Once a month, members of the church come to do work on the church grounds, ranging from washing windows and vacuuming, mowing, raking, picking up trash, spreading beauty bark, and anything else that needs doing.
It’s been an unusually mild winter, and as a result, the mold has grown almost exponentially. It has taken over large patches of the lawn, and parts of the parking lot and driveway. Since the grass still isn’t quite high enough to cut, I planned to take on the mold. I wasn’t quite sure which tool would be best, so I took my flat shovel and my “zombie” tool. One side is shaped like a narrow, tapered hoe, and the other side has two pointed edges like flat hooks.
When I arrived, I put on my work gloves, and my wide-brimmed Tilley, so I could keep the drizzle out of my eyes. I grabbed the shovel, and started attacking the mold that was building up on the asphalt parking lot next to the sidewalk. The steel of the shovel made a lovely kind of ringing sound as I hunched over and scraped the mold like I was shoveling snow. It seemed to be scraping up a great deal of the low green substance, made even more like a slimy muck by the slow precipitation that had vacillated between drizzle and mist for the last 12 hours. However, I didn’t get too far before I realized that the shovel was leaving behind swaths of the mold that had started to scale up the side of the sidewalk, since I could only scrape the flat surface of the parking lot, and not the edge of the sidewalk where it met the parking lot. I went back to the car and got my zombie tool. The tapered edge worked well to remove the side mold, and even appeared to be doing better on the surface mold as well. I also didn’t need to hunch over as far, as the handle was longer.
As I made my way along the sidewalk, then out to the driveway curbing, I found myself surprised at how much mold had really taken root, especially along the entrance to the church property. I realized that it was no accident that the further I got from the church, and the closer I got to the edges of the property, the thicker the moss had become. Before long, my mind was examining the symbolic nature of what I was doing, and thinking about the lesson that this should have been teaching. In many ways, I think that we in the church fail to clean up ourselves like we clean up the property, or perhaps more appropriately, not enough of us do this work, like not enough of us show up on Saturday to do the work of maintaining and cleaning the grounds.
We all know someone who stands outside, and offers a criticism of the church in order to justify their separation from it. Sometimes, this excuse is rooted in a hubris that places them squarely at the center of creation, and is a dim, echoey place where the throne room of their heart is a place where they try hard to occupy a space never meant for them, suffering a loneliness that few can recognize, let alone address. Just as frequently, it is someone who unflinchingly comments about the hypocrisy they believe they see, rooted in an incomplete understanding of the Jesus we serve, and what he stands for. And some are correct in this diagnosis, without understanding the planks obscuring their own vision, or how much they don’t know.
I get to start this part with a confession of my own. I don’t spend nearly enough time doing the maintenance on my own spirit. Just like I need to spend time scraping at decay that grows at the edges of the parking lot and driveway, I need to do the same spending time reading and studying the Bible, and then considering what I read, and applying it to how I think and what I do. It can be difficult, in a world of distractions and competing priorities to make this part of a regular routine, let alone a daily one. And without doing it, we don’t think enough about the nature of sin, or how much we still commit it. The Word can’t work the changes in us that it was meant to, or at least not to the degree that it can or should, and as a result, the grace that saves us, and the one who died to give it both become cheap in our lives, as we fail to see the decay we ourselves carry, even as we see the decay surrounding us so clearly.
We cannot and should not ever lose sight of the fact that we ALL sin. Sometimes, the sin is obvious and open to those who surround us. Some sins are hidden, and no less pernicious, but require humility and self-examination to see, before we can ever think about changing them, and it is far too easy to acknowledge the obvious sins of others first. These become the hypocrisies that excuse others from even making the attempt to come to Christ, even if they fail to understand that it is grace that saves, because sin is inevitable. And sometimes, even if they understand the inevitability of sin, they don’t differentiate between the reflection that examines it and the repentance for it, and the fact that this is different from living in an unbroken state of it, without the growth and change that come from recognition, repentance, and a sincere attempt to change. The latter fosters humility and appreciation for grace; the former becomes a justification to do what is right in that person’s own eyes, and to find a fault in the faith which doesn’t exist. And because we don’t spend enough time in the Word, we are not able to exercise the discernment spoken of in Jude, or to find the right answer to such criticisms.
Now if you’ll excuse me, the rhythm of the rain is calling me to do some spiritual scraping.