymbals. I am often frustrated with the institutions of the Church, which are not divine, but human. I don't mean the Bible, or the Sacraments, or the gathering of people of faith, or even the orders of ministry. But there are so many dumb, inconsequential things that we get tied up about! We put up plaques all over our buildings, and we set up cliques inside the church, and we argue about where the platters go in the kitchen, and where are we?!
The problem I find myself in is that I really do believe in the Church, as the Body of Christ, gathered together to further the missio Dei. And that means putting up with all my - and others' - human frailties. I think in many ways the Church has become clanging cymbals - noise makers that serve little purpose and certainly don't glorify God. How do we escape such a sentence?
Paul talks about Clanging Cymbals in the 1st Corinthians passage about love. It's the favorite passage for weddings, but actually, Paul wasn't talking about romantic love (though romantic love includes what Paul was talking about.) He was talking about the Church and how we are supposed to behave. It seems those Corinthians were a lot like us and fought over who had the better spiritual gifts and probably over where the platters went in the kitchen, too. But we can do everything right, we can have beautifully maintained buildings, and all the right linens and vestments, and the right set of canons, and the right committees, and the right everything, and without love we've missed the point. We're supposed to be patient and kind and understanding of one another.
So, we can have all the wrong committees, all the wrong vestments and linens and platters in the kitchen, but if we have love, we have God. I have a hard time being patient and kind and understanding, and I know lots of other people who do, too, so it's not surprising that when we all get together at church it doesn't get easier, but harder, to love. I wish we could spend more of our time together learning to love and less of it fighting over who's allowed in and who's out, and over what set of linens to use today.