Have you ever heard anyone say, "I love Jesus, but the church...not so much."? I know I have. In his invitation for us to join the Luke/Acts reading plan, Bishop Carter made reference to this sentiment, stating that there are many in our culture who wish to separate Jesus from the church. But, he also reminded us "this is not an option for those who take the Bible seriously." This is why I believe that reading Luke and Acts throughout this year is so important and why I pray it is a transformative experience for everyone participating and for our churches all over the Florida Conference.
Luke goes to great length in his gospel and Acts to show the reader that there is continuity between Judaism and the temple life, portrayed in the Old Testament, and Christianity and the church, being introduced by his "carefully ordered account." The gospel of Luke begins (1:8) and ends in the temple (24:53); and, chapter 2 contains two important accounts of Jesus in the temple.
The first account (2:21-40), Jesus' circumcision, naming, and temple presentation, shows that Mary and Joseph fully intended to raise Jesus in a family that would observe the law of Moses and nurture him in the Jewish faith.
The second account (2:41-52), Jesus in the temple at Passover, shows the family commitment to Judaism and life in the temple continues. The story tells us that Jesus is now twelve years old, which likely means he has gone through the ceremony of "bar mitzvah." As a result, Jesus would have attended the Passover festival at the temple as required by Mosaic law.
Of these accounts, one commentator writes:
"Luke's primary interest is to establish that Jesus was a true Israelite, from birth brought up in the moral and ritual life of Judaism. Home, temple, and synagogue formed him...at every significant period of his life he was in continuity with Judaism." (Interpretation - Luke, p. 41)
This statement resonates with me. While I have absolutely no idea what it is like to be perfect like Jesus was perfect, I do know what it means to have been formed by family life in the home and the church. Also, the most significant moments of my life somehow included Jesus and the church.
I will admit that in some ways I understand those who love Jesus but not the church. The church is, indeed, imperfect. Very imperfect. Still, to those who express their discontentment with the church, I often ask, "Why do you think Jesus uses imperfect people for his work in the church?" Obviously, it is because we are all he has to work with. And to this I often add: By all means, love Jesus. He loves you. But please, love the church because Jesus loves that, too. Love is an action verb, not a stative verb. Simply put, this means love is a work in progress, not something we possess.
Luke chapter 2 reveals to us that Jesus went through spiritual development, maturing in wisdom and years and in favor with God and with people (2:52). So too may it be with us as we grow in grace and in our love of God, Christ's holy church, and our every neighbor.