Jesus promised that he would build his church and the gates of hell would not prevail against it. This promise can lead to triumphalism within the Christian religion that I don’t find very attractive or particularly helpful within the pluralistic society of Europe.
Instead when I think about these words I hear a wonderful and comforting promise in it, especially within our hectic, chaotic and stressful lives. In these words I hear that my life, your life, our lives are an ongoing project, a building campaign that Jesus is spearheading. In all of our lives there is an ongoing work of construction, repair and renovation that takes time, affection and grace. It’s an important project because within the church, God is building a dwelling place. He’s building his home. He wants to reside among us and in us.
I am comforted to know that even though my life is a mess, Jesus still sees a place to build a home. My life is like a cluttered plot of land, overgrown with weeds and discarded garbage. I barely have time to fit everything on it: my job, my family, my friends, my hobbies, my vices and my failures take up a lot of space. And yet, this chaotic mess of a life is prime property in Jesus’ mind. It’s the very place that he wants to get down and dirty. He seems to love reclamation projects so much that he doesn’t mind shedding a little sweat and blood in order to buy and clear the land. Upon this toxic mess he decides to plant a garden and build a house and make it part of his neighbourhood reclamation project.
I will build my church…
I am comforted by these words because I know how incapable I am of building and finishing anything. My life is a long list of projects I have started and not finished, goals I have set and not accomplished and dreams I have seen but not achieved. I’m the last person who should be heading up a building project because when the excitement wears off, the obstacles come and the first failures are experienced, I am looking for the shiny new thing. But once again Jesus knows this and he’s okay with that. In fact this project is too important for me to screw it up, so he takes it on and regardless of how hard I try to mess it up, he is undeterred. Even my greatest foul ups, my “oh God what have I done,” moments aren’t enough for Jesus to sigh in exasperation and give up.
In fact, he never gives up. While I’m cursing up a storm because I’ve hammered my thumb instead of a nail for the thousandth time; he’s putting down his power saw to come and give me a band-aid. And then it’s back to work, because there’s a church to be built, a dwelling place to finish and I (like you) am a crucial part of those plans.
I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
I find comfort in these words because I am weak and I need courage for the journey. The reclamation project of Jesus stretches into the darkness, into the bad part of town. The part of town you don’t walk alone in during the afternoon, let alone the evening. And sometimes, for some strange reason, I find that he’s choosing to work on me there. Right on the corner of Evil and Fear.
I know I’ve had days when the very gates of hell seem to be bulging towards me, ready to burst open in a flood of devilish darkness and yet something keeps them closed. More than that, in the midst of my worst moments, my greatest fears and lousiest attitudes I find myself being encouraged to push back, to not give in to fear and greed and hate.
I am reminded that every act of kindness, every offering of grace, no matter how small, is a tiny prick of light that pokes a hole in the darkness. Each moment we choose to love and speak a blessing, we are piercing the veil of evil until it can no longer hold together and the whole system disintegrates before our very eyes. It may not seem like much but when we act like the church, when we worship God, love each other and bless the world we are tearing apart the shadow kingdom, it cannot prevail because it is not solid. It’s a kingdom of air, foul and rancid.
So, when I read these words and when I hear them read, I’m not jumping up and down in victory. I’m not sharpening the sword or preparing for battle. Maybe I should be, but there’s too much to be humbled by, too much to be grateful for, that stops me from charging forth like a rabid crusader.
Jesus wants to build his church on you and me. Jesus has been building his church upon people like you and me (some better and some worse) for thousands of years. Jesus wants to build upon my mess and in the darkest places. Jesus wants to reclaim the whole world for the glory of the Father and he’s choosing to do it one day at a time in our very best and very worst days.
I don’t understand it but perhaps all I need to do is embrace it and say, “thanks.”
And then watch him as he works.