“The Church is a whore, but she’s my mother.” – Saint Augustine
I got the letters that you sent me. At first, I wasn’t sure that I would respond, because it seemed like you really just needed some space and some time alone. “Just sit in stillness with these words for a while,” you said, “because whether you believe they’re right or wrong, they’re real to us, and that’s the whole point.” I get it. I’m not writing this to you to try to make you feel any more pressure or awkwardness. And I’m not just trying to pick a fight. Really, I don’t want to fight you.
But John, I can’t just stay silent when you say things like that to me. I love you too much for that.
Here’s the thing, John, a lot of what you said to me is stuff I totally agree with. You said that worship shouldn’t be entertainment. I couldn’t agree more. You said that I shouldn’t just be waiting around, trying to get people to come to me, but that I should be out in the world, ministering to the needs of the poor and the oppressed. You’re totally right about that. But when you say these things to me, it makes me wonder if you really know who I am.
I don’t mean that in a snarky or glib way. I’m not trying to make you feel bad. You’ve spent a lot of time in a world that calls itself by my name but that doesn’t really have much in common with me. I don’t do light shows, John. I don’t have coffee bars and comfy couches. I don’t think you’re really angry at me. I think you’re angry at an impostor dressed in some of my clothes who is otherwise nothing like me at all.
So, let me tell you a little bit about who I am.
A very long time ago, I got engaged. I know, it’s exciting, right? I met the man of my dreams, and when he popped the question… Well, I’d like to say that I said yes right away, but that’s just not the case. For some of us, the path that leads to true love has to go through a lot of twists and turns before it sets us straight. I wasn’t very nice back then. He was amazing though. He promised to love me so deeply, so totally, that I freaked. I ran in the opposite direction. I mocked him. I told lies about him. I slept with anyone and everyone around me just to try to make him mad. Basically, I flipped out. Any normal guy, in his right mind, would have dumped me right then and there, and no one could have blamed him if he did. But instead, he came for me. He gave up everything that he had trying to find me. He didn’t care about all the evil things I’d done to him. He just wanted to love me. No matter how much I covered myself in dirt, he wanted only to be there to clean me up again. No matter how broken I was, he just wanted to heal me, even at the cost of his own life. And eventually, that’s exactly what it cost him. He died for me, cold and alone, nailed to a tree. I didn’t even go to him then. I spit on his rotting corpse. I couldn’t face what I had done to him.
I couldn’t face the truth.
But then, the most amazing thing happened. You know how in all the movies and the storybooks, they always say that love is stronger than death? Well, it turns out, they’re right. All that trite stuff in fairytales and make believe, it’s actually true. He loved me so much that even death itself couldn’t stop him from coming for me. Once he’d defeated death, what was really left that could keep us apart? Not only did he come back from death, but he breathed life into me as well. And suddenly, I realized that I had been the one who was really dead the whole time. It was like waking up out of a bad dream that you didn’t even know you were in. The whole world suddenly looked different. I realized that he was the key to everything, not just being happy, but being whole. All that mattered then and all that matters now is his love for me. It’s still stronger than death. I agreed right then and there to marry him, and he’s been preparing me for our wedding day ever since, washing away layer after layer of dirt from my body, healing me in ways that are sometimes painful, but always out of love – real, genuine love. I didn’t know what it was before I knew him. And I couldn’t have found it on my own, even though I thought that’s exactly what I was doing when I walked away from him over and over again. I was dead.
Dead people can’t love. Love is only for the living. It’s only when I finally realized I was dead that he could give me life. It’s only when I knew that I had no love at all in me that I came to see that he was pouring more love than my heart could ever need out for me.
John, you said, “From what we know about Jesus, we think he looks like love. The unfortunate thing is, you don’t look much like him.” John, you may not like me very much sometimes, because I put up with an awful lot. I have been beaten, bruised, and abused more times and in more ways than I care to repeat. But I am always – always – His. And because I’m his, that means you can be his as well. My whole purpose, my whole reason for being, is so that you can be made one with him, so that you can have all that same love that he poured out for me. For two thousand years, that’s what I’ve been about. I don’t have any words or actions of my own. They’re all his. He invites you to come and be with him. He speaks his word to you and breathes life into you through it. He washes you clean at the baptismal font and feeds you his body and blood at the altar rail.
“Church, you talk and talk and talk, but you do so using a dead language,” you said. But the only language I know how to speak is the one that he gave me. I don’t have any of my own words, only his. And his words are life itself. The words he speaks through me are the only words that can raise the dead. And that’s exactly what I’m in the business of doing, raising the dead. You’re dead, John. Whether or not you realize it, you’re dead. I’m here to make you alive. And it won’t always be easy or fun. A lot of the things I have to say are difficult. Death is easy. Life is hard. I could just tell you whatever you want to hear, of course. I could tell you that being with Jesus won’t require anything of you, that it won’t change your heart and mind, that it has no challenge to issue to your politics or the way you live your life. I could say that kind of stuff to you, and maybe that would make you happy for a little while. But in the end, it would not do you a bit of good. That’s the kind of stuff that the impostor does, tickling your ears and ignoring the empty spot in your heart. I’m not here to get you to like me or vote for me or think I’m cool. I don’t give a damn whether you think what I’m saying is relevant to your life or whether it makes you happy. I love you, which means I want you to live, which sometimes means saying no to you.
Listen, John, I love you. I love you because He loves you. And I’ll never stop opening my arms to you. I’ll never withdraw my offer to wash you and feed you. But I’m not going to chase you, because what would be the point? I’ll be here when you’re ready. It’s not going to be easy. To be a part of me, you’re going to have to spend time with hypocrites and liars and every other kind of terrible person. That’s just part of the deal. That’s who he sent me to round up. You’re going to be confronted with a lot of discomfort if you want to hang out with me. You won’t always like the company you keep. And you’re going to learn some things about yourself that are going to make you want to turn around and run. But it’s worth it, John. It’s all worth it. Because he’s here, John. Everything he did for me, he did for you. Being alive may be a lot harder than staying dead, but it’s also a whole lot better. Come be alive with me.