Clay Church

Expanded version of the bulletin article for Feb. 14, 2016.

The Church wasn’t even out of the first century before it was forced to deal with a pernicious heresy. Some folks were claiming that Jesus wasn’t actually a human being. He was God, or a divine figure, but he wasn’t truly at the same time a full human being, with all the limits and frailties that make up our human existence. Such a heresy is called Docetism, because these people said Jesus only seemed to  suffer as a human (from the Greek word dokein – “to seem”). John calls such people “deceivers” and “the antichrist!” (2 John 7). Those are some strong words from the apostle. For the Church, it was no small point of doctrine that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came in the flesh and completely incarnate in the human condition.

If Jesus’ humanity is something we cannot minimize or deny, then it’s strange how embarrassed we can become when the Church, the body of Christ, shows herself to be human. In this life, only imperfect people worship God. Yet we work hard to deny our imperfections. We try to cover them up with suits and dresses, clean and quiet children, and “We’re fine, thanks. How are you?” And I do it too. Often, the last thing I want anyone to know when they see me is that I’m still recovering from an argument earlier that day, or exasperated with my kids, or dealing with indigestion. I’d rather people see me as happy, cheerful, strong (and never weak). Invulnerable. Half-human.

This is why I secretly love it when something goes wrong during worship. When the microphone squeals or a song is started at a basement-level pitch. Sure it pulls us out of worship and can be distracting. We’re even embarrassed at times, wondering what our visitors might make of us. But the harmless malfunctions also draw attention to the imperfect nature of the church, and therefore to a glorious and paradoxical truth: “We have this treasure [the glory of God] in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us” (2 Cor. 4:7)

The church is clay. We’re simple, earthy, and fragile. From the outside, we might not seem special or significant. We are human. But the human Jesus uses us the human church to hide the most beautiful treasures: the gospel of Christ, the glory of God, and the Spirit of power. In both the human person and the human church, the words of Christ are true: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Lk. 17.20b-21).

And when we–the clay church–crack, when we’re shown to be imperfect? When the heat and pressure rips gashes through our weak spots? When that humanness is exposed? It’s in those moments that the power of God and the glory of his grace shine through the brightest.