By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

Art classes were still an important part of the elementary school curriculum when I was in the first grade. While I don’t remember much about my art career because it was not at all memorable, I do remember venturing into the world of paper-mache and discovering what fun it was to put treated wet newspaper strips on a wire frame to bring to life an animal or globe or cowboy. When dried and painted, it was a masterpiece I could take home to my mother, who would ‘ooh and ahh’ over my talent.

When you paper-mache, you need to add enough strips to cover the wire form and give the piece its shape but be careful not to add so many that you end up with an unrecognizable blob. Which, of course, I accomplished more than once because I was so busy adding strips that I never noticed what I was creating.

I wonder if this is exactly what we are doing to Jesus’ Church. We have been so busy adding strips that it has become a blob that fails to resemble the Gospel frame we have been given in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. No wonder we are fracturing, treating brothers and sisters in Christ like enemies, and failing to reach people with the Gospel that brings abundant and eternal life.

So what strips are we adding to the Gospel frame that have turned Jesus’ Church into a blob? They are many and varied, and include things like our own political perspectives, our desire to make the church in our image, our excitement about embracing the latest cultural fad, our haste in making God small enough to fit in our pockets, our racism, our desire to be comfortable and our tendency to think that making people happy is the ultimate good.

I know my words are painful, even convicting. But they are not written about one group of people. They are for all of us, especially me; which is why we have to wrestle with the painful reality that we are turning the church into a blob that does not resemble the Church Jesus calls us to be.

Lent provides a wonderful – indeed mandatory – season of serious engagement with Jesus. What if we were to use this time to peel off some of the strips we have added to the Gospel, one at a time? Peel off the demonization of others. Peel off the desire to have the Gospel reflect our particular ideological perspective. Peel off the insistence that our congregation looks just like us. And peel off the assumption that Jesus’ top priority is to meet every one of our wishes and desires the way we think he should. Sure, it will be hard work. But we can succeed because Jesus will be working alongside us the entire time.

I’m not sure what the Church will be when we finish this work. But I’m incredibly hopeful that we will be a Church that is truly the Body of Christ filled with Jesus-followers who are filled with passion to make disciples of Jesus Christ, who make disciples equipped and sent to transform lives, communities and the world with joy, passion, and gratitude.

Come Holy Spirit, come!