Rev. Chuck Muether, Pastor Hope Reformed Presbyterian Church
“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).
In the movie Rudy, character Father Cavanaugh offers the definitive confession: “Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I'm not Him.”
In the church today, it can be said with the same certainty that among God’s people there are only two types of congregants: those who are the brokenhearted and those who don’t know or admit that they are the brokenhearted.
What keeps people from revealing their broken hearts ranges from pride to fear with the often derailing of self-denial. When a believer succumbs to sin or is swept up in scandal or is faced with tragedy and grieves, repents, and turns to Jesus, one would think that Christ’s very body, the church, would be that lush green pasture to still the disquieted spirit. One would think that from the pulpit the proclamation of “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds,” the words of Psalm 147:3, would be a balm for the soul.
But too often the church fails to be that blessed haven for restoration and is instead a breeding ground for what the apostle Paul called, “quarreling, jealousy, anger, hostility, slander, gossip, conceit, and disorder.” Too often the saints stand in judgment of each other and relish in the fall of another, a sibling in the faith no less.
When the evangelist James said, “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves,” he was not just saying, go and visit the poor and fix up their houses. The outworking of Christianity does not begin with repairing roofs and mending fences, but with the ministry of reconciliation.
Jesus Christ entrusted the church with the message of reconciliation, which he ultimately demonstrated when he came to reconcile the sinner with the heavenly Father. The Bible records the treacherous crossing over the Red Sea and the challenge of crossing the Jordan River, but to cross over the greater chasm created by sin and defilement (in order for the sinner to be reconciled before a holy God) would be utterly impossible if it were not the Son leading the believer by the hand.
For that to have happened, the Redeemer had to obey the law perfectly, die on the cross, rise up, and ascend at the Father’s right side. That great event at Calvary is not only to be believed and trusted, but also to be lived out insofar that God’s people reflect the sacrificial love of Christ. The apostle John in his first epistle states, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”
Therefore, in connection with the brokenhearted, with those who have grieved because of sin or great suffering, God’s people must aim toward reconciliation, toward love, peace and hope, and must carry one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ, as Paul told the Galatians.
The church must never be reduced to a formal organization with a plethora of programs. It is to be a living organism, a place of hope and refuge. It is the gathering of God’s household, where brothers and sisters fellowship, and are replenished by the preaching of the Word and the partaking of the sacraments. It is also where the brokenhearted come together and are comforted.
The face of church is often misidentified. People don’t go to church; people are the church. They go to worship and to fellowship because that is where the crushed in spirit are lifted up. If any fellowship fails in its ministry of reconciliation, in coming together in Christ and serving one another in love, then what Jesus spoke to the Pharisees applies to that group, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).
Remember the words of Christ, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).