"Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord." - Ezekiel 1:28
Do you have issues with the Bible? Is there anything in there that offends you or troubles you? Is there something you would like to take out?
Yeah, me too.
And have you ever thought, "The whole church thing is more trouble than it's worth. I don't need church to experience God. I can worship God in a cornfield. I'll be spiritual in my own way and on my own time"?
Yeah, me too. When it comes to revealing God, words - even the Bible's words - sometimes fail us. Churches do too. Even at their best, words and institutions are mere shadows of the truth. Reflections of reflections.
Blessedly, Ezekiel comes to our rescue. Down by the riverside, Zeke had an incredible and incredibly complex vision of God. He concluded by saying: "This was the appearance, of the likeness, of the glory of God." Did you catch that? As glorious and as detailed as the vision was, it was three steps removed from the reality of God.
All of religion, all of the Bible, is language about God. Religion is not God. The Bible is not God. Your church definitely isn't God. They are full of God, but they are reflections of a rendering of a picture of God; inadequate, yes, and also indispensable.
Sometimes religion and faith communities fail big time and we might want to throw in the towel. On the other hand, when religion does what it's supposed to do, we get "the appearance of the likeness of the glory of God." On this side of heaven, that's the best thing there is.
Faithful God, help me stay faithful to your Word and to your church. I need them like nothing else. Amen.
Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.