It is raining today. This isn't particularly exciting news, unless you have been living in an area where it hasn't rained for a couple of weeks. During the summer months a no-rain-for-a-couple-of-weeks is bad when you live in the midwest, and I do. So it is bad.
But it is raining today, and we are happy.
One of the inevitable consequences of a lack of regional moisture during the summer is that everything goes from green and lush to brown and dry. You know it's getting bad when walking across your lawn crunches beneath your feet. I remember when I was in grade-school and we read about how during some of the California droughts people would actually have someone come by and spray paint their lawns so that their homes would look more attractive, even though the grass was brown and dead. We thought this was somewhat funny at the time, but I confess that every now and then throughout the various dry patches that I've lived through the idea has crossed my mind to head down to the hardware store and get some cans of bright green.
But it is ultimately a vanity thing, where we don't want others to see just how bad our lawn is. Or perhaps we want to one-up others who will be stuck with their pathetic brown yards while our home is nice and inviting . . . and impressive. Either way, the notion of painting (or now dyeing) yards might be catching on but it is still unnatural. And it is less-than-real. Sort of.
The rain today makes me think that the same browning effect can happen in our churches. It is no big secret that many of our churches (most in the Western world) are dead, or in the process of dying. They are not lush places of life and bloom, they are rather stale remnants of a once-vibrant faith community. What happens, however, is that we choose to spray paint over them so that 1) we don't see our own death, 2) others don't see our own death, and 3) we think that God will not see our own death. When this happens we are quite possibly able to achieve the first objective, we sometimes have good luck with the second, and we never come close to making the third true.
In what appears to be a sad twist to the Emperor's Clothes, those who dare mention the reality beneath the false covering are not seen as bringers of truth but instead are maligned as evil in their own right. Those who have never walked across a yard might be fooled by a clever spray painting, but the gardener knows better. And those who are unfamiliar with the true message of the gospel (both churchgoers and non-churchgoers alike) may initially be fooled by a community cover-up, but those who understand fruit know much better.