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Our Messy Church

August 11, 2019

John 20:19-23, Ephesians 2:11-22

Tom Yoder Neufeld, retired Bible teacher and scholar, and author of the Believers commentary on Ephesians, led a series of Bible studies at the Mennonite Church USA convention this year. In one of those sessions he led the group in a litany that used these words as the refrain. He would say, “The church is messy.” And the group would respond, “Thanks be to God!”

Is the church messy? When you get a whole group of people together, men and women, different ages with different ideas, different personalities, different ideologies…does it get messy? What if you add in different cultures, languages, countries? Do you think a gathering like that could get a little messy? Do you think there might be disagreements? Misunderstandings? Competing visions? Dueling traditions?

And is that a good thing? Can we see the messiness as a gift? Is diversity something to be embraced? Can differences help us grow? I’m so thankful for the ways in which the insights and wisdom of others over the years have helped me grow in my faith. Without opening myself to the perspectives of others, including those I at one time disagreed with, I would have such an immature faith and more limited understanding of God. I needed and need the messiness to help me grow.

So, the church is messy, thanks be to God! And we’re going to say this now too. I’m going to say the first part and then let’s all respond with the second. The church is messy! Thanks be to God!!

This is an affirmation worthy of our namesake. We call ourselves Christians. We say we follow Christ. Well what did Christ, did Jesus do? Jesus came striding on the scene, turning over tables, stomping on traditions, upending revered interpretations of the law, tearing down walls between the rich and poor, between men and women, between Jews and Gentiles and then he died on the cross in order to eliminate all these divisions that keep us from each other and keep us from God. He died so that we could live and live fully.

Instead, what do we so often do? This John text was one that Glen Guyton, the new executive director of MC USA, used at both convention and our Western District Conference assembly this year. What do the disciples do after Jesus dies to set us free? They do what any sensible person would do. They go and hide behind locked doors together out of fear. Guyton called this a holy huddle. They go and hide in their holy huddle, in that safe space where everyone is on the same page and thinks alike. They hide behind locked doors where the world can’t intrude, can’t get in. They go and huddle in order to hoard their grief to themselves and create a conducive environment for fear to keep growing. They bar the doors and close in on themselves. Does this sound at all familiar?

Jesus had already died to set them free. Were they free? No. He has to come to them again, clothed in the hope of resurrection. And he pries their fingers loose, their hands open. He pulls them from their holy hu