I recently watched a video on YouTube that captured small children making messes in their homes and on themselves. They had gotten into something they were not supposed to and as a result created a mess for mom or dad to clean up. Some found bags of flour and spread it all over the floors. Others got into paint and decided to self-paint their bodies. Another child found it inviting to break open all the eggs on the floor and slide around in the busted yolks. Some took sharpies and drew on themselves or another small child that was with them. Nevertheless, by the time mom or dad discovered them, the mess had already been made. Small children can create a mess especially when left unattended.
The church of Jesus can also be a messy place at times. Not so much physical messes created by children, but the messes that are often the result of broken relationships, hurt feelings, poorly worded statements, animosity, jealousy, infighting, and even division. Indeed, relationships within the family of God can become messy at times.
The Apostle Paul, who started many of the early churches, found himself writing letters to them at times to address the messy situations that some of the congregations found themselves in. Messes like moral lapses, false theology, division among the people, a lack of love and grace, and a forgotten forgiveness. Paul had to remind the people who they were as God’s people. They were called to be communities of love and grace, encouragement and support, and faithfulness to God and to one another. They were reminded that they were to live their lives in ways which emulated Jesus.
However, 2000 years later, the church still gets it wrong at times. The church still has a way of creating its own messes in the life of the congregation. It happens because sin has not yet lost its grip on our lives. Churches can be messy even today. Church life can quickly get out of sorts and leave the membership on edge. For some the answer is to remove oneself from the mess; pack up their bags and head out on a journey of discovery for the perfect church. Unfortunately, for those who embark of this journey, they will always be disappointed as there are no perfect churches. The other option is to live among the messes and allow God’s grace to heal, renew, and restore the body. Such an option is fueled by a desire to help make the church the best it can be despite its shortcomings. This is what Paul sought to bring about in the lives of the church he communicated with, a unity grounded in a love of God and a love for one another.
Although we often associate the words of 1 Corinthians 13 with wedding ceremonies, the words of Paul would written for the church and its fellowship of how to live and live as God’s people. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 reads,
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.
Indeed, God’s love is the great remedy for the messy church. Love which leads us to forgive one another, live as a community of grace, speak words of kindness, exhibit compassion, and serve one another. If we live out of these values, then the messes that come our way will be met by a love which refuses to give up on the church. God’s love will always be greater than the messy church.