At most wedding receptions, the bride and groom make their way through the room to thank their friends and relatives for coming. As they move from table to table, people have an opportunity to tell the bride how beautiful she looks. She hugs them and tells them she loves them. We wouldn’t expect otherwise.
A few years ago our daughter Laura moved into a renovated mission house in a crime-ridden neighborhood in Cincinnati, Ohio. She witnessed domestic violence, drug trafficking and murder, but in the midst of social decay she also had an opportunity to share God’s love with people who had nowhere else to turn.
One night some friends hosted a surprise birthday party for our daughter. In the middle of the party there was a knock at the door and when our daughter answered she was greeted by a prostitute she had befriended. The prostitute hugged her and wished her a Happy Birthday. Then she said, “I’ll bet you never got a birthday hug from a prostitute before.” In was, indeed, a first.
Some people have asked my wife and me if we worry about our daughter when she works in dangerous places. I tell them I have my moments, but for the most part I am more jealous than worried. I believe Christ’s Bride is most radiant where the darkness is the greatest. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be around believers. It’s just that there is more to life than sitting around with other Christians telling ourselves how great we are. If we really want to be great, we must be willing to reach out to the least. We must have the attitude of Christ who, “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28). We need to work our way around the reception hall.
Unfortunately, many people in our culture don’t expect to see Christ’s Bride at their table. Instead, they imagine her at the head table where she can remain pure while she lists her offenses against them. They expect rage, not radiance. And, right or wrong, they perceive the only reason the Bride would invite them to her celebration is because she wants their wedding gifts, and she needs their resources to keep the party going.
Some of the criticisms non-believers hurl at the church are unfounded. But some aren’t. We can’t do anything about unfair perceptions, but we can examine our hearts to make sure we haven’t become so obsessed with our place in God’s kingdom we have lost our reason for being. We are most beautiful when we put ourselves last and become the greatest servants of all. Any other attitude makes things very complicated, and before we know it our holy calling has become a holy mess.
The good news is, with God’s help, we can nurture a healthy Bride and experience the joy of spiritual radiance. Now it is time to consider how the church functions when she is at her best, and what happens when she allows the Holy Spirit to bring her into conformity with Christ.