Am I the only one here old enough to remember the E. F. Hutton commercials?
The scene would be a busy restaurant or a tennis match. Two people would be having a semi-private conversation, and one would say to the other, "Well, my broker is E. F. Hutton, and he says-" at which point, all other activity and noise would immediately stop and everyone's attention would be focused; intent on hearing the sage advice of E. F. Hutton. "When E. F. Hutton speaks, people listen."
I had an E. F. Hutton kind of moment recently while reading A Glimpse of Jesus, by Brennan Manning. When one of your favorite writers chooses to pass along a lengthy quote from "the most important book [he's] read outside the Bible" - a book that "has revolutionized [his] understanding of Christ and the meaning of Christian discipleship" - it might be a good idea to pay attention.
Hence, this excerpt from On Being a Christian, by Hans Kung.
The church of Jesus Christ is a home not only for the morally upright but for the moral failures and for those who for a variety of reasons have not been able to honor denominational teaching. The Church is a healing community proclaiming the Father's indiscriminate love and unconditional grace, offering pardon, reconciliation and salvation to the down-trodden and leaving the judgment to God.
A Church that will not accept the fact that it consists of sinful men and exists for sinful men becomes hard-hearted, self-righteous, inhuman. It deserves neither God's mercy nor men's trust. But if a Church with a history of fidelity and infidelity, of knowledge and error, takes seriously the fact that it is only in God's Kingdom that the wheat is separated from the tares, good fish from bad, sheep from goats, a holiness will be acknowledged in it by grace which it cannot create for itself.
Such a Church is then aware that it has no need to present a spectacle of higher morality to society, as if everything in it were ordered to the best. It is aware that its faith is weak, its knowledge dim, its profession of faith halting, that there is not a single sin or failing which it has not in one way or another been guilty of. And though it is true that the Church must always dissociate itself from sin, it can never have any excuse for keeping any sinners at a distance. If the Church self-righteously remains aloof from failures, irreligious and immoral people, it cannot enter justified into God's kingdom. But if it is constantly aware of its guilt and sin, it can live in joyous awareness of forgiveness. The promise has been given to it that anyone who humbles himself will be exalted.
Truth is...forgiveness and grace are a messy business, and it's good to have close companions along the way. That's what I call Church, and that's what I wish for each person reading these words.