I have a “love-hate” relationship with religion, particularly Christianity. I know that’s weird for an ordained minster but, truthfully, there are days when I believe it all and there are days when I don’t believe a word of it. I haven’t hidden this from my congregation at Highlands Presbyterian Church. They know.
For so long I have not felt as deeply moved by a voice from the church as I am today by Pope Francis. For the first time in my life, I see this Catholic as the leader of our church, Christ’s representative on earth.
"This church with which we should be thinking is the home of all, not a small chapel that can hold only a small group of selected people. We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity." The words of Pope Francis!
St. Catherine of Siena said, “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.” Pope Francis has lighted the fire.
One can hear the voice of Jesus of Nazareth saying, “Amen. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!” In the words of my favorite hymn, “I scarce can take it in.” Did you hear that confession, that prayer for pardon? “This church…the home of all” cannot be “a nest protecting our mediocrity.”
Over time the church has gotten so small that it easily fit into the pockets of those who think they have God right where they want God. A God made in their image became so mediocre that they were justified in engaging in quality control. The church became irrelevant as it shot its wounded from a circular firing squad.
I was ten years old when Pastor Jack issued his usual altar. I was moved. I went forward. Pastor Jack prayed over me, talked about being reborn. My parents smiled. I don’t remember precisely why I did it, but I remember the excitement of believing God wanted to have a relationship with me. It’s been a long time since I felt that. Like Mother Theresa I have since felt “such deep longing for God.” But, like her, I have often felt “empty, no faith, no zeal.”
I have no way of knowing why Mother Theresa felt that way but for me it began when I had to reconcile the God Brother Jack and others taught me about with the smallness and the mediocrity of the church. God, it seemed, got smaller as the church denied a relationship with people of color, women, and gays and lesbians. The church got smaller as it made God smaller. The “good news” or Gospel had no place in a diminishing church and was necessarily cast aside, replaced by dogma that, as Pope Francis confessed, elevated “moral doctrines over serving the poor and marginalized.”
Today a fresh breeze is blowing through the church. A Pope has reopened the stale pages of the Gospels. “We have to find a new balance,” Francis proclaimed. “Otherwise even the moral edifice of the church is likely to fall like a house of cards, losing the freshness and fragrance of the Gospel.”
The moral of the Gospel story is fundamentally about the urgency of exchanging a “house of cards” church of small things for a Moses-like experience of a “the pillar of cloud (that) would descend and stand at the door of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the door of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship.”
The defenders of the small church are quickly denying the impact of the Pope’s words. They are assuring those who have a stake in the smallness of the church that Francis did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. But there is no denying the evidence. This Pope is now “eating with tax collectors and sinners.” There was a time when that kind of boldness changed the world.