If you went hiking in the Malheur National Forrest in Oregon, you would probably find some mushrooms, a lot of mushrooms actually. They’re called Armillaria ostoyae, or the Honey Fungus. They are about 5 inches tall and 2 inches across. These little things grow all over the place, they’re everywhere… but it would be more accurate to say it is everywhere. Every honey fungus you see is actually the same one. If you collected them and took samples you would find that they were all genetically identical, because the Armillaria ostoyae is, by area and by bio-mass, the largest living organism in the world. It covers an area of more than 2,200 square acres, it probably weighs more than 600 metric tons and is estimated to be more the 2,400 years old. While you may see thousands of little mushrooms, they are only the part that you see of an organism living beneath the surface of the forrest, an old and giant organism that was there thousands of years before any scientist thought to measure it, and reaches further than any of us can even see with our eyes and it would take days to walk from it’s left side to it’s right (if a fungus has such a thing as a ‘side’). It’s always there, even if you don’t see any of the mushrooms (which can grow and whither in just a day or two). There are other mushrooms in the Malheur National Forrest, but only one Armillaria ostoyae. Without being told so, you could walk among them your entire life and never know what you were really looking at.
Now for the blatant and totally cliche analogy.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between The Church and churches. There are lots of churches, but only one Church. IT is huge, it covers the earth and is thousands of years old. It lives beneath the surface and is only rarely visible through tiny little sprouts that really don’t last too long. The thing is, there a lots of little sprouts, but you could walk among them your entire life and not realize what you were really looking at.
Go to any church on a Sunday morning and you’ll see a lot of people, who all look pretty much the same, but only some of them are part of The Church… only some of them share an identical genetic makeup. You can’t really tell by looking, but there is most definitely a difference. The Church pops up in the most random and unexpected places, sometimes the least expected, but beneath the surface is something ominous and huge… and familiar. In fact, most of the time The Church doesn’t even show up in churches, like you might expect… it shows up in warehouses and strip clubs, office buildings, meth houses, slums and prisons. The Church lives in hospital hallways and dark parking lots… in the projects, whore houses and pubs. The Holy Spirit, connecting all the little bits, moves like a breath, it can’t be seen or heard, but its always there, like a tattoo under someone’s shirt… no matter what a person looks like on the outside, how they dress, walk or talk, some carry the gene and some don’t. Some are part of the monstrous, invisible organism, and some are just surface deep.
Jesus himself said that He did not come to the earth for the sake of the religious, but for the broken and sick, therefore we should not expect to find him spending his time in churches, but out in the filth and mire of forgotten people. The Church doesn’t peek out through stained glass and that God they are so well off… The Church wraps it’s arms around the poor, puts clothes on the naked and cooks for the starving. The Church wades into the pool of human waste to pull the humans out of it.
Churches are about the members… who’s in, who’s out, who gets to be in charge of what… programs, budgets, “ministries”, buildings, newsletters, blah blah blah.
The Church is about everyone still on the outside… who’s still hungry, who’s still thirsty, who’s still hurting or lost or sick or abused or forgotten..? Who is still in darkness? Who needs? Who wants? Who hurts?
This week, think about yourself, and your church… does the majority of your time/money/energy focus inward or outward? When you look at your life, your family, your church, your neighborhood… what are you really looking at here?