Monday, September 27, 2010

The unworthiness of Ministers does not hinder the effect of the Sacraments

Or thus says the 26th Article of Religion for the Church of England and the Episcopal Church.

In a time of trial for the church in the world with all the scandals and hypocrisy, this is probably one of the least desired statements. We want to be able to point to clergy behaving themselves like, well, clergy. People of the highest moral caliber who do not lord it over others. Quick to bless, slow to anger, hasty to love and hesitant to criticize.

Yet the media calls up yet another example (every morning, it seems) of another cleric behaving horribly. An antigay preacher suddenly being accused of having relationships with young men in his care. A cleric stealing money from his parish. A whole bunch of bishops covering up sexual abuse. No wonder that people aren't beating down the doors of the church to come in and pray!

For those in the church world, too, we see these same things. We see clergy who wear their collar as a crown and are full of a sense of superiority. We see clergy who micromanage and dictate to their congregations and who attack any who disagree. We see clergy who use their power on the budget/discipline/discernment committee to keep other clergy and laypeople from speaking out. No wonder that people can get burnt out when those entrusted as pastors start to believe that they are lords in God's kingdom.

In all this, it would be so easy to just walk away. Run away. Never turn back. Escape into the desert, free of the stain of evil. Indulge ourselves in the comfortable Gospel of Consumerist Conformity which promises to satisfy every desire and need. After all, what is supposed to be a community forged in the love of God and of neighbor is so frequently a place of politics and abuse of power.

This article of religion is actually an antidote to the despair that harms the church every day. Yes, we have corrupt leaders. Yes, our people are incredibly flawed. Yes, we are far, far from being the perfect community that Jesus calls us to be. Yes, we can be a den of hypocrisy and judgment. Perfection and goodness are far from us, we freely admit.

And there's no excuse for it. None at all. The church is continually under God's judgment for its flaws and sins.

But that's not the end. In a community that proclaims the Gospel, even if the tongues that do it are full of venom, the Gospel can still be heard however faintly. There is always a hope that things will change and that courage and grace can once again flourish. And an unworthy minister can still bless and preside at communion because it is Christ who does it, not truly the minister. Christ will not and cannot be banished by evil. I can not out-sin the grace of God, and neither can any cleric, priest, bishop or pastor.

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