Jesus said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. – Matthew 16:15-18
This afternoon I’m heading into a darker subject area. I get my news from a variety of outlets (I try to find a reasonable balance of sources), and – across the board – there is no escaping the fact that the deadly sins we are considering in church are manifest in elaborate fashion throughout the world and with diabolical vigor.
Today another ugly facet of the abuse of power via religion made the headlines. I’ll quote the lead from the CBS report: “Nuns have suffered and are still suffering sexual abuse at the hands of Catholic priests and bishops, and have even been held as sexual slaves, Pope Francis confirmed on Tuesday.”
How does this advance the Gospel?
First, I completely understand that this kind of abuse is not a uniquely Catholic problem. It is also not an exclusively religious problem. However, the prevalence of this issue in faith-based institutions serves as one more huge stumbling block to those who continue to reject the Christian message.
I believe with all my heart that God’s plan is for every human being to “come home” in terms of walking through the door Jesus has opened to receive God’s grace, mercy, and love. However, rather than Christ’s winsome message of grace, what the world often hears is the exact opposite.
Because of that, I believe we all need to look at the text of the message that our lives offer. Is our message one of openness and invitation? Do we reflect the light, the love, the grace, the mercy, and the invitation of God? Or do we – by the way that we live – erect barriers, promote disinterest, and close the door in the faces of those who do not know God?
As The Church we have ONE JOB!
The invitation Jesus brings is one that offers liberation, and hope, and a quality of love that sets people free. How can there be any credibility to the Christian message in an already cynical world when religion is defined by oppression, manipulation, abuse, and exploitation?
As The Church we have this one job. Well, two. “Love God with your whole self and love your neighbor in much the same way” (Mark 12:30-31)
Just do that, Jesus said, and everything else is going to fall into place.
Jesus suggested that everything else we think we know would become clear if we held up this “Great Commandment” and looked at every other issue through it like a lens, or poured our lives through love like a filter.
What is wrong with people?
The Gates of Hell:
When Jesus stood in front of the “Gates of Hell” that day, a place where children were sacrificed by throwing them from a cliff onto the rocks below, he told Peter he was going to build his church on his witness and that “the Gates of Hell shall not prevail against it.”
The point Jesus was making was that The Church would be a place where that kind of abuse against the vulnerable would never happen, could never happen. Jesus came to usher in a kingdom defined by love and light and mercy and grace.
Jesus came to usher in a kingdom defined by love and light and mercy and grace. But if we do not change something fundamental about how we live the good news of the gospel, then Jesus may have to come back and build something else.
Until that happens, we all have some serious Gospel living to do.