The orange and chrome hardware gleamed in the afternoon sun as Matt, the knowledgeable sales clerk cradled my new Stihl FS 70 RC-E trimmer in his muscular arms. With a quick flick of his fingers to adjust the choke, and a terse tug at the starter cord, the machinery roared to life. The whirring buzz of the string whirling at hundreds of revolutions per second sounded like music to me, announcing my triumph over that most annoying of adversaries—a perfectly good apparatus that refuses to work as it was designed.
If you’ve ever used a weedeater or trimmer, you know the basic concept is devastatingly simple. A small motor spins a shaft down the length of the trimmer that in turn rotates at high speeds a head attached to its end. Heavy plastic line cleverly wound in a tight coil around the head is released by a spring-loaded assembly when the operator taps the head on the ground. The result is enormously gratifying; a whirling dervish of devastation that thrashes weeds and undergrowth like a magic scythe of power. Magic, that is, as long as it works.
I say that because the dirty little secret about weedeaters is that they RARELY work as they were intended. For every moment that I’ve enjoyed riding the wave of power as the weeds fell in submission at my feet, I’ve suffered through ten more of untangling snarled string, taking apart clogged-carburetors and expressing in colorful language my feelings for a machine that just won’t start.
My recent purchase of this commercial-grade piece of mechanical beauty reminded me that my feelings about the weedeater almost exactly mirrored my view of another apparatus—the church. The church was designed by God to be an amazingly powerful and awesome tool. Men and women rescued from lives of selfishness and sin bond with one another in gratitude over God’s grace in their lives. They turn their hearts heavenward in thanks to their Savior, and then extend their hands in service to others. The Owner’s manual says it comes down to only those two things (Love of God and neighbor), devastatingly simple right?
Wrong. If you’ve ever ventured into a church you will have discovered their dirty little secret…they don’t work like they’re supposed to. People who’ve been in church for 25 years are just as mean and nasty as when they came. The church’s line of love intended to extend to a hurting community becomes wrapped firmly around itself, snarled in internal conflict. Sinners—for whom the church was designed—are made to feel unwelcome (as if the weedeater were shocked to find a weed in its path). Insecure leadership foul the engine of God’s love for the world with self-aggrandizing plans of kingdom building. More than once I’ve cursed the whole, darn contraption.
And yet…the roar of that orange and chrome magic machine in my hands brought a prayer to my lips. “Lord, this time let the thing work right. Repair it Lord, fix it and start with me…”