Mae West, the sultry film star of the 1930’s said, “I used to be Snow White, but I drifted.” What’s your excuse for not being perfect? My excuse? “I admit it, I was born this way.” Even the great saints of the church weren’t perfect. Just hours after he said he’d do anything for Jesus, Peter lied about even knowing him, not once but three times. Jesus’ own brother, James, who grew up in the same household as the Christ, didn’t believe Jesus was anything other than an older brother until after the resurrection. Constantine, who was the first Christian Roman Emperor, refused to be baptized until moments before his death so a lifetime of sins could be washed away at all at once. St. Francis, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Billy Graham, Mother Teresa and countless others knew what a prayer of confession was for.
In our first text we see a blaring example of fallibility among the great saints of God. St. Paul received a disturbing letter about the church he’d started in Corinth on his 2nd missionary tour that took him through Turkey and then into Greece and back to Jerusalem. The report came that the church was squaring off into factions based on who led them to Christ or which pastorate they admired the most. Some claimed Paul as mentor, others Apollos, another clique claimed Peter, and then some made it clear that they followed Jesus Christ (so stick that in your peanut butter). The church he’d left in good spirits just a little more than a year before, teetered on the verge of rupture. He could almost hear the high-pitched tearing sound of the premier faith community that Paul thought might just be the church that could transform the Greek nation. How could these good folks, folks of faith, sink so low so quickly? How could something so right go so wrong? “I thought they were better than this,” we can hear him remorse.
It’s easy to picture him writing, “I’m just glad I didn’t baptize more of you. There’d be a whole church full of people calling themselves “Paulians” as if I died on the cross for the sin of the world and not Jesus. As it is, I just baptized two of you. At least no one can say they’re my disciples.”
Now, see what happens even to the best of us... Paul’s memory and credibility kick in and a sentence later, he has to backtrack and add a parenthetical… (Oh, oh, oh. I forgot, I also baptized Stephen’s whole family and I may have baptized some others there, but I can’t remember.) He couldn’t bring himself to leave a mistake un-repaired. He had to be honest. He forgot. He wasn’t perfect. Did you hear that! Even Paul wasn’t perfect.
The congregation at Corinth was a mess. Paul was messing up even as he tried to fix things. So maybe Hidenwood Church isn’t the only one who could put a sign out front that says, No Perfect People Allowed!
Jesus told a story about two sons. One put on a front and told his father exactly what he knew his father wanted to hear. He then let his father down, but it didn’t seem to bother him. The other son selfishly told his father to “kiss off”, but then thought better of it and did what he was asked to do.
In a way, Jesus understood that no one is perfect. Even those who do the Father’s will mess up. Either they promise and then don’t do it or they’re defiant but end up coming around. Yet both continue to be loved by the Father, even in their imperfection.
Our culture says, “To love me is to accept me as I am, period.” Imperfect, dysfunctional, messed up, a conflicted granny-knot of good, bad and ugly. We’re people with histories we’d rather not revisit and sins we hope are long forgotten. We’re bruised, addicted, abused, and afraid of letting anyone know who we really are. We have cancer cells rampaging inside us, depression weighing us down, our medicine chests are filled with little orange bottles, we can’t stand our boss, have nightmares about the war, and we forget our own wedding anniversary. We can be cruel, selfish and even bullies, as well as victims, doormats and codependents. Most of us need therapy of some sort but refuse to open our lives to another person, afraid of what they might uncover in us. And we wonder if God is real and if church is worth the minimal effort we put into it. But come Sunday, we smile and take communion, sing hymns we don’t understand and help in the nursery. You see, we’re a mess and I’m not talking about people out there… but those in here.
We hope someone, maybe God, can accept us as we are and love us even though we know better than anyone, that we are not perfect. And the good news Jesus loves you and we are love by others, even in our brokenness! And we can accept one another as we are, imperfect, flawed and afraid. But it doesn’t end there. Although the culture says, “To love me is to accept me as I am, period.” The gospel doesn’t stop there. The gospel says, “Come as you are, but don’t expect to be left that way.”
John Burke, in his book, No Perfect People Allowed, challenges all churches to create a “come as you are” culture. He says we’re living in a time when generations of adults know they’re cynical and jaded about the future, don’t believe the promises that things will get better in their lives, they don’t trust government, know they’re manipulated by the media, feel alone much of the time and show little patience with the institutional church. He quotes from the book, 13th Generation, “All the diagnostic experts keep pointing backward to the era of… the ‘60s and ‘70s as the fatal hour when everything started going to hell.” All the typical emotional supports have been kicked out from under us. The things we took for granted, the strongholds of culture we never questioned, and even the atmosphere of faith in some kind of a God or Higher Power have been called into question and most often been found wanting. We’ve become a people who not only know we’re not perfect, but don’t expect much to change about it. Just love me as I am, period.
John Burke challenges the church to do just that, love people as they are and let them come to church as they are… but not to stop there. He says, “Broken people are wounded people. Like abused puppies, they often run from those attempting to help them. Church must create a safe climate, so the healing work of God can begin in their lives. It will take patience and time. People will come and go, walking toward the light of freedom, then plunging back into darkness. But they must see the church as a lighthouse; always there to lead them into the safe harbor of God’s grace.” I would hope this church can be such a place where all who enter through those doors will hear said in many varied ways, “Come as you are, but don’t expect to stay that way.”
During the transition time, I hope you’ll think about what it means to be a church who helps others in and outside the church to move beyond their present state of brokenness and into the healing and wholeness of Jesus Christ. Burke points out areas in our lives that need healing or a touch of grace in order to step out of brokenness into a gracious wholeness. Maybe one or more of these resonates in your spirit.
- Trust: “It’s not easy for me to trust anyone. I don’t know if I can even trust what people say about God.”
- Tolerance: “I know I should be tolerant of other people, races or religions, but I can’t stop being prejudice.”
- Religious Confusion: “I’m confused about other religions. Can faithful people of other faiths get to heaven?
- Truth: “What is truth, anymore? Can we really be sure of any claim of exclusive truth?”
- Alone: “I too, often feel alone. I want to feel loved and needed.”
- Broken: “I know better than anyone that I’m a broken human being. Can God make me whole?”
My hope is that the church can listen to these common ailments of society and find authentic ways that we can say to anyone who asks about Hidenwood Church... come as you are, but at Hidenwood Church, don’t expect to stay that way.
 Paraphrased I Cor. 21:13-15
 Paraphrased I Cor. 21:16
 Matt. 21:28-31
 Pres. Outlook 3/20/06 pg. 11
 John Burke, No Perfect People Allowed. Zondervan, 2005
 Pg. 29
 Pg. 44