The readings in today’s Daily Office paint a rather unflattering picture of God’s people. The psalm (Psalm 78:1-39) recounts the way that they “continued to sin against God, rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High,” even though they had seen God’s grace and power demonstrated in the Exodus. The Old Testament lesson (2 Kings 5:19-27) tells the tale of Elisha’s servant secretly (and selfishly) accepting gifts that Elisha had turned down. The gospel lesson (Mark 5:27-37) warns that our sinfulness extends beyond our external actions to include the thoughts and intents of our hearts. And finally, the New Testament lesson (1 Corinthians 5:1-8) features Paul lamenting the fact that there’s serious sin being committed by the members of the Corinthians church, and nobody seems to care.
Of course, Paul, at least, offers a “corrective response” to the wickedness he sees: “Hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor. 5:5) He’s describing the practice of “church discipline,” in which members of the Body are expelled in the hope that it will awaken them to their fault and lead them to repentance. And I know many people who remember the use of church discipline — days when members were “kicked out” because of adultery or drunkenness or some other sin.
But who would we “discipline” today? We seem so hopelessly divided that we can’t even agree on what our problems are, let alone what we should do to solve them. And in our eagerness to prove ourselves “right,” we too often speak ill of brothers and sisters for whom Christ died, and we too often participate in the cycle of “gotcha” accusations the exacerbate our differences rather than seeking to overcome them.
Sadly, I have no wisdom that offers a way beyond our present impasses. And there are some days that I almost despair of the Church’s ability to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world,” as Jesus has indicated we are. But most days I cling to this: “Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us.” (1 Cor. 5:7) Not a one of us deserves the grace and love and fellowship into which we have been received. And in the end, the future of this fellowship depends not on us, but on the Lamb of God, who takes away our sins and teaches us what it means to love one another.
May we listen to Him today, rather than the voices that urge us to look to our own interests rather than the interests of others. And may our awareness of the price that He paid for our forgiveness lead us to turn from our sin and brokenness to embrace holiness and healing.